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John Gans

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posted in: Outdoor Economy

March 8, 2022

First Overhaul of Atlantic Striped Bass Management in Almost 20 Years

The TRCP and our recreational fishing partners are weighing in with detailed, technical feedback for fisheries managers—here are the high points 

Anglers up and down the Atlantic coast know that the quality of striped bass fishing has deteriorated significantly over the past decade. In fact, a 2018 stock assessment conducted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission—the interstate body responsible for managing striped bass and other near-shore species—confirmed that the species has been overfished since 2013.

These findings tripped existing management triggers, and the ASMFC responded by mandating an 18-percent reduction in catch in 2020 to try and end overfishing and begin rebuilding the striped bass population. Commissioners also mandated the use of circle hooks when fishing with bait, created a slot limit, and continued a bag limit of one fish per angler. Separately, the commission is also reining in the menhaden reduction industry, which should provide more food for bass and other predators.

We will find out how much those measures helped later this year, when the updated stock assessment will be released. What we’re seeing on the water and in annual data collection, like the Maryland Young of the Year Study, indicates that the population is still in trouble.

In order to end overfishing and rebuild the striped bass stock, the ASMFC is currently going through a major overhaul of the Fisheries Management Plan that regulates striped bass. Through a proposed update known as Amendment 7, fisheries managers are looking to institutionalize changes to the FMP that will prevent striped bass from ending up in this depleted state in the future. This is the first overhaul of the FMP since 2003.

The proposed amendment is extremely technical, and the ASMFC is asking for public comment on a long list of management measures. You can count on the TRCP and our recreational fishing partners to respond in detail, but here is a quick summary of the four areas where updates to striped bass management are being considered.

Management Triggers

In what is by far the most complicated part of the amendment, the ASMFC is considering changes to the multiple triggers that determine when they are required to take management action in response to a decline in the striped bass population. Under this system, a combination of factors—including more striper deaths annually, fewer large egg-laying females, and fewer juvenile fish—trigger the ASMFC to take corrective actions.

One option being considered in this section includes extending the amount of time the commission has to respond when triggers are tripped. We’ll be opposing this, as the declining stock should be addressed and rebuilt as soon as possible. The ASMFC should not have the option to defer management action.

Recreational Release Mortality

The popularity of catch-and-release striped bass fishing, combined with size and bag limits, creates a high proportion of fish being released. Post-release mortality—or the number of fish that die after being released—currently accounts for the highest percentage of striped bass deaths.

This section of the amendment introduces management options to reduce fishing mortality through seasonal closures, gear restrictions, and angler education. The introduction of circle hooks in 2020 was the first step. Seasonal closures of fishing during spawning periods and education of anglers on proper handling and release practices should be adopted to further reduce the number of dead striped bass. Anglers need to learn that even if a fish swims away when released, it still might die if it wasn’t handled and released properly.

Rebuilding Plan

This section considers whether to empower the ASMFC to respond quickly to the results of the October 2022 stock assessment, rather than going through a full addendum process. This should be supported to rebuild the striped bass stock as quickly as possible.

Conservation Equivalency

Individual states have the option of submitting alternative fishing plans that try and achieve the same level of conservation as the Fisheries Management Plan standards. It is the responsibility of the state to demonstrate that the proposed management program is equivalent and consistent with the FMP standards, but historically this has created regulatory inconsistency among states.

The current use of conservation equivalency for striped bass is not working. In fact, it has resulted in fishing mortality that exceeds the target for striped bass. For this reason, the TRCP supports the position that conservation equivalency cannot be used when the stock is overfished.

How Anglers Can Help

If you care about striped bass fishing, this amendment process is significant. These are complex issues, and the health of striped bass populations is on the line. Anglers can tune in to the Amendment 7 public hearings in your home state or send comments directly to the ASMFC.

This is a detailed guide put together by our partners at the American Sportfishing Association, if you want to drill down on each issue. The TRCP agrees with ASA on these positions.

The TRCP will join other recreational fishing leaders in sending a formal letter to the ASMFC outlining our recommendations. We’ll also be engaging the commission directly to talk through policy solutions to end overfishing and rebuild this iconic fishery.

 

Top photo courtesy of Joe Manansala / Woozy Fishing via Flickr.

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Kristyn Brady

February 17, 2022

A Record $1.5 Billion is Going to Conservation—Thanks to YOU

A portion of your gear, firearm, license, and boat fuel purchases helped to generate more funding than ever for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to distribute for state work on conservation and outdoor recreation access

Hunters and anglers often engage in conservation through our words and actions, speaking up for sound policies and volunteering to plant native grasses, pick up trash, or band birds. But we also contribute financially to conservation through excise taxes on our hunting, shooting, and fishing equipment, including ammo and boat fuel.

This funding is sorely needed by state agencies that carry out habitat conservation and upkeep of outdoor recreation access points and facilities—and, fortunately, there’s quite a bit more of it this year. It was announced late last week that sportsmen and sportswomen generated a record-breaking $1.5 billion in conservation dollars for the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.

You might know this funding source as the combined result of the Pittman-Robertson Act, or Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, which created an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment in 1937, and the Dingell-Johnson Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, which created a similar tax on fishing tackle, boat equipment, and boat fuel in 1950.

The hunting and shooting side of our community brought in over $1.1 billion for conservation in the past year, while the fishing and boating side generated almost $400 million. Together, this shatters the previous high mark of $808 million distributed for conservation in 2015.

The Associated Press reports that Texas will receive the largest pot of funding ($71 million) followed by Alaska ($66 million) based on land and water area and the number of hunting and fishing license holders in the state. A state-by-state listing of how the funding will be spent can be found here.

To date, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has distributed more than $25.5 billion in Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program apportionments for state conservation and recreation projects, according to a Department of the Interior press release. The recipient state wildlife agencies have matched these funds with approximately $8.5 billion, primarily from hunting and fishing license revenues.

In the final days of 2019, Congress passed a package of its annual appropriations bills that implemented an important change to the Pittman-Robertson Act: Hunting and shooting equipment excise taxes can now be used to help recruit, retain, and reactivate new hunters and recreational shooters, a provision that was made in Dingell-Johnson and that successfully helped to grow the ranks of fishing participation in recent years.

The TRCP and our partners pushed for this change and, at the time of the bill’s passage, we called it “a landmark achievement” for the 116th Congress.

Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson are just two of the cornerstone sources of conservation funding in America, but we rely on many other federal investments in our lands and waters. Click here for a refresher on where your conservation dollars come from.

 

Top photo by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation via flickr

Kristyn Brady

February 9, 2022

Q&A: How to Maximize Your Harvest While Minimizing CWD Risk

Deboning your deer in the field helps to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease, but can you safely use the bones?

A few years ago, the TRCP partnered with Steven Rinella and Janis Putelis at MeatEater to educate deer hunters on an important step they can take to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease—deboning your deer in the field. We recently got a great question from a hunter who wants to do the right thing and prevent bringing home the soft tissues that may contain CWD, but also wants to maximize their harvest. So, we called on a highly respected wildlife disease specialist to provide an answer.

Tune into the video or read on below for more.

Question: If you want to use them yourself and are not transporting the animal out of state, is it still safe and legal to use the bones to make tools and bone broth? I don’t like the idea of wasting so much of the carcass.

Wildlife disease ecologist and New York deer hunter Krysten Schuler answers:

As a hunter, I understand why you’d want to get the most you can out of your harvest. Many states do not allow hunters to bring whole deer carcasses home from another state. They typically ask that the harvest is deboned, because CWD prions exist in a variety of tissues, so it’s easiest just to have hunters bring back edible or trophy portions that most people want to keep and leave the rest behind. Disposing of these parts so they end up in a landfill, instead of on the landscape, is really the best method for hunters to avoid creating a new CWD hotspot in the woods.

Good to know: A CWD prion (pronounced pree-on) is a malformed protein—it is not alive, like bacteria or fungi, and it’s near-impossible to eradicate.

There was a lot of debate among wildlife professionals about whether quartering would be sufficient vs deboning. The concern was that the larger bones, which you’d likely use for stock or making tools, would be thrown out on the landscape if a full deboning was required. In the end, it was a judgement call to minimize the risk and also help with language clarity, as people may have different ideas about which bones could be retained while quartering.

The bottom line: If you’re not moving your harvest from one hunting zone to another, it is perfectly legal to use the bones for stock. But if you hunt in a CWD zone, I’d get my deer tested first—the CDC recommends that no one knowingly consume a CWD-positive animal. This goes for all parts. Cooking or boiling won’t “kill” CWD prions.

Do you have more questions about CWD? Check out this blog from our archives, where three CWD experts respond to the most common gripes we see from CWD skeptics.

Get Involved

You have the opportunity to take action on CWD today. The Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act would send much-needed resources to state agency staff for disease control, surveillance, testing, and education, while focusing the scope of research to help prevent the rampant spread of CWD. Take just a few minutes to send this message to your lawmakers and urge them to pass this legislation without delay.

Take Action

 

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posted in: Outdoor Economy

January 13, 2022

TRCP’s Top 10 Conservation Priorities for 2022

The legislative and policy solutions we’re pursuing to improve habitat and your hunting and fishing opportunities

Following a 2021 that was a rollercoaster in so many ways, the year ahead provides hunters, anglers, and the conservation community with significant opportunity. Lawmakers deep in re-election cycles know that habitat, access, and conservation funding issues are things that most Americans can agree on and are eager to bring home legislative wins to their voters.

Working alongside our partners, here’s what we want to get done this year.

Infrastructure Implementation

Passed in late 2021, the $1.2-trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides significant federal investment in programs benefiting fish and wildlife on public and private lands, including a first-of-its-kind five-year wildlife crossings grant program. The TRCP will closely follow the implementation of this and other programs to ensure that dollars are both benefiting fish and wildlife and enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities.

 

Building Climate Resilience

Efforts to address our changing climate continue to become less polarizing in Congress. There is significant interest among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in prioritizing carbon sequestration and nature-based solutions that mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events on vulnerable rural communities. Whether in the proposed Build Back Better package, other potential climate legislation, or the 2023 Farm Bill, the conservation community will have an active voice in the discussion.

 

Passage of the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act

Led by Representatives Kind of Wisconsin and Thompson of Pennsylvania, this comprehensive legislation would provide state wildlife and agriculture agencies with much needed resources for CWD management and suppression. The bill would also create a CWD research grant program to study the spread of the disease and direct the USDA to collect public feedback on ways to improve oversight of the captive deer industry. The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives in late 2021 and awaits introduction in the Senate.

 

Protection of Bristol Bay in Statute

In late 2021, the Biden Administration once again halted the proposed Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. While this was welcome news, more work is needed to federally protect the world’s most prolific sockeye salmon fishery in statute. The TRCP is working with lawmakers and state and national partners in developing legislation to do just that.

 

Passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

RAWA would provide state wildlife agencies with nearly $1.4 billion annually to implement state wildlife action plans, allowing for more proactive conservation of wildlife and associated habitat to avoid potential endangered species listings. Introduced by Representative Dingell of Michigan and Senator Heinrich of New Mexico, the legislation has bipartisan support in both chambers and would be a generational investment in wildlife conservation.

 

Passage of the Modernizing Access to Public Land Act

The MAPLand Act, championed by Senator Risch of Idaho and Representative Moore of Utah, would require that maps and easement records held by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are digitized and publicized for the benefit of all Americans. Doing so would bring recordkeeping into the 21st century and provide hunters and anglers with much greater certainty in planning outings on our public lands.

 

Introduction of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act

In the last half-century, the intense conversion of grasslands has precipitated a steep decline in associated bird populations. The TRCP and several partners have worked for the past year on developing an innovative grant program for grass and rangeland conservation that works with ranchers and landowners to improve ecosystem health and ensure that their acreage remains productive and healthy habitat for years to come. Our groups have worked closely with Senator Wyden in developing the legislation and are looking forward to bringing the bill before the House and Senate.

 

Improving the State of Gulf Menhaden

Largescale industrial menhaden fishing in the Gulf accounts for more than one billion pounds of this forage fish harvested each year, making it Louisiana’s largest fishery. Pogie boats often operate near shore, netting thousands of other fish species, including red drum and speckled trout. Anglers have fought to restrict these operations in the surf zone but continue to face opposition from menhaden processors citing economic impacts. In 2022, the TRCP will continue to work with partners and scientists who study the bycatch of such operations and pursue legislation to further reduce the impact of the industrial menhaden fishery on sportfish in the Gulf, with a particular focus on protecting beaches and other shallow-water habitat.

 

Using the Power of Habitat to Boost Water Resources

Western watersheds, such as the Colorado River and Rio Grande, face increasing pressure from wildfire and drought. Natural infrastructure approaches—such as the protection and restoration of headwater wetlands and riparian areas—have been shown to effectively reduce natural hazard risks while benefiting water users and watersheds. In 2022, TRCP is working to prioritize the implementation of natural infrastructure and nature-based solutions to address Western water challenges in various federal and state policy initiatives, with a focus on the 2023 Farm Bill and this year’s Water Resources Development Act. We’ll also be pushing for the latter legislation to improve Everglades restoration funding and build on the successful construction of projects to help restore natural waterflows.

 

Conserving Migration Corridors

Beyond the wildlife crossing pilot program included in recently passed legislation, additional solutions are needed to conserve big game migration corridors across the country. The TRCP and partner groups are continuing to work with state and federal land managers to increase investments in research and corridor mapping, improve interagency coordination, and conserve corridors on public land.

 

For more information, and to take action in support of these critical conservation priorities in the year ahead, visit the TRCP Action Center.

Jared Romero

January 4, 2022

How Latino Hunters Are Helping to Shape R3

The effort to recruit, retain, and reactivate hunters can’t leave out this important segment of the U.S. population

In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a report that showed 6 percent of the U.S. population participated in hunting. Within that group, 97 percent identified as white, and 90 percent were male. The data indicated that Hispanic and Latino participation accounted for just 3 percent of all hunters, while the 2020 U.S. Census data shows that Hispanics account for 19 percent of our population.

The TRCP wanted to better understand why the Hispanic and Latino communities in the U.S. participate in hunting at a reduced capacity. To do this, the TRCP partnered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to facilitate two roundtable meetings, where Latino participants could share what barriers, they face when trying to participate in hunting.

Fourteen members of the community—from lifelong, multi-generational hunters to beginners who want to learn more—joined TRCP and CPW staff in addition to facilitators from the Meridian Institute and were compensated for their time. This resulted in the creation of a toolkit that is being shared with other state wildlife agencies on how to better engage diverse communities in hunting.

Here’s how state agencies can serve these hunters better.

Establish Trust and Sincerity

Roundtable participants believed that establishing trust is essential when trying to connect with all communities. Efforts that don’t feel sincere can create further irreparable damage between communities and perpetuate the lack of trust. Agencies can build sincere relationships by identifying and working with trusted partners that already exist in the Latino community, being open and ready to modify programs based on community feedback and ensuring that programs are sustainable and not one-and-done.

Examine Messaging and Whose Stories Are Told

In the roundtable meetings, participants indicated that the messaging around hunting often makes it seem like a white space in the eyes of people of color, and many had encountered discrimination and profiling when they were out in the field simply trying to participate in outdoor activities. Storytelling was suggested as an avenue to change that.

Many of the participants were multi-generational hunters and had strong familial connections to hunting—but their stories were rarely told in outdoor media. If stories from the broader Latino hunting population were amplified by state wildlife agencies, it would create the narrative that Latinos are welcome and respected in the hunting community. It would also ensure that there is not an erasure of their history as hunters and conservationists.

Additionally, participants flagged certain terminology that could promote bias. Terms like “huntsmen” or “huntmasters,” for example, can be exclusive of women and people of color, reinforcing the narrative that hunting is a white, male-dominated space.

Similarly, each state agency should get to know its Latino and Hispanic communities and dial in the terminology for addressing these groups—“Hispanic” and “Latino” are very broad terms that encapsulate people of many backgrounds and heritages. When possible, roundtable participants indicated that they’d much prefer the use of terms for specific communities and regional identities, such as Chicano, Mexican American, and Tejano.

Use Data Collection and Monitoring to Improve Engagement and Outreach

Participants thought that it was important for state agencies to collect demographic data and that it be available to the public. Collection of demographic data should be done in a clear and concise manner that has its intent clearly explained. This would better identify who is participating in hunting and how broader participation could be achieved at a state and regional level. Demographic data collection would then help to further design and facilitate engagement and outreach programs for women and people of color. Programs that meet communities where they are important for the future of conservation and hunting. To have the best chance of success, state agencies should partner and co-host hunting education programs with organizations that are already serving Latinos and other communities, such as Hispanic Access Foundation and Latino Outdoors.

Improve Transparency

Feedback from roundtable participants indicated that it is easy for people to get discouraged and disenfranchised when they are enthusiastic about participating and learning to hunt but repeatedly fail to draw tags. Agencies must provide clear and concise information about the unbiased draw process and publicize other opportunities to participate in hunting when you don’t draw tags, such as over-the-counter or novice licenses.

Why This Work Is Important to TRCP

Our public lands and outdoor access are valuable to people of all backgrounds and demographics. Our public lands can be healing for individuals and our nation. By taking steps to welcome prospective hunters from Latino and Hispanic communities, we can change the narrative and ensure that all people have the opportunity to participate in the outdoors and share in the responsibility of conservation.

 

Top photo courtesy of Gregg Flores.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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.

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