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Jaclyn Higgins

December 9, 2021

Preliminary Study Shows Extent of Menhaden’s Role in Gulf Ecosystem

Results could help support a new management model that considers the needs of sportfish

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the University of Miami, and the University of Florida recently completed a study which modeled the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico with a focus on Gulf menhaden. The model was developed to evaluate the varying effects of different harvest policies on marine species to support ecosystem-based fisheries management in the Gulf.

The study can be used to inform stakeholders and policymakers of the trade-offs between different management actions, while considering predator-prey interactions, fishing pressures, and environmental variables. The authors were primarily interested in evaluating the effects of menhaden harvest on predators like speckled trout, redfish, mackerel, and many other fish that anglers like to catch.

Hundreds of diet studies and dozens of coastal species were included in the study’s Gulf-wide food web, which modeled predator-prey interactions from 1980 to 2016. Menhaden, called pogies in the Gulf, were found to support the diets of 32 predator groups. When categorized by age class, the main predators of juvenile menhaden were redfish, speckled trout, and seabirds. Menhaden over one year of age were mainly preyed upon by reds, trout, and king and Spanish mackerel, as well as apex predators like blacktip sharks, gag grouper, dolphins, and coastal piscivores—including jacks, tuna, and mahi mahi.

It is interesting to note that menhaden accounted for about 85 percent of all forage fish biomass in this model, but that number is probably smaller in reality. Because other forage fish in the Gulf—like sardines, anchovies, and mullet—are not as well-studied as the menhaden, more data is needed to determine the role of all forage species in the ecosystem. Certainly, other forage species contribute to the diets of predators like snapper and grouper, so more data would be useful for future assessments of those species.

Commercial and recreational fishery statistics were added to the model to evaluate historical fishing pressure and compare potential scenarios with different harvest strategies. Notably, the Gulf menhaden reduction fishery was responsible for 48.1 percent of all commercial catch (in weight) from 1980 to 2016. When looking at scenarios where menhaden fishing pressure differed, the data showed the current amount of pressure in the Gulf cuts king mackerel biomass in half compared to where there is zero menhaden fishing. Other species are reduced, as well, including the extremely popular speckled trout and redfish.

Based on this study, Gulf menhaden support about 40 percent of the diets of both Spanish and king mackerel and about 20 percent of the diet for speckled trout. This information could be integral to the development of an ecosystem-based management plan for the Gulf menhaden fishery, considering the needs of such predators.

During the entire period, there was a 30-percent increase in fishery landings (commercial and recreational) across the Gulf. Although certain gamefish—like yellowfin tuna and swordfish—showed increased biomass estimates, large oceanic sharks, other tunas, Spanish and king mackerel, and reef piscivores decreased in biomass.

While the authors of the study noted there are still data gaps regarding predator diets throughout the Gulf, this is the most up-to-date and comprehensive diet model available. Based on the latest stock assessment published in 2019, king mackerel are not considered overfished, nor are they experiencing overfishing, but it is clear from this study that Gulf menhaden and king mackerel are connected. The next stock assessment for Spanish mackerel is scheduled to be published in 2023, which will hopefully close some of the data gaps.

With further study, it may be found that the health of king or Spanish mackerel stocks can serve as indicators of ecosystem impacts in the Gulf, like striped bass are in the Atlantic. The TRCP and its partners will be working diligently to gain more information on the role of menhaden in the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and how redfish, speckled trout, tarpon, jacks, and grouper are affected by the industrial menhaden fishery that currently has no catch limit and very little state and federal oversight.

Learn more about our efforts to conserve menhaden in the Gulf and Atlantic.

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Jaclyn Higgins

October 29, 2021

How the Forage Fish Conservation Act Will Benefit Anglers

New legislation will help ensure that the species at the base of the marine food chain are abundant enough to support sportfish

Forage fish like menhaden, river herring, and shad are the foundation of the marine food web. These fish serve as prey for popular sportfish, such as striped bass, speckled trout, and bluefin tuna, as well as iconic species like osprey, bottlenose dolphins, and humpback whales.

Shad and river herring, in particular, used to support some of the largest and most important commercial and recreational fisheries along the Atlantic coast, but habitat loss from dam construction and stock depletion from overfishing have decreased herring and shad landings by 96 percent since 1950. Meanwhile, billions of pounds of menhaden are commercially harvested by a single foreign-owned company to be “reduced” into livestock feed, fish oil, fish meal, fertilizer, and other products.

The TRCP has been engaged in the push for better forage fish management, because these species are essential to coastal ecosystems and economies.

The bipartisan Forage Fish Conservation Act, which was introduced in the House this week, aims to address current gaps in forage fish management by amending and building upon the successes of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which has been instrumental in addressing overfishing and maintaining stocks for anglers to enjoy over the past 50 years.

The new legislation would ensure that federal fisheries managers account for the needs of forage fish and the predator species that depend on them. It would establish management plans for river herring and shad in the Atlantic and address the needs of sportfish and other predator species in existing forage fish management plans. It would also require that managers assess the possible impacts of newly proposed commercial fishing for forage fish, including the effects on other fisheries, anglers, and the marine ecosystem. The bill would require that science-based recommendations are made on forage fish management and provide a national, science-based definition for forage fish, to help clarify future policymaking.

More abundant forage fish populations will boost sportfish and fishing opportunities. The implementation of the Forage Fish Conservation Act would sustain forage fish populations by improving management strategies, so that anglers can enjoy thriving coastal ecosystems and economies for generations to come.

Do Your Part

Ask your elected officials to support the Forage Fish Conservation Act and the future of forage fish management using our easy advocacy tool. Take action now!

Top photo courtesy of Woozy Fishing (@woozy_fishing)

Kristyn Brady

July 29, 2021

House Votes to Increase Key Conservation Funds that Benefit Waterfowl, Deer, and Sportfish

The chamber passed a “minibus” package of appropriations bills outlining funding for the federal agriculture, energy, water, environment, and public land agencies, including investments in conservation that will affect hunting and fishing in America

In a 219 – 208 floor vote this afternoon, the House passed a “minibus” package of appropriations bills for fiscal year 2022, including those that fund conservation at the federal agencies overseeing agriculture, energy, water, the environment, and public lands.

Experts at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership have scrutinized these funding levels and identified important increases in several areas, including drought resiliency, wetlands conservation, private land conservation, big game herd health, and habitat restoration in the Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, and Upper Mississippi River watershed.

“We’re pleased to see the House supporting robust and increased investment in conservation at a time when public land visitation is up, participation in hunting and fishing is growing, and our natural resources face many challenges, including climate change, drought, development, invasive species, wildfire, and disease,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “We have to create certainty for the federal workers who keep hunters and anglers safe on our public lands and waters and give them the resources to improve habitat and stave off risk—rather than scramble to recover after losses or watch maintenance backlogs grow. This requires investment. We look forward to working with the Senate to secure these funding levels and seize additional opportunities to commit to conservation in fiscal year 2022.”

Some highlights of the appropriations package include:

  • $25 million for the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Drought Response Program, which is $10 million more than FY21
  • $350 million for Army Corps construction projects within the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program—an increase of $100 million over FY21, although less than half of what the TRCP and conservation partners had pushed for to expedite completion of authorized Everglades restoration projects
  • $50 million for North American Wetlands Conservation Act programs, up by $3.5 million
  • A $65-million bump in funding for conservation technical assistance available to private landowners who enhance habitat, bringing total program funding to $894 million
  • A $44-million increase for Bureau of Land Management habitat programs, bringing the total to $233 million
  • $33.5 million for Upper Mississippi River restoration
  • $15 million for Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • $10 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to assist state agencies in CWD containment

While the funding measure takes an important step in growing federal investment in several areas important to wildlife, conservation needs continue to outpace funding. Challenges ranging from chronic wasting disease to drought are affecting hunters, anglers, landowners, and fish and wildlife. The TRCP looks forward to working with lawmakers in the Senate to support these critical funding needs for FY22 and years to come.

 

Photo by RimLight Media

Chris Macaluso

July 26, 2021

Expert Panel Discusses Gulf Menhaden Management

TRCP gathered conservation leaders, fisheries managers, fishing businesses, and media to talk about gulf menhaden management and the industrial menhaden reduction fishery’s impact on recreational fishing

Menhaden—also known as pogies in the Gulf—are essential forage fish for redfish, speckled trout, and many other culturally important gamefish throughout the region. Meanwhile, the industrial menhaden reduction fishery is the largest fishery by volume in the Gulf of Mexico. Two foreign-owned companies harvest about 1.2 billion pounds of menhaden annually using purse seine nets and large ships of 160-200 feet in length. The fish are “reduced” and used for a variety of products including fish feed for foreign fish farms, livestock feed, and cosmetics.

This high volume of harvest is largely unregulated. There are no catch limits in place and observer coverage is virtually non-existent. Preliminary indications from an examination of the menhaden fishery by the University of Florida and NOAA show a significant effect on sportfish—as much as a 50-percent reduction in speckled trout and redfish biomass—from industrial menhaden harvest in the Gulf.

This is why we gathered media and conservation leaders attending ICAST to discuss improving menhaden management in the Gulf and reducing the impacts of the industrial reduction fishery.

Speakers included Dr. Aaron Adams, director of science and conservation at Bonefish and Tarpon Trust; Richard Fischer, executive director of the Louisiana Charterboat Association; Jesse Simpkins, vice president of marketing for St. Croix Rods; and Mike Waine, Atlantic fisheries policy director at the American Sportfishing Association.

Here’s what you need to know:

An estimated 80 to 90 percent of the Gulf pogie harvest takes place off Louisiana’s coast, with roughly 20 to 30 percent of that catch occurring in the shallow surf zone near beaches and barrier islands—ecologically sensitive areas where heavy bycatch is more likely.

Up to 60 million pounds of bycatch is lost each year as a result of reduction fishing in the Gulf, including hundreds of thousands of redfish, speckled trout, jacks, mackerels, and tarpon as well as crabs, mullet, shrimp, herring, and other vital forage. A 2016 analysis of Gulf menhaden fishing bycatch on redfish conducted by NOAA reported as many as 1.1 million pounds of redfish are killed annually, including tens of thousands of brood stock fish between 10 and 35 pounds.

The Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana, the TRCP, and a host of other fisheries and wildlife conservation groups—including the National Marine Manufacturers Association, American Sportfishing Association, Audubon Louisiana, Pew, the Louisiana Charterboat Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Wild Oceans, Angler Action Network, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, International Gamefish Association, Fly Fishers International, the Billfish Foundation, and Menhaden Defenders—have formed a coalition to support conservation measures.

This includes creating a model of ecological management for Gulf menhaden fishing like what has been recently implemented by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Ecological management would take into consideration the role that pogies play as forage for sportfish, marine mammals, and birds, as well as the capacity for pogies to filter and clean water. It would also examine the impacts the reduction fishery has on habitat and require a management authority, like the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, to set and enforce catch limits.

The coalition is also pushing for a buffer zone off Louisiana’s beaches and barrier islands of at least one-half mile where reduction fishing would be prohibited. Louisiana legislator Rep. Joe Orgeron introduced a bill in April 2020 that would have created a half-mile buffer off most of Louisiana’s coast and a one-mile buffer off areas heavily used by recreational anglers. The bill passed the Louisiana House but was amended by the state Senate and ultimately failed to become law. The coalition will continue to work with the state legislature and other law and policy bodies to implement commonsense conservation measures for the Gulf menhaden fishery.

Learn more about menhaden and how these important baitfish drive sportfishing here. 

 

Top photo courtesy of Oceana/Carlos Suarez via Flickr.

Chris Macaluso

July 22, 2021

Expert Panel Discusses Possible Impacts of 30×30 on Recreational Fishing

TRCP gathered conservation leaders, fisheries managers, fishing businesses, and media at ICAST to discuss the Biden Administration’s proposal to conserve 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030

The TRCP and the conservation community at large have been highly engaged in helping shape
efforts to further protect America’s fish and wildlife habitat, focused especially on the effort to
conserve 30 percent of the nation’s land and water by the year 2030, commonly referred to as 30×30. This is why we gathered media and conservation leaders attending ICAST to discuss 30×30’s potential impact on recreational fishing with the help of an expert panel.

Panelists included: Janet Coit, the assistant administrator for fisheries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Marc Gorelnik, chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council and general counsel for the American Sportfishing Association; Chris Horton, senior director of Midwestern states and fisheries policy at the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation; and Jessica McCawley, director of the division of marine fisheries management at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Here’s what you need to know:

More than 40 conservation and hunting and fishing advocacy groups joined together in 2020 to
create an effort to ensure that hunters and anglers are involved partners in 30×30, that critical fish and game habitat will be prioritized, and that access for outdoor recreation will continue. Hunters and anglers have always been at the forefront of land and water conservation with more than $65 billion generated for conservation since 1939.

“We’ve always been about conservation in the hunting and fishing community,” said Horton. “We’re all in, provided that hunting and fishing are recognized as compatible uses of our resources.”

In January, President Biden issued Executive Order 14008: Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. Section 216 called for identifying steps to conserve at least 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030. Currently, it’s estimated that as much as 23 percent of the nation’s oceans and 13 percent of lands are already protected.

The recreational fishing community has worked aggressively with staff to help shape this effort and provided comments to the Department of the Interior and Department of Commerce. Past presidential administrations have created large ocean monuments that initially restricted recreational fishing. Legislation introduced in California in February 2020 initially could have made recreational fishing and other recreational activities off limits in large areas of the state. But recreational advocacy groups were able to add language that recognized the importance of access for recreational activities before the law passed in late 2020.

“Conservation is a goal, and protection is a means of achieving that goal,” said Gorelnik. “To some stakeholders protection is a goal to be reached through denial of access… There’s a place we can meet where we can have responsible access while also protecting biodiversity.”

Comments submitted to NOAA in March by a host of sportfishing and boating groups insisted that 30×30 efforts include:

  • Recognition of the positive role that hunting and fishing play in conservation
  • Protected area definitions that allow for well-managed and sustainable wildlife-dependent
    activities
  • Consideration of existing protected areas in measuring progress toward stated goals
  • Targeted, science-based conservation measures developed through a stakeholder-driven
    process to address biodiversity threats
  • Clearly defined roles and authorities for the entities charged with carrying out the 30×30
    initiative

This advocacy has paid off. Released May 6, the administration’s 30×30 report entitled “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful” specifically recognizes “the contributions and stewardship traditions of America’s hunters, anglers, and fishing communities,” as well as the benefits of healthy lands and waters to jobs and the outdoor recreation economy.

“We are pleasantly surprised and cautiously optimistic that hunting and fishing will continue to be in a leadership position advancing the goals of the 30 by 30 effort,” said Chris Macaluso, TRCP’s marine fisheries director. But the work continues for conservation groups, the administration, and Congress as specific details of what protection means and how it will be achieved are developed.

Learn more about the 30 by 30 initiative and the role of hunters and anglers here.

Take action now to ensure that hunters and anglers have a seat at the table as 30×30 is planned.

 

Photo by RimLight Media.

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CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA

In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.

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