Fishermen up and down the Atlantic coast must pay attention if they care about striped bass. This species has its fair share of problems stemming especially from a reduced food supply and overfishing. Those challenges are not going away.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a regulatory body comprised of representatives from 15 coastal states, is considering adopting a new plan to guide striped bass management. The Commission is looking at 10 main management topics, but most important is its consideration of biological reference points, the goalposts used to evaluate the status of the striped bass population and indicate when management action is needed.
Unfortunately, instead of doing what is necessary to rebuild striped bass, some regulators have suggested redefining what recovery looks like, effectively making their jobs easier at the expense of the striped bass population and long-term angling opportunities.
The current baseline for striped bass recovery is set off population numbers from 1995, the year that scientists and regulators declared striped bass recovered from decades of overfishing. That led to solid fishing and relatively healthy stocks during the late 90s and early 2000s. But, for the last decade, the warning signs of a declining stock have been apparent. Too much harvest, poor reproduction, and little recruitment meant poor fishing.
The Commission has been slow to act, avoiding not-so-hard decisions for much harder decisions down the road.
A 2018 stock assessment confirmed striped bass were officially overfished, so the Commission finally reduced the number of fish being kept by both commercial harvesters and recreational anglers in 2020. New regulations included required use of circle hooks to reduce release mortality and a slot limit aimed at protecting larger fish, which lay the most eggs, as is necessary to repopulate the species. At the same time, the Commission changed the way it manages menhaden, the food source for striped bass, and then reduced the industrial menhaden harvest by 10 percent.
Normally, stock assessments would show if these changes were making a difference. But 2020 was hardly normal. Due to COVID-19, stock assessments did not happen. We do not know the impacts of the reduction in striper limits. The one piece of information we did get in 2020 was not good. The Maryland Young of the Year Study shows that 2019 and 2020 were terrible spawning years, and the juvenile population is low.
The TRCP and its conservation allies, including the American Sportfishing Association and the Coastal Conservation Association, agree that it doesn’t make sense to change the baseline for recovery. We don’t have enough recent data to make a science-based change to how we measure population health. And what little data we do have indicates that weakening the biological reference points could be detrimental to the striped bass population and recreational fishing economy.
The Commission is collecting public comments on the changes to biological reference points and several other provisions that directly relate to striped bass management. Our recommendations for each topic are listed here. These other issues matter little, though, if regulators are going to move the goalposts for recovery.
So how can you get involved? The Commission is holding virtual hearings in all coastal states starting March 8. It’s critical for the public to weigh in on how they would like the fishery to be managed going forward.
New poll shows strong support for wildlife crossings and continued collaboration between stakeholders on this key conservation priority
In Montana, state and federal agencies as well as conservation organizations and landowner groups have been working to identify opportunities for collaboration between landowners, sportsmen and women, scientists, agency officials, and other stakeholders to conserve important habitat and migration routes.
A new survey of 500 registered voters in the Treasure State—commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts and conducted by the research firms FM3 and New Bridge Strategy—shows that broad sections of the public strongly support this important work.
The survey found that 88% of Montana respondents favor the adoption of strategies and actions that conserve wildlife migration routes, while 86% also agree with improving coordination between federal land management agencies and local stakeholders to prioritize conservation of migration routes on public lands.
The report also highlighted robust support in Montana for specific actions to ensure the continued functionality of migration routes.
87% endorse providing incentives to private landowners, such as ranchers, who voluntarily agree to conserve migration routes on their land as wildlife habitat.
88% support construction of wildlife crossing structures—such as over- or underpasses—to help animals cross major highways where they intersect with known migration routes.
75% approve a requirement that construction of new housing developments and associated roads and infrastructure avoid wildlife migration routes.
Furthermore, the survey showed that an overwhelming majority of Montanans place a high value on their state’s wildlife resources: 88% of respondents see wildlife as important to their quality of life in Montana, while 83% see wildlife as important to Montana’s economy.
Thankfully, Montana has a strong tradition of landowners, conservation groups, and state and federal agencies coming together to achieve shared priorities, particularly when it comes to conserving and improving fish and wildlife habitat. In 2020, various stakeholders worked with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to develop a strategy for conserving habitat essential to wildlife migration and movement.
For sportsmen and women, it is encouraging to know that a majority of Montanans share concern about one of the most significant threats to its mule deer, elk, and antelope herds. This widespread support should be motivation for state officials, private landowners, and conservation professionals to continue to find common ground and address cooperatively the challenges faced by various stakeholders.
Six Ways Congress Can Create Jobs and Safeguard Habitat
Conservation works for hunters, anglers, and the American economy
After COVID hit the United States, people flocked to mountains, rivers, lakes, and trails to escape the four walls of our homes and clear our heads. These outdoor places provided respite and improved the wellbeing of millions of Americans.
Unfortunately, it’s our economy that needs a breath of fresh air now. Following the economic downturn of the past year, Congress should make bold investments to create jobs, rebuild our economy, and improve the health of our communities.
Our natural resources can once again bring our nation together, if Congress seizes the opportunity to invest in them. As policymakers search for ways to stimulate the economy, they need look no further than our lands and waters. That’s why hunters and anglers are joining a diverse coalition of conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts to ensure that Congress considers fish and wildlife habitat as part of the solution to the many challenges we face.
The six policy proposals that we have put forward will put Americans back to work, combat climate change, and enhance our outdoor recreation opportunities. Here’s what Congress should do to let conservation work for America.
Strengthen America’s coastlines and restore iconic ecosystems.
Our coastal wetlands, marshes, river systems, and floodplains serve an outsized role in minimizing the impacts of extreme weather events. Restoring these landscapes will not only ensure the functionality of important coastal ecosystems for years to come, it will also enhance natural flood buffers, protect critical infrastructure and communities, improve water quality, and support economic growth.
In the Gulf of Mexico, wildlife tourism alone supports $19 billion in annual spending and supports over half a million jobs, but the region is also incredibly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The Mississippi River Delta has lost more than 2,000 square miles of land since the 1930s and continues to lose the equivalent of a football field worth of wetlands every 100 minutes.
Congress should support the conservation and restoration of these systems by funding publicly vetted coastal or watershed restoration plans. Congress should also create a new program to fund coastal restoration and fisheries management initiatives, like those that were supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Prioritize wetlands restoration.
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act has proven to be our nation’s most effective program for protecting, restoring, and enhancing wetlands and waterfowl habitat. Since 1990, the program has provided flood control, protected water quality, improved ecosystem function, and secured recreational access on more than 30 million acres of wetlands. The partnership model established in this legislation generates roughly 7,500 jobs and supports over $200 million in salaries annually. We strongly encourage Congress to fully fund this program.
Invest in our nation’s private lands.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers a suite of voluntary conservation programs that provide value to rural America beyond their well-known ecological benefits. Incentives offered through the Conservation Reserve Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program optimize farm and forestry operations, improve fish and wildlife habitat, and add value at a time when the agricultural economy needs it most.
These initiatives help agricultural producers, hunters, and anglers but require significant investment to ensure they remain effective in protecting soil, water, wildlife, and landowners’ bottom lines. We urge Congress to double its investment and significantly grow enrollment in Farm Bill conservation programs, so we can address natural resource challenges—like habitat loss and climate change—and provide landowners with the technical and financial assistance they need.
Use habitat to improve the resilience of transportation infrastructure.
With over 4 million miles of public roads in the U.S., the scope of repairs needed to support our aging transportation infrastructure seems daunting. We encourage Congress to pass a highway bill that creates a new competitive grant program aimed at enhancing the resilience of these critical transportation systems. This kind of dedicated funding is necessary to prioritize the use and restoration of natural infrastructure—natural systems, like wetlands and dunes, that can mitigate threats to our roadways, like flooding from powerful storm surge.
Incorporating natural infrastructure approaches and relocating vulnerable assets out of flood-prone areas can increase the resilience of our communities. These projects would provide quality jobs and pay dividends to local taxpayers.
Invest in pre-disaster mitigation.
When communities experience major disasters, their resources are drained as they rebuild. That’s why we need an infusion of cash to not only help them pick up the pieces, but also to prepare for future catastrophic weather events.
Administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Building Resilient Infrastructure in Communities Program provides communities with matching funds to identify existing infrastructure vulnerabilities and develop innovative, nature-based solutions that lessen the impacts of future disasters to life and property. These pre-disaster mitigation grant projects reduce risk and increase habitat for the fish and wildlife we love to pursue. We encourage Congress to set aside 15 percent of funds for nature-based approaches to reducing disaster risk.
Invest in sustainable water systems.
From water quality issues in the East to water quantity issues in the West, we need thoughtful approaches to watershed management that are based in local needs. These solutions are not one size fits all, but several key initiatives can prop up our most valuable resource—the water that powers our lives and outdoor recreation opportunities.
The Clean Water State Revolving Fund is a proven tool to help communities overcome challenges to water quality and infrastructure. Since its inception, the Fund has provided communities, many of them disadvantaged, with over $110 billion in financing for estuary protection, wastewater control, and water treatment.
Like the rest of America’s infrastructure, Western water delivery systems are aging and struggling to adequately keep pace with the needs of growing communities and economies. The WaterSMART Drought Response and Cooperative Watershed Management programs help develop local watershed management programs to address this challenge. WaterSMART grants help to improve water delivery, efficiency, and reliability and reduce conflicts over water-use in the West.
Congress should support and increase investments in these water initiatives to put Americans back to work—and back out on our kayaks and driftboats.
How You Can Help
The TRCP will continue to offer sportsmen and women a chance to engage in our #ConservationWorksforAmerica campaign in 2021. Take action now and urge decision-makers to put people back to work through conservation.
A Watershed Moment for Pacific Northwest Salmon and Steelhead
Idaho lawmaker takes the lead on recovery effort
Sportsmen and women should rally behind Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) who earlier this week laid out a bold, thoughtful, and highly vetted plan to solve the Northwest’s most intractable conservation problem: the impending extinction of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin.
Last Sunday, the 11-term representative from Idaho’s Second Congressional District, proposed a $33-billion infrastructure investment plan that would bypass four dams on the Lower Snake River to aid in the recovery of salmon and steelhead runs, which have dwindled over the past three decades despite the government spending $17 billion on recovery efforts. The plan would also reform the region’s power network and help the Northwest’s commodity producers embrace new ways to ship their crops to the Pacific Rim and the world.
The need is critical. Runs of salmon and steelhead are at historic lows, driven to the precipice by hostile ocean conditions, climate change, and barriers that obstruct their migration to upstream spawning habitat.
Simpson’s plan is an audacious one, for sure. It would set aside:
$1.8 billion for dam bypass.
$2.3 billion for updating the region’s transportation network.
$10 billion for the Bonneville Power Administration to offset its lost hydropower production and modernization of its infrastructure to better accommodate new power sources.
$1.5 billion to help the agriculture industry transition from a river-based travel corridor to a rail-based one.
$1.25 billion for creation of a research facility where technology can be developed to capture and store energy from renewable sources.
It also accounts for less vocal interests, like marina owners, river guides, and boat owners who could be hurt by the loss of slack water.
While it is ambitious in scope, Simpson’s plan is rooted in collaboration and extensive communications. Simpson and his team have held more than 300 meetings in the past three years, hearing the opinions of grain growers, shippers, state officials, anglers, irrigators, sportsmen, and leaders of all the communities impacted by his proposal.
“Working together as a delegation and with the governors, stakeholders, and conservationists, we can create a Northwest solution that ends the salmon wars and puts the Northwest and our energy systems on a certain, secure, and viable path for decades and restores Idaho’s salmon,” Simpson said.
As climate change intensifies and partisan divides deepen, Simpson has returned to the roots of great conservation: a collaborative solution that comes from the realities on the ground. It is based in pragmatic care for all stakeholders and a commitment to consensus and the economic impacts of the region.
It is the kind of process that hunters and anglers should support. Thank you, Rep. Simpson for showing the way.
Interior Will Ensure Land and Water Conservation Fund Is Used Where It’s Needed Most
Hunters and anglers call for prioritization of projects that increase public access to recreational opportunities
The Department of Interior announced today that it will be reducing restrictions on the availability of Land and Water Conservation Fund investments, ensuring that these dollars are used for the best possible opportunities to enhance public land access and habitat.
The LWCF was plussed up last August after the Great American Outdoors Act became law, marking one of the greatest bipartisan conservation achievements in decades. The bill guarantees full funding for the program at $900 million each year. Today’s announcement overturns Secretarial Order 3388, which deprioritized Bureau of Land Management lands for consideration for LWCF projects and gave county commissioners veto authority over private landowners’ decisions to sell their land.
“We are pleased the Department is doing away with rules that could have crippled getting these critical dollars to the ground,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and sportswomen want to ensure that the LWCF is working to increase public access to outdoor recreation opportunities and conserve important habitats. This is going to require investments in agency capacity, prioritization of areas with recreational value, and coordination between federal, state, and private partners. We appreciate that hunters and anglers are being heard in this process.”
In addition to prioritizing the conservation of habitat and access through federal lands, the Land and Water Conservation Fund provides matching grants to state and tribal governments for the development of fishing areas, hunting access, hiking and biking trails, city parks, and urban green spaces.
“Whether you live in New York City or Cody, Wyoming, the COVID pandemic has shown us that access to the outdoors is critical for our health and wellbeing,” said Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer of the TRCP. “The LWCF opens doors for people to experience our natural resources, while also investing in local economies and creating jobs.”
“Proper implementation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund can make a lasting difference on these landscapes,” said Joel Webster, senior director of TRCP’s western programs. “Looking forward, if states can put these investments toward conserving fish and wildlife habitat and increasing public access, it will benefit generations of hunters and anglers to come.”
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.