October 27, 2020

Support a Bill That Promotes Better Catch and Release of Red Snapper

There’s no downside to sending reef fish safely back to their depths

Few things frustrate conservation-conscious anglers more than releasing a fish only to watch it flounder along the surface, unable to return to the depths from which it was caught. But no matter the steps you take to care for a fish that should live to fight another day, sometimes the trauma of the fight is too much to overcome.

Reef fish, like snapper and grouper, caught from depths of 50 feet or more are especially vulnerable because of barotrauma, a phenomenon which causes the swim bladder and eye sockets to expand after a rapid rise to the surface. When this happens, the fish’s stomach can protrude from its mouth and acts as a balloon, making the fish float.

Unless that pressure is relieved, the fish cannot return to the reef. Anglers can prevent this by using a venting tool to puncture the air bladder or a descending device—a weighted hook, lip clamp, or box that will hold the fish while it is lowered to a sufficient depth to recover from the effects of barotrauma. This device can be anything as simple as a weighted milk crate on a rope to something more sophisticated, like the SeaQualizer, which has pressure-release clips that allow fish to swim away upon reaching the desired depth.

Angling advocacy and conservation groups have been working with regional fishery managers, the National Marine Fisheries Service, Congress, and many others to promote and require the use of venting tools and descending devices in the Gulf of Mexico. And there is legislation pending in the Senate right now that could make this #ResponsibleRecreation practice more widespread.

The Rise of the DESCEND Act

The Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices Act is a mouthful, for sure, but all you need to remember is DESCEND—the Act passed the House on October 1, 2020, and anglers need to call on the Senate to take up this priority before the end of the 116th Congress.

Introduced by Representatives Garret Graves (R-La.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) in the House and Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas) in the Senate, the bill requires possession of a descending device or venting tool that is rigged and ready to be used on any recreational or commercial fishing boat targeting reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

The bill also requires the Department of Commerce to work with the National Academy of Sciences to study the effectiveness of these devices, determine the shortcomings of our current data collection on release mortality, and propose how to achieve improved rates of catch-and-release survival to increase fishing opportunities.

This is important because there is such a wide range of estimates from fisheries researchers on how many Gulf red snapper and other reef fish die after being released. In 2016, NOAA estimated that nearly 3.7 million recreational and commercially caught snapper perished after being released—an astounding number already, and one that has grown exponentially as the snapper population has swelled to unprecedented size in the last decade.

Better Odds for Out-of-Season Snapper

There are a lot of snapper in the Gulf. It’s difficult to fish reefs in 50-plus feet of water and not catch red snapper. However, seasons remain relatively short—in some states less than 50 days—so keeping these fish is not a year-round option.

A 2014-2015 study conducted by the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi determined red snapper that had been vented and rapidly recompressed in a way that’s similar to using a SeaQualizer or other descending device had a 100-percent survival rate in water depths of 100 feet or less. Those just recompressed survived 92 percent of the time. Survival rates dropped for fish caught in deeper water, but still exceeded those of fish released with no effort to recompress or vent.

The DESCEND Act becoming law would ensure that recompression devices and venting tools are on vessels. And with some effort to educate anglers on how to properly use these devices, it could dramatically increase the number of snapper, grouper, and other reef fish that are successfully caught and released.

The bill’s passage can also work in concert with a recently approved effort by the Gulf oil spill trustee group. It would allow NOAA to use $30 million in Deepwater Horizon disaster penalties over the next eight years to increase the use of barotrauma reduction devices among Gulf anglers and monitor the impacts to reef fish.

There is no downside to the DESCEND Act becoming law. The research supports barotrauma reduction device use as good for conservation. Many anglers are already effectively using the devices and the bill’s passage will make sure more anglers have and learn to use them.

The Senate has every reason to pass this bill and send it to the president’s desk this year. Make sure your lawmakers hear from you in support of the DESCEND Act.


Top photo courtesy of Adrian Gray at IGFA.

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October 26, 2020

A Toast to the Patron Saint of Conservation on His Birthday

If you’ve looked at the state of our country lately and thought, ‘What would Theodore Roosevelt do?’ this might be your answer 

Hunting and the American outdoors were fundamental to who Theodore Roosevelt was—without them, he would be unrecognizable. There have been other sportsmen in the White House (Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight Eisenhower were all passionate flyfishermen), but T.R.’s greatness cannot be separated from his passion for the outdoors, which is what makes him the patron saint of conservation in America.

So, it’s no wonder we’re thinking of him today, as his 162nd birthday coincides with a pivotal time for our nation and the conservation priorities he helped to set in motion.

Theodore Roosevelt led with a clarity of purpose, and he would have seen clearly the task facing modern-day hunters and anglers—it is no less than the survival of our outdoor traditions. The future of hunting and fishing, not to mention our fish and wildlife resources, is in the hands of decision-makers who are often uninformed or downright hostile. But it is also in our hands. We must move fish and wildlife conservation up the hierarchy of our own political decision-making and vote accordingly.

If, like Roosevelt, hunting and angling are foundational to your very being, something you want to pass down to your children, then you can’t afford to be passive about policies that will affect your access or the responsible management of fish and wildlife habitat.

A generation ago, many elected leaders learned the language of the land as kids, knew the culture of opening day, and shared stories of blaze orange and bird dogs at the Formica counters of small town diners. But today, the lawmakers who understand our culture beyond its value at the voting booth are few and far between. This reality reflects broader trends: an increasingly urban population that’s more and more profoundly disconnected from wildlife and wild places.

Still there is no more important issue in this country than conservation, and to celebrate T.R. is to celebrate his famous maxim.

Subsequently we must hold our elected officials accountable when they make decisions that threaten habitat and access. We must inform others, and be informed ourselves, on the importance of the North American model of wildlife management, and explain how hunters and anglers play an absolutely essential role in the funding of conservation work. After all, following in T.R.’s footsteps, we are the prime authors of some of the greatest fish and wildlife conservation success stories in the history of the world.

To be a hunter or an angler in 2020 is to be a steward for the future. It is no less an essential call than the one that motivated Theodore Roosevelt and a generation of American conservationists, to whom we owe a profound debt of gratitude. The hunters of the next century need us to carry that mantle forward with our words and actions.

Get started right now by urging lawmakers to include investments in conservation in any economic recovery legislation. Congress can put Americans back to work during the COVID crisis by supporting conservation programs that restore habitat, fix trails and access sites, make highways safer for people and wildlife, and build more resilient water systems. Click here to take action.


This post was originally published on October 27, 2016 and has been updated.

October 16, 2020

Learn How to Debone a Deer in the Field with MeatEater’s Janis Putelis

Bone up on how to bone out your deer before you head for the truck

In this short video, MeatEater‘s Janis Putelis teaches an essential hunting skill, which also helps to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease.

Many states with a CWD risk now require that you properly dispose of parts of the deer carcass that can carry the disease, including the spinal cord, lymph nodes, and spleen. So check your local regs, pack a few extra knives and a bone saw, and bookmark this video.

You won’t be sorry you did. As Steven Rinella says in the brief intro, if you don’t have CWD where you hunt, you don’t want it.

Top photo by Tim Donovan – FWC

October 9, 2020

10 Questions You Can Ask to Gauge a Candidate’s Stance on Conservation

There are, of course, many pressing issues as voters begin casting their ballots for the 2020 elections. But as sportsmen and sportswomen, we have a responsibility to make informed decisions about who will best steward our land, water, fisheries, and wildlife. 

Here are 10 questions that can help you find out where your federal candidates stand on conservation and why you should ask them.

Do you believe that climate change is a threat? If so, how do you plan to address it?

This is a critical question because sportsmen and women are on the front lines of climate change, witnessing impacts on our nation’s fish, wildlife, and habitat. And policymakers are integral to pushing bipartisan solutions to address these effects on our hunting and fishing opportunities.

Do you support investing in conservation as a way to get Americans back to work?

The COVID pandemic has hit our economy hard, and there are many creative ways to employ workers and spur economic growth. Investments in conservation are a win-win for jobs and the outdoors.

What will you do to increase participation in hunting and fishing?

Hunters and anglers pay for conservation through our gear and license purchases. When fewer people hunt and fish, investments in conservation drop off too. So, decision-makers who care about conservation funding will have a plan for recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters and anglers.

How would you use the Farm Bill to incentivize landowners to be even better stewards of the land?

The Farm Bill makes major investments in private land conservation. The next five-year bill will provide a golden opportunity to restore habitat and support the wildlife that we love.

How will you enhance public access to hunting and fishing opportunities?

There are 16.25 million acres of inaccessible public land across 18 U.S. states. These places could be home to your next outdoor adventure, but you can’t get to them. These lands belong to all of us, and hunters and anglers shouldn’t be missing out because access policies aren’t being improved.

Do you believe that chronic wasting disease threatens the future of deer hunting? If so, what steps would you take to address it?

Chronic wasting disease has spread rapidly among wild deer and elk populations, particularly in the last ten years, with positive cases now found in 26 states. This disease is 100 percent fatal, manifests slowly, and can remain in an infected environment for years.

What can you do to restore habitat connectivity and conserve migration corridors?

Animals big and small—from grizzly bears to bog turtles and elk and deer to salamanders—all —need to move between their seasonal ranges. But migrating through human-altered landscapes isn’t always easy. There are many barriers that threaten this habitat and these habitats and migratory species .

What steps would you take to ensure that headwater streams and wetlands are protected?

Clean, productive wetlands and headwater streams are important for everyone, but essential for hunters and anglers. Not only do they provide habitat for fish and wildlife, these waters and wetlands also reduce flooding, filter pollution, and recharge aquifers that provide drinking water. Recent rule changes threaten these protections.

What is your plan for improving the marine fisheries ecosystem and recreational fishing?

Changing water temperatures, ocean acidification, human development, habitat loss, and overfishing of forage fish all threaten our marine fisheries ecosystem and the $125 billion recreational fishing economy.

How will you strengthen the nation’s $778-billion outdoor recreation economy?

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that our nation’s outdoor recreation economy is a major job creator and contributor to the U.S. gross domestic product. By supporting outdoor recreation businesses and conservation work that creates more hunting and fishing opportunities, we can help pull our nation out of this economic downturn.


Photo Credit: Bureau of Land Management

October 7, 2020

House Leaders Should Demand Action from USDA on Chronic Wasting Disease

Hunters need lawmakers to address USDA’s failure to invest in effective deer disease solutions

Long before COVID-19 emerged, Minnesota’s deer hunters and wildlife enthusiasts had been worried about an epidemic that threatens some of our most iconic wildlife species and important outdoor traditions.

Of course, I’m talking about chronic wasting disease. It too has the ability to alter the fabric of our lives, and it deserves our attention.

The best way to end the spread of CWD – a wildlife disease with no known cure that is 100-percent fatal and threatens Minnesota’s whitetail deer and moose – is to stop the movement of potentially infected animals, whether they are alive or dead. Deer hunters now have a comprehensive set of rules to abide by as they harvest deer and transport carcasses around the state. The state has also taken steps to slow the movement of live captive animals that are especially well-suited to spread the disease.

But while the regulation of wild deer and deer hunters falls entirely to the Minnesota DNR, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Minnesota’s Board of Animal Health, retain the authority to regulate captive deer raised by deer farmers. An agency at the USDA, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is tasked with the job of ensuring that potentially CWD-infected live deer aren’t being moved across the landscape.

It is a job they aren’t doing particularly well. APHIS uses what they call the Herd Certification Program, an utterly toothless (and strictly voluntary) method for keeping captive deer herds “low-risk.” But the facts tell a different story when each and every year, so-called “low-risk herds” still manage to transport CWD-positive deer across state lines.

What’s more, only a fraction of deer farmers even participate. When it comes to stopping the movement of CWD-infected deer, the Herd Certification Program is about as porous as a screen door on a Northwoods hunting cabin.

This year, Congress set aside funding for APHIS to help state wildlife agencies invest in better CWD management. But that money has been diverted and is in part being used to fund the research priorities of the captive deer industry – research of no benefit to wild deer or deer hunters.

Despite the national–indeed, global–scope of chronic wasting disease, exceedingly little federal money seems poised to make it to the ground where it would matter most.

Fortunately, Congressman Collin Peterson is in a fine position to help Minnesota’s wild deer and deer hunters. As an avid sportsman, Mr. Peterson understands just how important a healthy deer herd is to Minnesota, and as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, he is uniquely capable of ensuring that the USDA doesn’t remain asleep at the switch.

Chairman Peterson could help ensure a healthy future for Minnesota’s deer and deer hunters by holding an oversight hearing to take a hard look at the persistent failures of the Herd Certification Program and identify specific ways to strengthen it. Deer hunters from across the state encourage Congressman Peterson to use this authority, and hunters across the country stand ready to help, as well.

Tom Landwehr is a concerned deer hunter, lifelong conservationist, and past commissioner of the Minnesota DNR. He currently serves as the executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

This guest blog was originally published in the September 16, 2020 edition of Outdoor News – Minnesota. Subscribers can find that here. Top photo by Christa R. via flickr.


Sign the TRCP’s open letter to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and demand the transparent and effective use of CWD funding.



Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

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