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Kristyn Brady

November 18, 2022

32 State Wildlife Agencies Share How Much They Spend on CWD

With growing CWD costs that threaten to undermine other conservation efforts, state agencies need Congress to act in the next few weeks to better support disease management and research  

Beyond the threat it poses to hunters and wildlife, chronic wasting disease represents a growing cost to state agencies, especially during hunting season. A new peer-reviewed report published in the November/December 2022 issue of The Wildlife Professional starts to quantify these costs for the first time.

Report authors Noelle E. Thompson, of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, and J. Russ Mason, with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, found that, on average, state wildlife agencies in 16 CWD-positive states spent $773,000 annually on disease management. This includes sample collection and disposal, testing, salaries, supplies, and logistics.

The data was collected in a national survey conducted with help from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. All 50 states were invited to participate, and 32 states were able to compile and return their data for the most recent fiscal year. Across these 32 wildlife agencies—including those in states where CWD has yet to be detected—the annual costs associated with CWD ranged from just under $8,000 (Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation) to north of $2 million (Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife), for an average of $503,000 per state.

Currently, the federal government invests just $10 million per year in CWD management through cooperative agreements between state and Tribal agencies and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come close to addressing the urgent need on the landscape.

CWD represents the greatest threat to the future of deer hunting—should participation drop, there would be significant ripple effects on state wildlife agency budgets and local economies. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies reported in 2017 that more than 58 percent of the collective annual budget for state wildlife agencies was generated by hunting and fishing activities. Deer hunting generated approximately $23.4 billion in overall economic activity in 2020, according to Southwick Associates. 

To date, 30 U.S. states have confirmed cases of CWD in free-ranging and/or captive cervids—12 states have joined that list in the last ten years alone.

“State wildlife agencies have identified wildlife disease, and CWD in particular, as the most important existential challenge confronting agencies in the 21st century,” write Thompson and Mason. “Many agencies remain unequipped or under-equipped to meet this challenge. New funding models that adequately support disease surveillance and management are essential in order to protect the species and habitat restoration achievements of the 20th century.”

Fortunately, Congress is poised to take action to address CWD. If passed, the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act would triple the federal resources authorized to be made available to state agencies for CWD suppression and help scientists answer some of the many questions that remain about disease solutions.  

Hunters and conservationists are pushing for lawmakers to close the deal on this important legislative solution in the next few weeks—before the end of the 117th Congress. The bill sailed through the House late last year and was introduced by senators in April 2022.

If they can make the time, lawmakers have the overwhelming support of the public: In a 2022 poll, 88 percent of American voters said they support additional federal investment in CWD management at the state level. Take action now to send the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act to the finish line and secure the future of our wild deer herds. 

Learn more about chronic wasting disease and what’s at stake for hunters here.

2 Responses to “32 State Wildlife Agencies Share How Much They Spend on CWD”

  1. It should be privatize keeping the government out of it! They will screw it up like they did our heath care and most everything else they get involved with. It seems there is a big fear factor that takes over so we can waste money we don’t have. If there is a real concern the deer farms would have been gone a long time ago! It has ponzi scheme written all over it!!

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Jaclyn Higgins

October 20, 2022

10,000+ Anglers and Conservationists Support Moving Menhaden Reduction Fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay

Virginia and East Coast residents call on Governor Youngkin to protect the health of the Bay and our coastal economy

More than 10,000 anglers and conservationists from Virginia and up and down the East Coast have signed a petition asking Governor Youngkin to protect the Chesapeake Bay from the negative impacts of industrial menhaden fishing. The petition is being delivered to Youngkin and the governor-appointed members of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to push for meaningful conservation of menhaden, a critical forage fish species.

A coalition of 11 national and 10 Virginia-based groups teamed up earlier this year to demand regulation changes that would move menhaden reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay and stop wasteful fish spills from fouling the state’s beaches.

Beyond signing the far-reaching petition, Virginia residents have also been showing up to VMRC meetings all summer to make public comments about how the menhaden reduction fishery is affecting their lives. According to Virginia code, menhaden regulations can only be changed from October to December, but menhaden are still not on the VMRC agenda for its October 25 meeting.

“Over 10,000 anglers, charter captains, and Bay-area residents have spoken, and they want the menhaden reduction fishery moved out of the Bay,” says Steve Atkinson, president of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association. “We are now waiting to see just how much the governor cares about these resources.”

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. Atlantic menhaden play a vital role in coastal ecosystems by serving as the base of the food chain for larger fish, marine mammals, and seabirds. Yet, millions of pounds of these valuable fish are being removed from the Chesapeake Bay and “reduced” into fish meal and oil for pet food and salmon feed by a single foreign-owned company.

Menhaden are especially critical to striped bass and make up 30 percent of the popular sportfish’s diet. 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.

According to the latest science, menhaden reduction fishing contributes to a nearly 30-percent decline in striped bass numbers coastwide. The detrimental impact of menhaden reduction fishing on the marine environment is so pronounced that it is outlawed in every other East Coast state. However, in Virginia, a single foreign-owned fishing company—Cooke Inc., locally known as Omega Protein—is still allowed to harvest over 100 million pounds of menhaden each year from the most important striped bass nursery on the East Coast, undermining the sportfishing economy and small businesses throughout the Commonwealth.

Omega boats have caused multiple Eastern Shore fish spills in 2022 alone, resulting in the waste of 12,000 pounds of red drum bycatch, but Virginia continues to allow this unsustainable practice. Virginia residents and East Coasters who vacation and recreate in the Bay are fed up.

“I am trying to give the residents who live on the Eastern Shore, as well as the guests and tourists who come to visit, a chance to let their voices be heard to express their disappointment and disapproval of menhaden reduction fishing,” says Christi Medice, an Eastern Shore resident who has gone door to door with a paper version of the petition. “This has given me the opportunity to talk to people about their concerns around dead fish washing up on the various beaches. I have over 1,500 signatures and am still getting more.”

An online petition hosted by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and promoted by local groups, including VSSA, has garnered an additional 8,900 signatures since June 2022. A policy change on industrial menhaden harvest near shore would serve both anglers and tourism businesses, while still allowing Omega to operate in deeper waters.

“Ninety-nine percent of inshore and near-shore gamefish depend on bunker at some point in their lifecycle,” says Captain Tyler Nunn, owner of Tidewater Charters. “Especially for the apex predators like striped bass, red drum, and cobia that my charter business and many businesses around the Bay depend on, the importance of menhaden is immeasurable. No one has seen the potential of the Bay with a healthier forage base. It would make magnitudes of difference in the sportfishing industry and the Bay’s ecosystem if we left more bait in the water.”

“When will decision-makers answer the many questions that have been raised about this company’s activities and choose the side of recreational fishing and coastal economic growth?” asks Jaclyn Higgins, forage fish associate at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It is necessary to implement commonsense regulations until the science demonstrates that menhaden fishing can be allowed without negatively affecting the broader Bay ecosystem.”

Click here to see the petition that fishing and boating groups have been circulating since June.

Click here for the coalition’s letter to Youngkin in June.

Click here for the letter from Virginia and East Coast businesses to Youngkin in September.

Andrew Earl

October 6, 2022

New Poll Finds Overwhelming Support for Better CWD Management

88% of Americans polled support additional federal investments 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. 

Learn more about chronic wasting disease and our poll by visiting TRCP’s new online resource for all things CWD 

Jaclyn Higgins

September 21, 2022

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.

 

Photo by Gaelin Rosenwaks. Follow her on Instagram @gaelingoexplore.

Jaclyn Higgins

August 19, 2022

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.

According to the scientists who created the ERP model, it is based on the tradeoff between menhaden harvest and striped bass biomass. And this type of tradeoff relationship is central to any forage fish management system. Moving menhaden reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay would make more menhaden available to juvenile and adult striped bass within the Bay—the primary nursery ground for 70 to 90 percent of the Atlantic coastwide population—and would increase stock biomass to sustainable levels.

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.

We know that 30 percent of the striped bass diet is composed of menhaden and the Bay accounts for 70 to 90 percent of the Atlantic striped bass stock. Why is it that we still allow the menhaden reduction fishery to harvest hundreds of millions of menhaden that serve as critical forage for our nation’s most iconic saltwater gamefish?

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.

 

Photo by Gaelin Rosenwaks. Follow her on Instagram @gaelingoexplore.

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