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Jaclyn Higgins

June 14, 2022

Anglers and Boaters Call on Va. Governor to Move Menhaden Reduction Fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay

National and regional groups launch effort to protect the health of the Bay and our coastal economy

A coalition of 11 national and 10 Virginia-based groups is urging Governor Glenn Youngkin to move menhaden reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay. The recreational fishing community is concerned that years of localized depletion from the annual harvest of over 100 million pounds of menhaden in the Bay has deprived gamefish like striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish of a critical food source.

Menhaden—small baitfish that are essential in the marine food web—are commercially harvested by a single foreign-owned company, then ground up and “reduced” to make pet food, fish meal and other products.

Organizations including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, and the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association are dedicated to maintaining the health of the Bay, the region’s economy, and the broader marine ecosystem in the Atlantic. The coalition, which represents thousands of anglers and conservationists from Virginia and beyond, sent a letter to Governor Youngkin today asking that reduction fishing for menhaden be moved out of the Bay until science shows that it isn’t having an impact on fish and habitat.

“Our members have witnessed years of decline in our striped bass, and we believe there is a causal relation to the menhaden reduction industry in the Bay,” says Steve Atkinson, president of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association. “Largescale reduction fishing is outlawed by every other state on the East Coast, so it’s high time that Virginia took action.”

The striped bass fishery is the largest marine recreational fishery in the U.S., driving $166 million in recreational fishing activity in Virginia alone. However, the economic value of striped bass fishing to Virginia has declined by over 50 percent in the past decade.

“Industrial menhaden fishing in the Bay has almost wiped out striped bass fishing charters in the fall and winter,” says Bill Pappas, owner of Playing Hookey Charters in Virginia Beach. “Nobody will book a trip when striped bass fishing is this bad.”

According to the latest science, menhaden reduction fishing contributes to a nearly 30-percent decline in striped bass numbers coastwide. Omega Protein, part of Cooke Inc., is responsible for this immense menhaden harvest, which is harming the most important striped bass nursery on the East Coast and undermining the sportfishing economy and small businesses throughout the Commonwealth. It is up to Governor Youngkin and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to implement commonsense regulations until science demonstrates that menhaden fishing can be allowed without negatively affecting the broader Bay ecosystem.

“Boating and fishing in the Chesapeake Bay are primary drivers of business for boat dealers across Virginia and largely depend on a robust menhaden population and strong striped bass fishery,” says Chad Tokowicz, government relations manager at the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “For that reason, the MRAA and our Virginia members hope that Governor Youngkin will support small businesses and the state’s outdoor recreation economy by ending menhaden reduction fishing in the Chesapeake.”

Local and national groups are calling on their Virginia members and boaters and anglers across the East Coast to push for change.

“Virginia has an immense responsibility to the Bay ecosystem and anglers up and down the East Coast, where recreational fishing for striped bass is a way of life,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’re making sure that there is national attention on this effort to move menhaden reduction fishing out of the Bay, an iconic fishing destination in its own right, and working closely with fisheries managers in the Atlantic and Gulf to account for the critical role of menhaden in the marine food chain.”

The Governor-appointed Virginia Marine Resources Commission has an opening to change menhaden regulations in October. Sign the petition to let these decision-makers know that you support moving menhaden reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay.

 

Important Facts for Anglers and Boaters
  • Reduction fishing for menhaden is the industrial harvest of an oily baitfish that is then ground up and “reduced” for use in pet food and other products.
  • This practice contributes to a nearly 30-percent decline in Atlantic striped bass.
  • Virginia is the only East Coast state where reduction fishing for menhaden has not been outlawed.
  • A single foreign-owned company, Omega Protein, removes more than 100 million pounds of menhaden every year from the Chesapeake Bay, the most important striped bass nursery on the East Coast.
  • The striped bass stock has been struggling to recover for over a decade, affecting fishing opportunities and coastal businesses.
  • Anglers are complying with an 18-percent reduction in striped bass harvest, with more cuts expected this year.
  • A coalition of 11 national and 10 Virginia-based groups is urging Governor Glenn Youngkin—and the Youngkin-appointed Virginia Marine Resources Commission—to regulate menhaden reduction fishing in the Chesapeake Bay.
  • If moved out of the Bay, Omega Protein would still be able to harvest menhaden in state and federal waters.

Top photo by Chesapeake Bay Program

9 Responses to “Anglers and Boaters Call on Va. Governor to Move Menhaden Reduction Fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay”

  1. Mike mounie

    This was all very predictable. From the time they started using planes to spot schools of menhaden the relentless pursuit has had a huge impact on the species. Having fished the. At for 40+ years it’s rare to even come across a school these days.

  2. Brad Gladfelter

    I agree with this except for the call to support striper charter fishing. Many of these target or allow harvest of the large female stripers. Those are the brood stock. Those large stripers cannot be killed either.

  3. Daniele Peterson

    I appreciate the efforts these groups have in pursuing this change. I am a resident of the ESVA and have witnessed the destruction of our shorelines from reduction fishing. 3 spills/net breakage/overkill in 1 month is costing residents and tourists money and decline in economy. Who wants to visit ESVA when you have dead fish washing ashore, huge fishing vessels so close children can’t safely play in the water without fear of vessel fuel, seaweed, bacteria from dead fish and fish carcasses floating in your path. There is no recreation in the Bay waters. One question needs to be answered. Why does Virginia still allow this harvesting when other states along the Chesapeake have outlawed it? This has been going on for decades and the ecological damage can not be repaired for generations to come. All one has to do is read the history of the ESVA to see what happens from overkill. Don’t let history repeat itself.

  4. Robert Gardner

    I have lived on the Chesapeake bay for the past 24+ years and have witnessed the menhaden (fish reduction) harvest from Omega Protein decimate the population of menhaden to the point where it’s now difficult to find schools of them like we used to. I’ve also seen countless swathes of dead / spilled fish or bycatch wastefully left to rot on the surface and/ or along our shorelines. I’ve also seen a flourishing population of healthy striped bass quickly shrink and the fish became very unhealthy/ emaciated with sores all over their bodies due to malnutrition, as they were forced to feed on crabs and other species, instead of menhaden, which they are biologically evolved to feed on as their primary forage. The menhaden (reduction) fishery in the Chesapeake Bay has to stop. Now!

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Alexandra Kozak

June 13, 2022

New Interactive Map Shows PA Streams Lacking the Conservation They Deserve

Explore the waterways that qualify for High Quality and Exceptional Value status but have been backlogged at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

If you’ve been following the TRCP for a while, you’ve likely seen us call for Pennsylvania anglers to take action in support of upgrading conservation safeguards that the PA Fish and Boat Commission can provide to our best trout streams. In this process, the commission opens a public comment period every three months and anglers are outspoken in their support of bestowing Wild Trout and Class A Wild Trout stream status where waterways are eligible.

Similarly, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection develops water quality standards designed to safeguard PA streams, rivers, and lakes and give the highest possible protections to our best waters. The agency designates qualified waters as High Quality or Exceptional Value to protect and maintain clean water where it already exists.

Unfortunately, a lengthy list of PA’s top wild trout streams qualify for the highest conservation safeguards at the DEP, but the agency has failed to implement these protections. And our trout streams have waited long enough.

Explore the map to see which streams in the Delaware River watershed are currently backlogged and pending designation by the DEP.

How Did So Many Streams Get Backlogged for Designation?

Waterways can be recommended for upgraded status by the DEP, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, or the public. After streams are proposed for additional designation, an arduous assessment by the DEP then follows. In fact, the evaluation of High Quality and Exceptional Value streams often represents years, if not decades, of work and detailed water surveys.

Even after this thorough process, though, some streams have not yet been designated. (See streams marked “Qualifies for Conservation” on the map.)

Many waters being considered right now are already recognized as wild trout waters and several are recognized as Class A wild trout waters by PFBC. (See streams marked “Recommended for Conservation” on the map.)

This means that not only do these waters sustain naturally reproducing populations of trout, but several of them are among the best in the state. These waters deserve top conservation safeguards, according to one state agency, but they await assessment and designation by the other. This has resulted in a lengthy backlog and delay in commonsense protections.

Why Is It Important to Clear the Backlog of Stream Designations?

Clearing the backlog is particularly important to our state’s $58 billion outdoor recreation economy right now. These additional protections are critical to helping the state manage and protect fish populations, especially as demands on water resources continue to increase. When you consider that roughly 40 percent of streams across the state are NOT suitable for fishing, swimming, and/or drinking water, according to the DEP, it makes sense to safeguard the exceptional waterways that already meet top standards and support outdoor recreation that drives our economy.

TRCP polling shows that 92 percent of sportsmen and sportswomen in Pennsylvania support maintaining and strengthening clean water standards in the state, which is home to some of the best publicly accessible fishing that the East Coast has to offer. Plus, providing additional conservation safeguards to the best wild trout streams supports small businesses like tackle shops and fishing guide services that make up an important part of the robust outdoor recreation industry in Pennsylvania.

Take action now and tell the PA Department of Environmental Protection to clear the backlog and conserve our best waters.

 

Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program.

Ian Nakayama

June 8, 2022

Important Water Resources Legislation Moves Forward

House passes Water Resources Development Act with Everglades and Western water provisions

The House of Representatives has passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 (H.R. 7776) in a 384-37 vote, advancing natural infrastructure solutions, Everglades restoration, and Mississippi River conservation priorities. The bill recently advanced out of committee in the Senate and awaits a floor vote in that chamber.

“The TRCP works hard to ensure that the biennial Water Resources Development Act is not overlooked by sportsmen and sportswomen—or lawmakers—because this legislation is of critical importance to watersheds across the country, including in some of our most iconic hunting and fishing destinations,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This bill also marks another significant step toward implementing more natural infrastructure approaches, where healthy fish and wildlife habitat help to solve some of our most pressing challenges.”

Numerous provisions in the bipartisan 2022 WRDA are TRCP priorities. These include:

  • Requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate the benefits of using natural infrastructure approaches, such as restoring source watersheds, to enhance the resilience of Western water supplies and infrastructure
  • Clarifying the federal cost-share for ecosystem restoration in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet
  • Lowering the local cost burdens for the Mississippi River Interbasin Project and the Lower Mississippi River Comprehensive Study
  • Requiring the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works to conduct an assessment of levees to identify opportunities for levee system modifications
  • Expediting a feasibility study for western Everglades ecosystem restoration
  • Establishing a National Low-Head Dam Inventory to provide valuable information that will guide fish passage rehabilitation and improve angler and boater safety

The Water Resources Development Act authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out flood control, improve waterways, and conduct ecosystem restoration work. Past WRDA bills have also addressed water infrastructure policy and financing. The TRCP has long advocated for conservation priorities in the WRDA process because it presents several opportunities to support federal investments in ecosystem restoration and natural infrastructure approaches that benefit fish and wildlife habitat.

Learn more about natural infrastructure and what TRCP is doing to advance these solutions.

 

Top photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via Flickr.

Madeleine West

May 26, 2022

New Private Land Conservation Effort Will Focus on Wildlife Corridors

USDA announces incentives for voluntary private land conservation in Wyoming’s big game migration corridors and sets the stage for scaling up across the West

Late last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced an innovative effort to conserve movement corridors used by big game animals. Through a new partnership with the state of Wyoming, the USDA will use a diverse set of Farm Bill programs and dedicated funding to support voluntary conservation of private working lands to safeguard migratory big game populations in the Cowboy State.

The announcement was made by Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie in Cody, Wyoming, at a celebration of Yellowstone National Park’s 150th anniversary. Describing this initiative as a pilot, the Department seeks to scale up this model of working with states and private landowners across the West, demonstrating the value of voluntary, locally led conservation efforts.

Wyoming was an obvious first choice for such a collaboration, given Governor Mark Gordon’s emphasis on the conservation of big game migratory corridors and other important habitat. This partnership shows a clear alignment in state and federal policy priorities, securing the endorsement of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The pilot will utilize several USDA programs in a unique collaboration to address conservation priorities for big game habitat, such as land conversion and habitat restoration and enhancement. With this announcement, the USDA has committed an initial $15 million in investment through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program to provide financial and technical assistance for landowners interested in restoring and protecting working lands from the threats of degradation, fragmentation, and development.

In addition, rental payments will go to producers who enroll in the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is another program that will be utilized. The Natural Resources Conservation Service will hire a dedicated staff member in Wyoming to help coordinate landowner engagement in these programs, each of which serves a unique need in addressing both habitat restoration and the long-term conservation of valuable migration corridors.

Safeguarding our migratory big game herds requires recognizing the essential role that private landowners—and working lands—play in this conservation opportunity. Meaningful and substantive engagement with landowners is necessary to ensure that elk, mule deer, and antelope can move between seasonal habitats. Sportsmen and sportswomen should applaud the USDA for its work toward these ends and encourage decisionmakers to expand the use of Farm Bill programs to conserve migration corridors across the West.

 

Photo: Wyoming Migration Initiative (Gregory Nickerson) via Flickr

Michael O'Casey

May 24, 2022

The Sheep That Started It All

This second installment of a four-part series on the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge is all about the refuge’s California bighorn sheep population. Read on to learn how these public lands became the first site for the reintroduction of this iconic species in Oregon—and the challenges bighorns face there today.

If you climb to the top of 8,017-foot Warner Peak on the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge and look west, down into the cliffs and crags that descend more than 3,000 feet to the valley floor, you will undoubtedly gain a new appreciation for the rugged habitat preferences of one of North America’s most iconic game species: the California bighorn sheep. While the refuge is best known for its namesake population of pronghorns, the long and complex history of bringing bighorns back to Oregon, and managing them, highlights the importance of this high-desert habitat to wildlife.

As any wild sheep enthusiast will tell you, Oregon is home to two native subspecies: California bighorns and Rocky Mountain bighorns. Historically, California bighorns were the most abundant and found throughout the steep, rocky country of southeast Oregon, as well as in the watersheds of the Deschutes and John Day Rivers. Oregon’s Rocky Mountain bighorns occupied the more timbered country of the Blue and Wallowa Mountains in the northeast corner of the state.

Wild sheep were an important food source for Native Americans and then, later, for settlers during the homesteading era. As Oregon’s non-Indigenous population grew, Western emigrants brought with them millions of domestic sheep, resulting in the introduction of new diseases and parasites to wild herds. Overharvest, disease, and habitat loss caused bighorn numbers to rapidly decline during the second half of the 19th century and, by 1915, the last California bighorn was extirpated from Oregon.

Decades later, the first effort to return California bighorn sheep to Oregon took place on the west face of Hart Mountain. In 1954, the Oregon State Game Commission released 20 sheep from Williams Lake, British Columbia, onto the refuge. The reintroduction was incredibly successful and for decades, the Hart Mountain Refuge was used as a source population to establish additional herds throughout southeast Oregon.

Over 600 bighorns relocated from Hart Mountain over the years produced more than 32 herds comprising a statewide population of more than 3,700 animals. Thanks to the success of the original reintroduction on Hart Mountain, the first California bighorn sheep hunting season occurred in 1965, when the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife authorized two hunts with three tags each on Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge.

The refuge’s sheep herd—and the resulting hunting opportunities—continued to grow for decades, peaking in the 1980s with a population of over 400 animals. To give an example, in 1987 the refuge offered four different hunt seasons in two separate areas. Each hunt had at least five tags, for a total of 40 tagholders entering the field that fall. Several over-170-inch, trophy-class California rams were taken over the years, making the refuge one of the best locations in the country to draw a California bighorn tag and pursue one of North America’s most highly sought-after big game species.

That same year, 87 bighorn sheep were translocated off of the refuge to augment additional herds in Southeast Oregon. Unfortunately, this highpoint was short-lived, as bighorn sheep numbers on the refuge began to steadily decline in the late 1990s. In recent years, this decline has accelerated, with the population falling to about 48 animals in 2020. There will be no bighorn sheep hunts on the refuge until the population recovers.

Wildlife biologists and agency staff from USFWS and ODFW have been working to identify the cause of these increasingly concerning declines in hopes of reversing the trend. Research has shown that long-term habitat degradation by invasive weeds and encroaching junipers, as well as climate change and high predation by cougars, are all contributing to Hart Mountain’s declining sheep population.

With these challenges in mind, the USFWS partnered with ODFW to finalize a new Bighorn Sheep Management Plan for the refuge in 2021. The new plan, which includes a combination of habitat management and predator control, was broadly supported by sportsmen groups and reflects the urgency of the situation by calling for several short-term management actions based on the best-available science, plus a longer-term management framework and monitoring strategy.

Thankfully, the new plan has shown signs of promise in the first year of implementation. During the most recent survey, lamb production and recruitment on the refuge improved for the first time in years, and the overall population has increased slightly.

The TRCP and several other hunting-based conservation organizations in Oregon are supportive of the USWFS’s multifaceted approach and believe that the new plan’s successful implementation will provide the best chance of recovery for this iconic and critical population of bighorn sheep. Sportsmen and sportswomen across Oregon are optimistic that a robust herd of California bighorns will once again thrive along the basalt cliffs atop Hart Mountain and, when numbers recover sufficiently, hope to see the return of a hunting season for these iconic species.

Stay tuned for the next blog in this series on the refuge, where I’ll share more details about its unique habitat, ecology, and wildlife recovery challenges.

All photos: USFWS via Flickr

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