Kristine Sowl – USFWS Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
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The House of Representatives has passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 2773) in a 231-190 vote, bringing us one step closer to securing a solution that has been championed by the hunting and fishing community since 2016. The bill recently advanced out of committee in the Senate and awaits a floor vote in that chamber.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would amend the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to provide an additional $1.4 billion in dedicated funding per year—$1.3 billion for state agencies and $97.5 million for Tribes—to improve habitat, recover wildlife populations, and restore the infrastructure for both our natural systems and outdoor recreation opportunities.
“House passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a defining victory for wildlife, habitat, outdoor recreation, and our economy, because we know that heading off wildlife threats is more effective—and costs less—than taking emergency action,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud members of the House for this step today and urge the Senate to take up and pass this bill without delay.”
State fish and wildlife agencies have identified more than 12,000 species in need of conservation action that would benefit from the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. Included on that list are some species of particular concern to hunters and anglers, including ruffed grouse, greater sage grouse, coho salmon, and sockeye salmon.
Final passage would be a landmark achievement for this Congress, as it has become increasingly important to invest conservation dollars in efforts that get the best return, with layered benefits for fish, wildlife, outdoor recreation, our economy, and the safety of our communities. With many lawmakers looking to secure conservation wins they can point to ahead of reelection, the timing may be right to send RAWA to the president’s desk.
Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
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.
Top photo by Chesapeake Bay Program
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:
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.
Top photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via Flickr.
Just before Memorial Day weekend—the unofficial kickoff of summer and, for many of us, a season of sun-soaked fishing and boating—Louisiana’s Senate Natural Resources Committee killed a bill that would have, for the first time, set a catch limit on nearshore industrial menhaden harvest.
Rather than vote on the merits of House Bill 1033, which would have set a catch limit of approximately 800 million pounds in Louisiana state waters within three miles from shore, the Senate Committee voted 4-3 to defer further consideration of the legislation.
The Gulf-wide harvest of menhaden, called pogies in Louisiana, is usually about 1.2 billion pounds annually, about 90 percent of that harvest taking place off Louisiana’s coast and 70 percent of it inside the three-mile line.
H.B. 1033, championed by Lafourche Parish Representative Joe Orgeron, had a bipartisan group of 14 co-sponsors in the House. Originally, the bill called for a catch limit of about 575 million pounds, but Orgeron pledged to work with the menhaden industry to try and accommodate some of their requests for a larger harvest in years when conditions would allow it.
These concessions would have allowed the menhaden industry to harvest more fish annually than it has nearly every year since the 1980s. In the end, the industry again demonstrated that it’s not interested in any regulations at all in Louisiana.
Public support for the measure was overwhelming. So was support in the Louisiana House, which voted on April 27 to approve the measure 75-22.
Deferring the bill showed that four Senate Natural Resources Committee members continue to ignore what the public and most of their legislative colleagues understand: It’s unacceptable for two foreign-owned companies to continue to damage Louisiana’s beaches and harvest that much critical forage base—plus as much as 50 million pounds of bycatch—in state waters with virtually no management or oversight.
Representatives from Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries claimed throughout this year’s legislative session and over the last three years, as restrictions on the pogie industry have been debated, that a catch limit is unnecessary, the pogie industry is well-regulated, and it is causing no harm to coastal fisheries or habitat.
That claim is not backed by any available data or scientific studies. While stock assessments show the Gulf-wide pogie stock is healthy, there are no specific studies showing the impacts of the concentrated effort in Louisiana state waters. There are also no studies that show the industry is not harming beaches and shallow habitats where its vessels frequently make contact with the bottom.
Numerous coastal ecologists and scientists have raised concerns about habitat damage, loss of forage base, and bycatch from the industrial pogie fleet, as well as the damage to water quality caused by discharges from the boats and processing plants.
It’s hard to imagine any fishery that has no enforceable catch limit is well-managed, a point that was illustrated by State Senator Sharon Hewitt, one of three lawmakers on the committee who supported the bill’s passage.
“It doesn’t seem like you’re doing anything, really,” said Hewitt to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries assistant secretary for fisheries, Patrick Banks, during the May 26 hearing. “I know you say you regulate because [menhaden] shows up in the statute 58 times, or something, but in terms of understanding how it affects the rest of the ecosystem or managing the amount of menhaden you take out of the Gulf, I don’t really see where you’re doing anything to manage that.”
Hewitt was pointing out the obvious. At the very least, the removal of a billion-plus pounds of pogies each year, nearly all of them from waters off Louisiana, means fewer of those fish in the water to serve their ecological function. Each time a pogie boat fishes in shallow water and disturbs the water bottom, there is damage being done to that habitat and the water quality in that area.
Each spawning-stock redfish or jack, shark, tarpon, and speckled trout that gets killed as bycatch in pogie nets—and there are hundreds of thousands killed each year—is one fewer in the water to reproduce. The latest examinations of the ecological role of pogies in the Gulf shows that pogies account for up to 20 percent of the diet of speckled trout and redfish. That number climbs to 40 percent for king and Spanish mackerel.
While that may be an oversimplification of a complicated issue, it’s the truth. There are no facts supporting the claim that the pogie industry is doing no harm. Louisiana is the only state in the entire Atlantic and Gulf basin to allow this massive, industrial reduction fishery to operate with no catch limit and with, thus far, unfettered access to ecologically sensitive, critical shallow-water habitats in coastal bays and along beaches.
It’s certainly frustrating for the TRCP, Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana, American Sportfishing Association, Audubon, Louisiana Charterboat Association, and many others supporting this legislation to see it ultimately fail.
There are wins to count despite the bill not becoming law, however. Having Senator Hewitt and others support the bill publicly and point out the massive gaps in pogie management in the Gulf means that eyes are opening to the problems associated with this industry.
The bill’s introduction and debate throughout the legislative session gave an opportunity for a May 16 article in both the New Orleans Times Picayune and Baton Rouge Advocate newspapers illustrating how little oversight there is of Louisiana’s pogie industry. It’s arguably the most comprehensive look at the industry ever published in a Louisiana newspaper.
Efforts to rein in the pogie industry in Louisiana and across the Gulf, set catch limits, protect shallow water areas, and move toward ecological management that considers the role these fish play in the ecosystem will continue and increase in the coming years. There will be more legislation introduced, more thorough studies conducted, and the science behind the role that pogies play in feeding other fish and improving water quality will continue to evolve.
The TRCP, CCA, ASA, IGFA, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, and many other conservation groups are just getting started in shining a light on this foreign-owned industrial fishery. The fight to conserve and properly manage fisheries resources in the Gulf does not end here.
Top photo courtesy of Louisiana Sea Grant via Flickr.
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.Learn More