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Chris Macaluso

July 28, 2022

Experts Convene to Discuss Two of the Top Issues Facing Anglers

At ICAST, we brought together conservation experts, business leaders, and other luminaries to highlight why we need better data on recreational fishing harvest and how to better control aquatic invasive species

Last week, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and its sportfishing partners and sponsors hosted two days of in-depth discussions on improving fisheries management and conservation during the organization’s 8th annual Saltwater Media Summit at ICAST in Orlando. TRCP’s Chris Macaluso moderated the discussions, which were attended by more than 60 media members and representatives from several state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, and fishing tackle manufacturers.

This event is an important opportunity to raise awareness around the most pressing conservation issues facing our marine fisheries. Here are some of the highlights.

Better Data Could Mean Longer Seasons

The first panel focused on improving data collection on recreational fishing effort, fish harvested, and stock assessments and incorporating this information into federal saltwater fisheries management. Speakers included Jessica McCawley, Florida’s marine fisheries director; Kevin Anson, chief marine biologist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; and Dr. Greg Stunz, chair of the Harte Research Institute for Sportfish Science and Conservation.

Anglers, fishing conservation and advocacy groups, and state and federal fisheries managers all agree that improving data collection on fish stock sizes, migration patterns, and fishing effort and harvest is critical to preserving the long-term health of fisheries and making access more consistent. Over the last decade, several efforts have been undertaken by fishing advocacy groups and state agencies to use smartphones and other electronic devices to shorten data collection times and provide more accurate in-season accounts of the number of fishing trips taken, as well as how many fish are being harvested by anglers.

In the case of Mississippi and Alabama, red snapper anglers are required to register electronically and submit information regarding the date of and how many fish were caught on each trip. Louisiana requires offshore anglers to obtain a Recreational Offshore Landing Permit and submit a phone number and email address, so they can be contacted during the season to determine effort and harvest. Florida, too, requires anglers to obtain a State Reef Fish Angler designation.

Requiring anglers to register and incorporating mandatory reporting and increased surveying has, by and large, improved the accuracy of in-season quota monitoring over the federal Marine Recreational Information Program and has led to more stability in Gulf of Mexico red snapper seasons.

At the same time, efforts have been made to improve stock surveys, most notably with the Great Red Snapper Count, a $10-million three-year effort in which several universities and 80 scientists used innovative techniques, like advanced sonar and remotely operated vehicles, to determine snapper populations over a variety of natural and artificial structures. They found an estimated 118 million red snapper Gulf-wide—more than three times the latest NOAA stock assessment estimate.

However, that abundance estimate has not yet resulted in longer red snapper seasons. In fact, Mississippi and Alabama anglers face the prospect of having their red snapper seasons cut by as much as 60 percent in coming years because of difficulties “calibrating” their mandatory reporting programs with existing federal MRIP data.

This is not simply a Gulf of Mexico red snapper problem. The hope was that improved data collection programs and the Great Red Snapper Count could serve as a model for management improvements in other contentious fisheries. Similar efforts to better determine stock abundance are underway for Amberjack in the Gulf and red snapper in the South Atlantic.

Fishing advocacy groups and anglers have been supportive of efforts to improve data collection and even urged Congress to provide funding to improve stock assessments for a host of fisheries. Anglers have also stepped up to help pay for improved data collection by supporting license fee increases and participating in mandatory reporting programs.

That support is in danger of waning in the future, however, if anglers and supportive legislators do not see their efforts resulting in management improvements—or if they believe the increased scrutiny will result in more constraints on access. The goal of our discussion was to identify ways to more efficiently incorporate new technologies and improved data collection programs into federal and state fisheries management, while building confidence among anglers and lawmakers that these new approaches are worth their time and money.

The Ongoing Threat from Aquatic Invasive Species

The following day, our second panel discussion focused on the negative effects of aquatic invasive species on state fisheries management, boating and fishing access, and efforts to recover and improve striped bass stocks in the Chesapeake Basin. Our speakers were Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Eric Sutton, National Marine Manufacturers Association Director of Federal Government Affairs Clay Crabtree, and CCA Maryland Executive Director David Sikorski.

The recommendations of the panel ranged from identifying ways to reduce bureaucratic impediments and ultimately better manage and control aquatic invasives to encouraging anglers to fish for and harvest invasive fish and eat them. We also covered ways to work with commercial fisheries to expand the selective harvest of some invasive fish—like Asian carp in the Mississippi and Tennessee river basins and blue catfish in the Chesapeake—and improving outreach with the boating public about how to limit the spread of invasive plants and mussels through proper boat cleaning.

Controlling invasive species is a growing issue across the country, with an estimated $140 billion in economic damages each year. The added costs of trying to contain the spread of invasive plants, fish, and animals has strained the budgets and personnel of state and federal fish and wildlife agencies and has cut into funds that could be used for improving native fish stocks and enhancing access to waterways.

The discussion highlighted the ongoing work of the TRCP, American Sportfishing Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, and corporate partners Yamaha, Bass Pro Shops, YETI, BoatU.S., and others on a campaign to identify ways to limit the spread of invasive plants and animals and encourage the harvest of invasive fish and crustaceans. Policy change would be needed at the state and federal level.

The advocacy organizations and corporate partners supporting this campaign have organized an expert commission of scientists, economists, state and federal fisheries managers, professional anglers, and others who have spent their careers trying to manage and adjust their approach to fishing because of the spread of aquatic invasive animals and plants. In early 2023, this commission will release a report that identifies ways to reduce bureaucratic and legal impediments to controlling aquatic invasive species and what recreational anglers and boaters can do to help manage and limit the spread of invasive fish and plants.

Learn more about the Aquatic Invasive Species Commission here.

 

Photo by Clay LeConey.

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Whit Fosburgh

July 21, 2022

This Provision in the Bill Gutting Pittman-Robertson Makes It Even More Dangerous

Feeling outraged about the RETURN Act and its threat to conservation funding? Well, it gets worse

The recent introduction of the RETURN our Constitutional Rights Act of 2022, also known as the RETURN Act and H.R. 8167, has rightly shocked and outraged sportsmen and sportswomen, who proudly contribute to America’s successful conservation funding model through our firearm, ammunition, and other gear purchases.

If you’ve been following the story, you know the bill’s goal is to obliterate Pittman-Robertson funding—which allows state wildlife agencies to make habitat improvements, enhance hunting and fishing access, run hunter’s education programs, and create public shooting ranges across the country. It purports to use other “unobligated” federal funds in a misguided attempt to replace the excise taxes, shifting the cost to every American taxpayer and undercutting the role of hunters and anglers in conservation.

But it actually gets worse.

In digging into the bill language, our experts have found that the RETURN Act only replaces P-R excise taxes with funding for non-game species conservation—diverting funds that have historically helped to restore and maintain populations of whitetail deer, elk, wild turkeys, bass, walleyes, and trout and spending it on salamanders and butterflies.

At best, this is a disastrous oversight. At worst, it is yet another red flag for the fundamental misunderstanding of some lawmakers when it comes to how our country’s conservation model works.

Hunters and anglers, meanwhile, are not confused about our essential role in conservation. We asked for Pittman-Robertson and the Dingell-Johnson Act (the fishing equivalent of P-R) decades ago to ensure the future of our outdoor recreation opportunities. We have more recently championed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act to fund the proactive conservation of our most at-risk game and non-game species. And we’ll continue to stand up for conservation funding today and into the future.

Add your voice to this outcry: Take action using our simple advocacy tool to urge your representative to oppose the RETURN Act. Public backlash has already prompted three co-sponsors to pull their support for this bill. Keep the momentum going and keep America’s proud conservation traditions working for fish and game.

Kristyn Brady

July 14, 2022

New Commission Will Work to Control Aquatic Invasive Species

Commissioners include representatives from YETI®, Yamaha Marine, BoatU.S., B.A.S.S., the American Sportfishing Association, National Marine Manufacturing Association, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

Members of the $689-billion outdoor recreation industry have established a blue-ribbon commission to stop and reverse the spread of aquatic invasive species in the U.S. The commission will convene leading biologists, environmentalists, policymakers, and resource managers to assess existing mitigation efforts and identify more effective eradication solutions. Findings from the analysis will be presented to Congress and the administration in 2023, with a goal of passing comprehensive legislation to better manage and eliminate aquatic invasive species.

The commission will meet for the first time next week at ICAST.

Aquatic invasive species are spreading at levels that are unsustainable for the waterways where they have been introduced, posing a growing threat to aquatic ecosystems, local economies, and outdoor recreation opportunities across the country. Currently, the cost to control and eradicate these invasives in the U.S. amounts to more than $100 billion each year. For decades, a patchwork of federal and state initiatives has failed to address this crisis.

“Aquatic invasive species pose a national threat to both habitat and fishing and boating access, but it is possible to put more effective policies and mitigation efforts in place,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’ve shown time and time again that when our community convenes around a common threat, listens to the science, and makes thoughtful recommendations, we can successfully shift conservation policy. The TRCP is proud to participate in the commission’s work and future advocacy to see recommendations through.”

“In central and southern states, invasive silver carp frustrate anglers and state and federal resource managers,” says Ben Speciale, president of the U.S. Marine Business Unit at Yamaha. “But silver carp represent just a fraction of the invasive species problem in our nation. For every region, state, coast, and body of water, there is a similar pressing issue. We need a different, national approach to solving the aquatic invasive species problem. Yamaha supports this effort, because we believe the commission’s recommendations to Congress and the administration will help combat the AIS situation and help to allocate the resources needed to meet this challenge.”

“BoatU.S. has long worked to educate boaters on the impacts of invasive species and how boaters can better protect our waterways,” says Chris Edmonston, president of the BoatU.S. Foundation. “We look forward to working with industry and government agencies to come up with commonsense solutions that protect and enhance America’s waters.”

“The Aquatic Invasive Species Commission, spearhead by some of the biggest names in outdoor recreation and conservation, will be at the forefront of working alongside the administration and Congress to stop and reverse the spread of aquatic invasive species, which threaten recreational boating and fishing access, local economies, and aquatic ecosystems,” says Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “As the nation’s original conservationists, our industry looks forward to the commission’s findings and implementing more effective practices to eradicate AIS.”

“As the number and scale of aquatic invasive species grows, it’s clear that continuing with status quo isn’t going to solve the problem,” says Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “On behalf of the recreational fishing industry, which depends on healthy aquatic ecosystems, ASA is excited to be a part of the Aquatic Invasive Species Commission. While faced with a daunting task, I’m confident the experts that comprise the commission will help put us on a path toward better response, control, and eradication of aquatic invasive species.”

 

Members of the Blue-Ribbon Aquatic Invasive Species Commission:

John Arway, Retired State Director
Elizabeth Brown, North American Invasive Species Management Association
Jason Christie, Pro Angler
George Cooper, Forbes-Tate
Clay Crabtree, National Marine Manufacturing Association
Devin Demario, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Jake Dree, YETI
Chris Edmonston, BoatU.S.
Marc Gaden, Great Lakes Fishery Commission
Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S.
Heather Hennessey, Yamaha
Alanna Keating, BoatU.S.
Mike Leonard, American Sportfishing Association
Chris Macaluso, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Mark Menendez, Pro Angler
Ish Monroe, Pro Angler
Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited
John O’Keefe, Yamaha
Martin Peters, Yamaha
Stephen Phillips, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission
Christy Plumer, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Ann Rogers Harrison, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Jennifer Silberman, YETI
Mathew Van Daele, Sun’aq Tribe
Nick Wiley, Ducks Unlimited
Drue Winters, American Fisheries Society
Dennis Zabaglo, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

 

Top photo by Todd Davis/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Alexandra Kozak

July 11, 2022

PA Legislature Passes Budget with Important Conservation Investments

Resolution calls for establishing a new Growing Greener program and Clean Streams Fund

On Friday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a budget that prioritizes conservation by investing over $696 million in clean water, habitat restoration, and outdoor recreation access.

“Pennsylvania’s hunters and anglers should be proud to live and recreate in a state with not only incredible natural resources and public access, but also a legacy of strong state conservation funding initiatives to ensure these amenities will be enjoyed by future generations,” said Alexandra Kozak, Pennsylvania field manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We appreciate the leadership of lawmakers who know the importance of conservation to our state and thank the governor for signing this budget into law without delay.”

Aspects of two bills supported by the hunting, fishing, and conservation community were incorporated into the final budget resolution. As originally proposed in S.B. 525, a portion of PA’s $320 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 will be used to establish a Growing Greener III program that enhances fish and wildlife habitat and creates better hunting and fishing opportunities with an additional $156 million to increase state park and outdoor recreation infrastructure. Further, $220 million will go to improving water quality, specifically focused on “non-point” sources of pollution, such as agricultural runoff and acid mine drainage, as originally proposed in S.B. 832 this session.

“CBF applauds the legislature and the governor for including in this budget much-needed funding to support farm conservation projects and the boots on the ground working hard to reduce pollution,” said Bill Chain, interim director and senior agriculture program manager in Pennsylvania for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“The TRCP is grateful to state legislators for this commitment to supporting fish and wildlife populations, growing our state’s $58-billion outdoor recreation economy, and funding clean water solutions that will benefit habitat and communities from western Pennsylvania to the Chesapeake Bay,” continued Kozak. “We look forward to working with our partners and other stakeholders to see that these investments make a big difference in the field and on the water where they are needed most.”

Since December 2021, the TRCP has urged PA sportsmen and sportswomen to contact lawmakers in support of reinvesting American Rescue Plan funds in conservation through Growing Greener and a new Clean Streams Fund. Learn more here.

Chris Macaluso

June 8, 2022

In a Tight Vote, Louisiana Legislators Opt Not to Consider Pogie Catch Limit

A bipartisan bill won’t go any further, but more decision-makers are beginning to question claims that the pogie industry is causing no harm to coastal fisheries or habitat

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.

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