More Atlantic Menhaden Will Help Rebuild the Iconic Striped Bass Fishery
Managers vote to reduce Atlantic menhaden quota by 10%
A coalition of eastern states took a step toward improving the management of the Atlantic menhaden, a tiny baitfish consumed by striped bass any other sportfish.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Atlantic Menhaden Board voted to reduce the Atlantic menhaden quota by 10 percent, establishing a quota of 194,400 metric tons for the 2021 and 2022 fishing years.
The harvest reduction comes in response to a recent fundamental shift in Atlantic menhaden management. In August, ASMFC unanimously adopted a new ecological management system, which considers the needs of predator species and is set up to specifically help rebuild the striped bass population and fishery. Yesterday’s quota decision on menhaden is especially important to the sportfishing and boating community because it represents a follow through on the commitment by ASMFC to implement this new ecological management system.
“The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission took an important step in curbing harmful menhaden reduction fishing, something recreational fishing and conservation groups have been working on for more than 20 years,” said Whit Fosburgh, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s important to note that the commission’s own science showed that an additional cut is needed to give striped bass a 50 percent chance of meeting target goals. Therefore, additional harvest cuts will likely be needed to ensure the long-term recovery and health of striped bass and other important sportfish. The TRCP will continue to work to implement additional measures to guarantee there are enough menhaden in the Atlantic Basin to serve the critical role of forage as well as improve water quality.”
Several recreational fishing and boating organizations recently sent a letter to ASMFC urging the adoption of a conservative coastwide total allowable catch that will help rebuild the iconic striped bass fishery.
“In order to have a high likelihood of rebuilding striped bass, the fishing mortality for striped bass and menhaden must each be maintained at their target levels,” said Mike Leonard, Vice President of Government Affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “Last year, ASA supported ASMFC’s decision to control fishing mortality for striped bass to its target level, and this decision sets us on the path toward achieving the needed reductions in menhaden harvest to achieve its ecosystem reference point target level.”
“This important first step by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to put science-backed limits on menhaden harvests will help support the entire ecosystem of prized sportfish that our industry’s boaters and anglers count on,” said Adam Fortier-Brown, Government Relations Manager for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “While more may need to be done in the future, this significant improvement to fisheries management will allow our community to work with ASMFC to continue to reduce fishing mortality, and steward our whole marine ecosystem well into the future.”
“Given the importance of menhaden to the Atlantic Coasts largest recreational fishery it is concerning that the board set upcoming quotas at levels that include more risk than sound ecological management suggests,” said David Sikorski, executive director of CCA Maryland. ”While more fish will be left in the water for predators next year, managers should be concerned over the near-failure of recruitment of striped bass that was recently reported in the Chesapeake this year, and not lose site of the vital connection that harvest levels of menhaden have to the future of striped bass.”
House Sends Another Landmark Win for Conservation to the President
Congress cements the future of important programs and funding sources that benefit deer, fish, waterfowl, and watershed restoration efforts
In a flurry of votes under suspension of the rules today, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation that will help improve fish habitat, restore wetlands, boost chronic wasting disease research, invest in clean water solutions, and prevent bycatch fatalities of important sportfish species.
The America’s Conservation Enhancement Act (S. 3051) reauthorizes and establishes important conservation programs and funding sources that would benefit deer, waterfowl, fish, and all species in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“Passage of the ACE Act will not only benefit deer, ducks, fish, and our water quality, but it will also create jobs in conservation and help to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities for millions of Americans just when we need it most,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and women are grateful to both Democratic and Republican leadership in the Senate and House for their support of and commitment to the passage of this critical legislation. It secures the future of essential conservation programs and funding sources that hunters and anglers have prioritized for years.”
Reauthorizing the North American Wetlands Conservation Act at $60 million annually for the next five years. NAWCA has improved more than 30 million acres of wetlands by leveraging a 3-to-1 match of private to federal funds.
Establishing a task force to address the spread of chronic wasting disease and ensure states have a coordinated plan to research, test, and respond to CWD.
Boosting restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay by reauthorizing the Chesapeake Bay Program at $90 million through FY2025 and investing in clean water efforts recommended by the six Bay states and the District of Columbia.
In a separate vote, the House also advanced the Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices, or DESCEND, Act. This legislation requires anyone fishing for reef fish—commercially or recreationally—in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico to possess a descending device or venting tool to prevent the effects of barotrauma on released fish and reduce the mortality rate of prized species such as snapper and grouper.
“Support for the DESCEND Act is a no-brainer, because the tools it would require provide one of the best ways to ensure the survival of reef fish that are caught and released, helping keep stocks healthy and improving fish conservation,” says Chris Macaluso, director of marine fisheries for the TRCP. “We applaud Congressmen Garrett Graves, Steven Palazzo, Jared Huffman, and their colleagues in the House for moving this bill forward to improve fisheries management, resource conservation, and the outdoor recreation economy.”
The DESCEND Act has been championed by the American Sportfishing Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, National Marine Manufacturers Association, and the TRCP. Learn more here.
It may have been the summer of COVID, but a lot went down in the world of conservation, too—get caught up
If we were to put together a conservationist’s time capsule for the summer of 2020, it would be absolutely jam-packed with everything from state-level wins and place-based battles to habitat-wide threats and milestone achievements that will benefit future generations of hunters and anglers.
Here is what we’ll remember long after the sun has set on summer 2020.
The Great American Outdoors Act Supercharges LWCF
After a decades-long fight to secure permanent authorization and full funding for our most powerful public land conservation tool, the Land and Water Conservation Fund became a household name. And perhaps the Great American Outdoors Act will be too—this legislation finally maxes out the program at $900 million annually to create outdoor recreation opportunities, unlock public land access, and conserve key habitats. It also invests $1.9 billion annually for the next five years to address the maintenance backlog on National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management lands.
Sportsmen and women—not to mention some high-ranking Trump advisors—called directly on the president to intervene and stop Pebble Mine, which would destroy an estimated 185 miles of streams and 4,000 acres of wetlands in Bristol Bay, the most prolific sockeye salmon fishery on the planet. The Corps decision is good news, but there is still work to do to shut down the mining proposal for good.
300K Acres of Public Lands in the Midwest Are Inaccessible
The Hunting and Fishing Community Rallies Around #ResponsibleRecreation
After the first major spike in COVID-19 cases, as public lands and some hunting and fishing seasons began reopening, the TRCP joined respected conservation leaders at the National Wild Turkey Federation, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to launch the #ResponsibleRecreation pledge.
It remains important for Americans to take advantage of our country’s numerous opportunities to recreate on public lands and waters, while maintaining proper social distancing and adhering to other best practices in line with recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. You can take the pledge here.
Three Threats to Bedrock Conservation Laws
In July, we flagged the EPA’s quiet change to a rule that gave states the right to look out for water quality on federal land within their borders at the permitting phase of new development projects. The agency’s new rule addressed an obscure but important function of the Clean Water Act, which was also rolled back when it comes to protections for headwater streams and wetlands.
Combined with a third threat to bedrock conservation law—proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act that would significantly inhibit the ability of federal agencies to measure the impacts of development on habitat—it’s clear that the administration’s newest policies would benefit developers while sportsmen and women lose out.
Menhaden Managers Will Consider the Bigger Picture
In a move supported by anglers, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted unanimously in August to improve its management strategy for Atlantic menhaden, the tiny baitfish that supports some of our most popular sportfish, by considering the species’ role in the broader ecosystem. The Commission worked for more than a decade to develop ecological reference points—indicators like the health of predator populations, including striped bass and bluefish, as well as the amount of alternative prey for these sportfish. Ultimately, these reference points can be used to set quotas that will help ensure enough menhaden are left in the water as forage.
Outdoor Recreation Businesses Call on Congress to Pass MAPLand Act
A cross-section of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy—from gear manufacturers and media companies to guides, outfitters, and retailers—sent a letter in July urging lawmakers to pass the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land, or MAPLand, Act. Business owners emphasized that their livelihoods depend on sportsmen and women having access to outdoor recreation opportunities on public lands, and the MAPLand Act would push federal agencies to digitize their paper maps and easement records so more people can find places to recreate.
One-Third of Congressional Funding for CWD Is Going to Captive Deer Industry
For years, sportsmen and women have called on lawmakers to take meaningful federal action to control chronic wasting disease among our wild deer, elk, and moose populations. In 2020, Congress responded by appropriating $5 million to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to send directly to state wildlife and agricultural departments tasked with responding to the disease.
Instead, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is funneling $1.5 million of that funding to individual captive deer operations that have had to eliminate CWD-positive animals. These indemnification payments aid businesses that have already been part of the CWD problem and don’t address the continued strain placed on state agencies scrambling to manage the spread of the disease.
The Gulf Coast is Rebounding 10 Years After BP Oil Spill
The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the subsequent oil spill in the spring and summer of 2010 was the worst environmental disaster in American history. But in the decade since this tragedy, oil spill penalties have been invested in projects that directly address the damage, improving the outlook for the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal communities and fish and wildlife habitat.
Backcountry Conservation Areas allow the BLM to prioritize public access and habitat management actions, such as restoring riparian areas and streams, controlling invasive species, managing vegetation, improving fish passages, reducing the risk of wildfires, and increasing forage. There are BCAs proposed across the West.
This World Water Week, there seems to be even more at stake for clean water and fish habitat
Today marks the end of World Water Week, a global event created to raise the profile of water resource challenges in every corner of our planet. We’re also nearing the end of a summer that promises to be memorable, if not infamous, for years to come. It’s a good opportunity for all sportsmen and women to stand together on the shore, look toward the horizon, and take stock of where we are in our efforts to improve water resources and fish habitat for future generations.
Here are six water issues we’re watching as the next season unfolds.
Pebble Mine Poised to Fail?
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this week that it will not permit the Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska as it is currently proposed. The Corps released its decision finding the project “could have substantial environmental impacts within the unique Bristol Bay watershed.” We’ll be watching to see if the EPA follows suit to stop the Pebble Mine once and for all. There is no safe way to advance this project and preserve the region’s clean water and outdoor recreation economy.
A Watering Down of the Clean Water Act
First, we fought tooth and nail to keep the EPA from eliminating Clean Water Act protections for 50 percent of the nation’s stream miles and 40 percent of wetlands, like the prairie potholes of the Upper Midwest. During that debate, proponents of the administration’s new rule governing which waters are covered by the Act argued that the states could use their authority to protect the headwaters and wetlands that the federal government would no longer regulate.
Now, the EPA has quietly changed another Clean Water Act rule that allows states to do just that. What is noteworthy from an administration that usually champions states’ rights is how this rule removes state power—not to mention the blow that it deals to fish and waterfowl habitat. We’ll be monitoring the legal challenges to this rulemaking and will continue to stand with partners to oppose the dismantling of bedrock conservation laws.
What’s Next for the Boundary Waters
In a story that has echoes of the Pebble Mine saga, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been waffling on its commitment to a thorough environmental review of proposed copper-nickel mining upstream of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Last fall, we partnered with Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters in questioning whether Secretary Perdue would fulfill promises made at his Senate confirmation hearing and allow the science to show that this is no place for a mine. We’ll be closely tracking legislation that has been proposed to permanently protect the incredible habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities provided by these public lands.
This Shrinking Farm Bill Program’s Impact on Stream Buffers
The Conservation Reserve Program may be one of the Farm Bill’s most popular and well-known conservation initiatives, but troubling changes to how the program is administered has slowed or prevented enrollment—leaving would-be conservation acres on the table. One of the ways that CRP benefits fish and wildlife habitat is by incentivizing landowners to create stream buffers that help keep toxic runoff out of our waterways. The TRCP is actively engaged with the Farm Service Agency to push for updates that will help max out CRP acres and put more conservation on the ground.
Reducing the Dead Zone in Chesapeake Bay
Though Pennsylvanians may need to sit in their fair share of traffic to reach the striper blitzes of the Chesapeake Bay, they are critical to lessening the nutrient load that makes its way downstream, threatening fish, wildlife, and water quality in the Bay. The state is way behind on its goal of reducing the amount of nitrogen it releases into Chesapeake waters, and legislators have signaled that they may freeze or redirect conservation funding that is necessary to help make up the difference. We’ll be warning policymakers under mounting pressure to deal with COVID-19 impacts that this is not the time to cut job-creating investments in water quality projects.
Safeguarding “America’s Salmon Forest”
The Forest Service is soon expected to issue a final decision on a proposal that would eliminate conservation safeguards for 9.2 million acres of roadless public lands in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest—the largest national forest in the U.S. and the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. This rollback would negatively affect waterways that sustain salmon as well as Sitka black-tailed deer, black and brown bear, moose, and Roosevelt elk. We’ll be advocating for keeping the national Roadless Rule in place in Alaska to safeguard undeveloped and intact habitats.
Anglers Praise Decision to Strengthen Striped Bass Populations
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission votes to improve menhaden management
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted unanimously today to improve management strategies for Atlantic menhaden, by requiring consideration for the small baitfish’s impact on fish up the food chain. Economically important sportfish such as striped bass rely on healthy menhaden populations for survival.
After recreational anglers weighed in, the Commission adopted the new ecological management system, which considers the needs of predator species and will begin the process of allowing fish like striped bass to meet population targets. Menhaden is the first fishery on the east coast to shift to an ecosystem management approach.
“This landmark decision represents a new era in fisheries management,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We are grateful for the Commission’s support of comprehensive strategies that support the entire Atlantic ecosystem. This decision will spur healthier menhaden and gamefish populations while supporting the recreational fishing economy along the eastern seaboard.”
The Commission has worked diligently for over a decade to thoroughly vet several ecosystem models that led to the development and implementation of these ecological reference points for Atlantic menhaden. The selected model includes important predator species like Atlantic striped bass and bluefish as well as alternative prey such as Atlantic herring. Ultimately, these reference points can be used to set quotas that will help ensure enough menhaden are left in the water to help Atlantic striped bass, bluefish and Atlantic herring rebuild from overfished conditions.
“Today’s decision is a critical step towards acknowledging that forage fish like menhaden are ecologically important to recreationally important species like striped bass and bluefish,” said Mike Leonard vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “A healthy Atlantic menhaden stock, and quotas that account for the needs of predators, is the science-based management we look for to help support a healthy ecosystem and the sportfishing opportunities it provides.”
“As recreational anglers, we commend the board for adding this new tool to the tool box which allows for a more holistic approach to managing the coast’s most valuable forage for striped bass and many other important recreationally caught gamefish species,” said David Sikorski, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association Maryland.
“The implementation of the ecological reference points for Atlantic menhaden represents a significant step in advancing science-based fisheries management,” said Chris Horton, senior director of fisheries policy of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “For the first time, we now have a model that can account for the need to leave menhaden in the water for the benefit of other important fisheries and the marine ecosystem as a whole.”
“Recreational boaters and anglers stand behind science-backed conservation efforts to maintain the health of our nation’s fisheries,” said Adam Fortier-Brown, government relations manager of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “This is why our community has come out so strongly in support of the approved Atlantic menhaden management plan, which would support the whole ecosystem and begin the process of bringing back populations of prized fish like striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish.”
According to a recent scientific study, menhaden reduction fishing contributes to a nearly 30 percent decline in striped bass numbers. The striped bass fishing industry contributes $7.8 billion in GDP to the economy along the Atlantic coast.
Top photo by David Blinken.
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CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA
As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.