New Poll Finds Overwhelming Support for Better CWD Management
88% of Americanspolled support additional federalinvestments in chronic wasting disease management and surveillance
One of the greatest challenges we face in addressing the spread of chronic wasting disease is communicating urgency around such a complex issue that affects people in so many ways. Hunters and non-hunters, the old and the young, and rural folks and city dwellers all have something at stake when it comes to this disease’s impact on wildlife and the outdoors.
Now, we know a little more about Americans’ breadth of understanding of the CWD threat and how much support there is for solutions.
In a recent poll of 800 random voters from across the U.S., an overwhelming 94 percent said that the presence of wildlife was important to their quality of life, and 92 percent believe wildlife is important to their state’s economy. It’s no surprise, then, that hunters and non-hunters strongly support action on CWD:
88 percent support additional federal investment in CWD management at the state level.
93 percent support increasing the disease detection standards required of captive cervid operations if they are to be accredited as “low-risk” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
90 percent support limiting the movement of live, captive deer between facilities to lower the possibility of disease spread—and half of this group said they strongly support such action.
In total, 96 percent of respondents support their states taking action to curb the spread of CWD across the landscape.
The poll was conducted on behalf of the TRCP and National Deer Association. Both organizations have been working for years to educate the public about the impacts of chronic wasting disease on deer, give hunters the tools to prevent CWD transmission, and alert lawmakers to the fact that the rampant spread of CWD threatens the future of wild deer and deer hunting in North America.
Currently, the federal government sends $10 million in funding to state and Tribal agencies for CWD management through cooperative agreements with the USDA each year, and invests $2 million annually in CWD research at the National Wildlife Research Center. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come close to addressing the urgent need on the landscape. The CWD Research and Management Act, if passed by the Senate this year, would increase the overall investment to $70 million annually through fiscal year 2028 and evenly split funding between CWD management and research priorities.
Increasing these oversubscribed funds is the most immediate way that Congress can impact disease spread on the landscape. But the Biden Administration should also look at these poll findings and realize that it is time to examine and reform the existing Herd Certification Program for captive deer operations. Participation in the voluntary HCP continues to slide, and the disease is being detected more and more often at certified facilities. Without action, the problem’s scope and cost of associated solutions will only increase.
Changes Coming Soon for Atlantic Menhaden Harvesters
Fisheries managers are meeting in November to debate and adopt changes to the Atlantic menhaden interstate fishery management plan—anglers have weighed in, but many of our concerns won’t be addressed
In November, the Menhaden Management Board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will consider public comments submitted since August about proposed changes to the Atlantic Menhaden Interstate Fishery Management Plan. The draft addendum up for vote deals with reallocation of each Atlantic Coast state’s yearly menhaden commercial fishing quota and changes to various programs that give states opportunities to harvest additional quota throughout the season.
The plan and options proposed in this addendum are extremely granular—the average angler does not need to wade through and understand it all. What you do need to know is that the TRCP and our sportfishing partners have weighed in with the ASMFC on our preferred options, which we believe would best benefit recreational fishing, sportfish, and the overall health of our marine food web.
It is also important for anglers to understand how industrial reduction fishing fits into this reallocation math. Remember: Virginia is the only Atlantic state that still allows menhaden reduction fishing in its waters, and a single foreign-owned company—Omega Protein, operating out of Virginia—does all of the reduction fishing for menhaden on the Atlantic Coast. Most of the other harvesters who take menhaden out of the water, based on the state allocations up for vote, are fishing for bait that is then sold to anglers. This activity supports many small businesses in parts of the Northeast.
But many states, most notably Maine, have had to reckon with the mismatch of state allocations versus actual availability of menhaden in their state waters, forcing them to depend on conditional programs and quota transfers from other states just to maintain their bait fishing fleets. Virginia, meanwhile, holds much of the power within the fishery, even after years of debate about equity among states participating in the plan.
The numbers make this very clear: Virginia is allotted more than 78 percent of the coastwide quota now and, at worst, they will end up with 73.6 percent of the coastwide quota after the Menhaden Management Board chooses from the available options this fall. Does that sound fair for a fishery with 16 states participating?
The TRCP and our partners have been following this addendum planning process for the past year, and we’re supporting the options that most accurately reflect the current needs of the fishery and the availability of the menhaden resource along the coast, in order to lower states’ reliance on one-time programs and quota transfers that keep them limping from season to season. We’re also pushing for each menhaden taken out of the water to be counted toward the coastwide quota, a universally embraced best practice for sound fisheries management that (unbelievably) isn’t required in the menhaden fishery right now.
Our coalition has also expressed concerns about what’s not included in the proposed plan update.
This includes consideration of where commercial harvest should happen within the menhaden’s range. While the recent single-species stock assessment found the Atlantic menhaden stock to be above the biomass target, how that biomass is distributed and fished along the coast will impact predator stocks, including recovering populations of striped bass and bluefish that depend on the availability of various year classes of menhaden and other forage species throughout their range.
We believe that the fishery should be distributed throughout the menhaden’s known geographic range, not concentrated nearshore in sensitive nursery habitats at the center of their range, as it is now. With the fisheries’ effort and catch centered at the menhaden population’s natal area and focused on juveniles (ages 0-2), this prevents larger, more fecund individuals from existing in the stock.
Further, the fishery should not be dominated by industrial fisheries, but rather enable the growth of smaller-scale and local commercial and recreational fisheries.
Finally, we are concerned that the setting of the coastwide total allowable catch for the 2023 season may disregard vital ecosystem effects, because the latest menhaden stock assessment update did not use updated data on certain species which would impact menhaden availability in the water.
For example, the 2022 Atlantic Herring Management Track Assessment concluded that herring remain overfished at just 21 percent of their target biomass. The 2021-2022 total allowable catch of 194,400 metric tons of menhaden was set using species data from 2017, prior to the decline of the Atlantic herring stock. Herring is a primary alternative prey species to menhaden, so this depletion has likely had wide-ranging effects on both prey and predators since 2017, and these impacts will continue as the resource slowly rebuilds.
Menhaden are increasingly important as bait to compensate for shortages of not only Atlantic herring but also river herring and mackerel, and they, of course, remain important as a food source for predators as well. This is why we’ll continue to push for a precautionary approach to quota-setting for the 2023 season, updated ecosystem data in the next stock assessment, and consideration of the current total allowable catch as a maximum value, not as a baseline.
There are a few limited opportunities for informed anglers to engage in the draft addendum debate before the end of September—if you’re interested in attending a public hearing to speak up for menhaden and sportfish, please email Jaclyn Higgins for more information.
What the Latest Atlantic Menhaden Stock Assessment Means for the Chesapeake Bay
The menhaden reduction fishing industry is pointing to the Atlantic-wide assessment to push back on angler advocacy for menhaden and sportfish in the Bay—here’s our response
At the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting on August 3, the stock assessment for Atlantic menhaden showed that the stock is not overfished, nor is overfishing occurring. Omega Protein, the foreign-owned company that operates all menhaden reduction fishing vessels in the Atlantic, pointed to the assessment as evidence that their practices aren’t harming fisheries. Their basic message to angling groups that are pushing to move reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay? Back off.
But the effects of the localized harvest of more than 112 million pounds of menhaden annually from the Bay are not included in this latest stock assessment. “Overfished” is a coastwide designation given for the status of the fishery from Maine to Florida—it does not make distinctions for unique places like the Chesapeake Bay.
It is true that the implementation of ecological reference points into the ASMFC’s menhaden management model in 2020 was a crucial step for this forage fish that serves as the base of the marine food web. But the latest stock assessment update was a single-species assessment, not an ecological reference points assessment. This means that the information used does not include the current impacts of overfishing other forage fish, like Atlantic herring, which would likely alter the impacts of the menhaden fishery on predators like striped bass and bluefish.
The ERP assessment from 2020 used multiple predator and prey species to model the ecosystem, including bluefish, weakfish, spiny dogfish, and Atlantic herring. But for the assessment release this month, these species “were assumed to be fished at 2017 levels,” according to the ASMFC, meaning that the ecosystem-level data is five years behind.
Meanwhile, there are no scientific data specific to the Bay that assess the impacts of the reduction fishery on predator species like striped bass, red drum, and osprey. It should not be up to the ASMFC or the public to prove that the menhaden reduction fishery is causing harm to the Bay. It should be up to Omega Protein to prove to the public that this resource is being equitably harvested, leaving enough forage in the water to maintain the ecosystem and the regional economies that depend on it.
The 2018 striped bass stock assessment showed that the stock was overfished and overfishing was occurring. While the TRCP and our partners supported an 18-percent striped bass harvest reduction in 2020, it is expected that this October’s updated stock assessment will still show that striped bass are overfished.
Every other East Coast state except Virginia has seen the value of leaving more menhaden in the water to support coastal ecosystems. All but Virginia have acted in favor of their coastal economies and tourism by abolishing the practice of menhaden reduction fishing in state waters.
Our coalition of concerned anglers, manufacturers, local businesses, and conservationists is dedicated to commonsense fisheries management, which considers the needs of the ecosystem as well as ALL the user groups that enjoy and utilize it. If you, too, want to see the Chesapeake Bay return to the fishery it once was, join us by signing this petition to move menhaden reduction fishing out of the Bay, so that predators like striped bass can begin to rebuild.
Five Things Hunters and Anglers Should Know About the Inflation Reduction Act
How would the most recent reconciliation agreement benefit hunters and anglers?
Editor’s note: Since we published this story, the Inflation Reduction Act passed Congress and was signed into law by President Biden on August 16, 2022. Unfortunately, the final bill did not include the updates to federal oil and gas bonding rates outlined below. The Senate Parliamentarian ultimately ruled that the provision could not be included in budget reconciliation legislation. In addition to what is described here, the final bill also included an additional $4 billion to address drought by investing in water conservation and habitat restoration across the West, with a particular focus on the Colorado River Basin.
Senator Joe Manchin and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer shocked most of D.C. last week when they announced that they had struck a deal on a reconciliation bill—known as the Inflation Reduction Act—that includes $369 billion in energy and natural resource investments aimed at tackling climate change, in addition to other healthcare and tax related provisions.
The TRCP has been tracking budget reconciliation discussions over the past year and offered lawmakers a host of recommendations that would benefit fish, wildlife, and the hunt-fish community. Thousands of sportsmen and sportswomen also contacted their lawmakers in support of investing in conservation through the reconciliation process.
Here are specific elements of the agreement that will impact hunters and anglers and what we’ll continue to push for as Congress begins to debate the bill in the days ahead.
A Boost for Private Lands Conservation
The agreement makes a major investment in conservation programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, providing $20 billion over the next four years. The current Farm Bill contributes around $6 billion annually to private land conservation programs, so this legislation would nearly double funding for popular and proven conservation efforts that boost resilience to natural hazards, such as drought, and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.
This investment could not come at a better time. Right now, roughly 40 percent of applicants for USDA conservation programs are denied each year, primarily due to a lack of funding, leaving tens of millions of acres of habitat conservation on the table. The new funding in this bill will begin to meet the outstanding demand for conservation from farmers, ranchers, and landowners.
What this means for hunters and anglers: More quality habitat and huntable acreage, cleaner water, and more abundant fish and wildlife populations, thanks to new funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, and other initiatives.
Improvements to Energy Leasing and Development
The agreement includes several reforms to energy leasing that balance responsible development on our public lands with other values, like habitat and access, and align with both the Department of the Interior’s Leasing Report and many of the TRCP’s previous recommendations.
For example, the bill increases minimum bids and rental rates for oil and gas leases to ensure that the American public receives a fair return on the use of shared resources, while eliminating the practice of non-competitive leasing that often wastes valuable BLM staff time and resources. Perhaps most notably, the legislation would increase federal bonding rates, which haven’t been updated in decades, to ensure funds are available to restore fish and wildlife habitat if an operator abandons an oil and gas well site.
What this means for hunters and anglers: Together, these provisions ensure responsible energy development can move forward where it’s appropriate, while also recognizing other uses of our public lands like hunting, fishing, and other forms of outdoor recreation.
Investments in Forests, Coasts, and Public Lands
The agreement recognizes the importance of nature-based solutions to climate change and puts major resources behind efforts to protect coastal and marine habitats, maintain healthy forests, and restore watersheds. For example, the draft legislation provides $2.6 billion to support coastal resilience projects and nearly $5 billion for forest management across public and private land, including support for partnerships with downstream water users to improve forest and watershed health. It also includes $500 million for habitat conservation and ecosystem restoration projects on Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service Lands, and $100 million to rebuild and restore units of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
What this means for hunters and anglers: More wetland and reef restoration projects along the coasts, riparian and wet meadow restoration in forested watersheds, active forest management near communities, and invasive species removal and access improvements across our public lands. These efforts would expand hunting and fishing opportunities, all while protecting communities from natural hazards like wildfire and sea-level rise.
Capacity to Get More Work Done Faster
Much of the funding in the Inflation Reduction Act is intended to build on existing work and expand partnerships, whether that’s with farmers and ranchers, water users, or other local stakeholders. To do so, federal agencies will need the staff and resources to review and approve projects and make local connections. Fortunately, the draft bill provides millions of dollars to supercharge environmental reviews, authorizations, planning, and permitting across the various federal agencies. The agreement also provides $1 billion for conservation technical assistance to ensure that well-trained staff are available locally to meet with producers and process applications for private lands conservation programs.
What this means for hunters and anglers: In the end, these under-the-radar—but very important—funding streams will get more money out the door faster. That should mean more habitat conservation, restoration, and recreational access across the board.
But Isn’t This a Partisan Bill?
Admittedly, the budget reconciliation process can leave a lot to be desired. To begin with, reconciliation legislation only requires the support of a majority, or 50 votes, to pass the Senate, which means it is not often a bipartisan process or bill. Further, while the process has been used by both parties to advance priorities, by rule, the final bill is limited to spending and revenue measures, with little room for extraneous policy. As a result, federal agencies often have wide leeway to determine how and where the reconciliation funding they receive is distributed.
If the Inflation Reduction Act is passed, hunters and anglers have a lot riding on these decisions, and the TRCP will be working alongside decision-makers to drive outcomes that increase hunting and fishing opportunities and sustain fish and wildlife habitat for decades to come.
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.
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.