July 18, 2023

Takeaways from the ICAST Conservation Summit

As part of the annual sportfishing trade show hosted by the American Sportfishing Association, TRCP moderated science-based panel presentations over two days to educate attendees about top saltwater fisheries conservation issues.

If you’ve ever attended an ICAST trade show in Orlando, you know that there is A LOT going on, with a who’s-who of sportfishing-related businesses and conservation organizations offering an incredible array of booth displays, presentations, exhibits, and events. So TRCP was flattered to have such high attendance at our Conservation Summit last week, where experts covered fisheries management topics that included the incorporation of habitat and water quality improvements into fisheries management, the loss of retired oil rigs-turned-reefs, Florida Everglades restoration efforts, proper use of descending devices for reef fish releases, and Gulf of Mexico fisheries management updates.

We aren’t able to fully sum up all the panel discussions and scientific presentations covered for five topics that spanned two days, but here are some top themes that emerged at this year’s Conservation Summit. 

We Face Significant Marine Fisheries Challenges

From the imminent planned removal of hundreds of flourishing artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico to the loss of critically important seagrass and mangrove fish habitats, there are many issues to tackle to improve the health of coastal, inshore, and offshore marine habitats.

“We don’t have a lot of time left, so we’re going to be pursuing this pretty hard,” said Chris Horton, fisheries policy director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, of the problem of Gulf oil rigs being removed at a breakneck pace. Horton said he hopes a congressional bill will be introduced soon to address the reef removal problem.

Water quality concerns are also a major challenge facing fisheries managers. A good example highlighted at the summit is a threat sometimes generated far from the ocean: municipal wastewater that, even after standard treatment and eventual flow into marine environments, carries a toxic cocktail of pharmaceuticals that are absorbed by saltwater species.

“We found pharmaceuticals in just about every fish we tested,” said Dr. Aaron Adams, director of Science and Conservation for the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, of research on the presence of these drugs in various fish species. Adams said that these chemicals can change the feeding, migration, and predator avoidance behaviors of valuable sportfish species like redfish and bonefish, impacting survival and reproduction with population-level consequences. One hundred percent of the Florida Keys bonefish sampled in a Florida International University study had pharmaceuticals present in their tissues, with an average of seven pharmaceuticals detected per fish.

The good news is that this sort of pharmaceutical release problem can be addressed by improving wastewater treatment facilities, which Switzerland, Sweden, and other countries have successfully accomplished.   

Partnerships Are Critical for Success

Partnerships and coalitions form the foundation of how TRCP gets things done. The necessity for teaming up with other organizations and agencies to accomplish conservation goals was frequently stated at the ICAST Conservation Summit, including in presentations by representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Representatives for the agencies spoke about their collective wetland/fish habitat creation and improvement efforts at the Robinson Preserve, a 487-acre salt marsh preserve located on the south end of Tampa Bay.

“The Robinson Preserve is a shining example of how each of these partners can work together to restore disturbed farmland back to healthy wetland habitat that sportfish will thrive in,” said Jessica McCawley, FWC director of the Division of Marine Fisheries Management.

What was previously degraded coastal farmland at the preserve is being converted to wetlands that include oyster reefs, a sportfish nursery, and mangrove islands. NOAA was recognized at the summit as a partner to FWC in the Robinson Preserve efforts, and also by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for its assistance on other projects.

“We don’t do anything by ourselves,” said Carrie Selberg Robinson, NOAA Fisheries director of the Office of Habitat Conservation. “We get things done by working together.” 

Science Is Key to Effective Management

Florida state agencies have been heavily engaged in addressing water quality concerns and aquatic preserves protection, both of which will benefit saltwater fish populations. The importance of good science came up often in these and other summit presentations.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection discussed the substantial investments it is making in Everglades and water quality improvements. Alex Reed, FDEP director for the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection, detailed how the Aquatic Preserve Program is protecting 2.6 million acres of submerged resources, such as seagrass beds, for future generations. And her colleagues discussed how efforts that have been focused largely on wastewater and sewage treatment to protect Florida water supplies will now begin to focus more on stormwater and agricultural runoff that directly impacts marine ecosystems. Substantial investments are now going into Everglades and other water quality improvements.

“We’re trying to make sure science has a seat at the table as we move forward,” said Shawn Hamilton, FDEP secretary.

The need to base management decisions on sound science was likewise reflected by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission presenters, who related it to their work dedicated to improving inshore fish habitat.

“Successful fisheries management requires a good understanding of the status and health of our fisheries, which means collecting as much data as possible from as many reliable sources as possible,” said Jessica McCawley, FWC director of the Division of Marine Fisheries Management. 

Federal, State, and Private Funding Remain Vital

“The last thing we want is to have historical levels of funding available and not be able to get that out on the ground,” said TRCP Center for Marine Fisheries Director Chris Macaluso, who moderated the Conservation Summit panels.

Summit presenters highlighted how, right now, there remains an opportunity to obtain federal funding for conservation projects through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act.

Selberg-Robinson said that a major priority of her agency is focusing on projects that address fish habitat. NOAA already has awarded all round-one applicants for federal funding, with 109 projects to be funded. Competitive grants are still available to address conservation projects, including those that address fish habitat.

TRCP consistently also works to direct private funding to leverage efforts to address priority conservation efforts.  

We’ve Made Progress, But Perseverance Is Crucial

Restoration efforts in the Florida Everglades, which are being addressed by a broad coalition of federal, state, nonprofit, and private groups, including TRCP, provide an optimal example of another theme that emerged in the Conservation Summit: For many conservation goals, work is well underway, but far from the finish line. Construction of the Everglades Agricultural Reservoir began this year in a major milestone for long-term Everglades restoration efforts. The intent is to remedy decades of development and infrastructure wreaking havoc within an ecosystem that not only supports myriad fish and wildlife species within its wetland habitats, but also is necessary to filter contaminants from fresh water flowing south into Florida Bay. The reservoir will allow for capture and treatment of nutrient-laden runoff from Lake Okeechobee, which fuels toxic algal blooms, before water flows into the sportfishing haven of the Bay.

The reservoir won’t be completed for years and will require continued funding support. The TRCP has endeavored to engage with the conservation and sportfishing communities to collectively push for continued funding and focus to complete long-term efforts to restore the Everglades.

“The good news is we are making great progress, and we can’t stop in that progress,” said Dr. Steve Davis, chief science officer for The Everglades Foundation.

Perseverance also has been necessary to help retain as many decommissioned Gulf of Mexico oil and gas platforms as possible, as hundreds are slated for removal despite that these structures have created extensive reef systems populated with all manner of marine life. The artificial reefs both attract fish and produce more biomass, with over 90 species of fish found at Gulf reef sites, according to data from Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Research also shows that fish on the rig reefs grow as fast or faster than those on natural Gulf reefs. For these reasons, it’s important to not only work to save the retired oil and gas platforms now in the Gulf, but also consider the potential of offshore wind turbines to provide similar habitat for sportfish like amberjack, snapper, sheepshead, and cobia.

“We have a good opportunity with wind energy coming up,” said Dr. Matt Streich, associate research scientist, Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, Texas A&M Corpus Christi. “But we need to keep these structures in the water while there’s still time.” 

Thank You, Sponsors and Presenters!

We want to offer a big thank you to all the presenters and participants of the 2023 summit. Also, it wouldn’t have been possible without support from this year’s sponsors:

  • Bonefish & Tarpon Trust
  • NOAA Fisheries
  • Yamaha
  • Bass Pro Shops
  • Costa
  • Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation
  • American Sportfishing Association

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July 10, 2023

Updated Management Plan for Eastern Colorado BLM Lands Will Benefit Colorado’s Wildlife, Hunters, and Anglers

Backcountry Conservation Areas and other Resource Management Plan updates will ensure conservation of high-quality habitats

Last week, the Bureau of Land Management’s Royal Gorge Field Office published their proposed final Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan revision and environmental impact statement for review before a final Record of Decision is signed. The final Resource Management Plan will provide management direction for 666,127 surface acres and nearly 6.5 million subsurface acres of mineral estate in Eastern Colorado for decades to come. The TRCP thanks all the BLM, Department of Natural Resources, and Colorado Parks & Wildlife staff, county officials, and TRCP members, supporters, and partners who have provided invaluable feedback, guidance, and expertise since this plan revision process began in 2015.

These BLM lands are home to elk, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and wild and native trout, and encompass 487 miles of streams and rivers and popular destination lakes and reservoirs valued by anglers. The updated BLM plan commits to managing 87,400 acres of extraordinary fish and wildlife habitat as Backcountry Conservation Areas, thereby protecting them from fragmentation and development while maintaining important access for hunting, fishing, and other forms of wildlife-dependent recreation and traditional uses of the land.

In these BCAs, the BLM will focus management activities on the conservation and restoration of key habitats, which can include wildfire mitigation work and habitat improvement projects where needed. By improving and protecting habitat, the BLM will support healthy big game herds and hunting opportunities in the region for decades to come.

“For decades the absence of a cohesive guiding framework for administering Eastern Colorado’s public lands and natural resources has contributed to management uncertainty and stakeholder confusion,” said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “The final RMP will allow BLM to respond more effectively to evolving priorities and environmental conditions.”

This proposed RMP also includes a prohibition on renewable energy or oil and gas development within BCAs, and restrictions to oil and gas development in certain key habitats, generally consistent with those employed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Additionally, the plan reflects management actions that local government, community members, and conservation partners in the South Park area cooperatively proposed to balance energy development with habitat conservation to support a diverse local economy.

“We appreciate that BLM has addressed the extraordinary wildlife and streams in iconic South Park separately from the rest of the proposed resource management plan,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “The improvements to the draft reflect most of the priorities that CWF and a coalition of other interest groups developed during a lengthy planning process.”

In Colorado, the BLM manages around 8 million surface acres, so updates to outdated land use plans strengthen the wildlife and outdoors values that the public enjoy.

“The TRCP is hopeful that implementing this revised Eastern Colorado RMP will improve how high-value fish and wildlife habitat is conserved and managed across these landscapes,” said Liz Rose, Colorado Field Representative for the TRCP. “We will continue to track and comment on other BLM planning efforts in-progress, Travel Management Plans, and other BLM-proposed actions to ensure that public lands support healthy, stable wildlife populations and provide quality places for all Americans to hunt and fish.”

BLM’s process includes a 30-day protest period following publication, coinciding with a 60-day Governor’s consistency review. For more information about the current public involvement phase and to find BLM’s Eastern Colorado RMP documents, go to: https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/39877/510.

Photo Credit: USFS

June 27, 2023

TRCP Applauds U.S. Department of Agriculture Announcement for Habitat Funding  

Federal agency commits at least $500 million over five years for Working Lands for Wildlife

Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its intention to direct at least $500 million over a five-year period to benefit fish and wildlife habitat on private lands across much of the nation.  

“Today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will support America’s hardworking private landowners when they do good things for fish and wildlife,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “About 60 percent of the land base in the United States is privately owned, and these lands often represent the most productive fish and wildlife habitat—their conservation is critical.”   

The Working Lands for Wildlife model uses a landscape-level planning approach to restore and conserve wildlife habitat efficiently, over large areas. These USDA funds will be directed through this approach by utilizing the Farm Bill’s voluntary and incentive based Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to keep working lands working while conserving critical fish and wildlife habitat. At least $40 million will be dedicated to conserving migratory big game habitat through partnerships in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. 

“With today’s announcement, USDA has committed to additional funding, broader geographic scope, longer term planning, and better coordination between the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency toward wildlife habitat goals,” continued Fosburgh. “All of this adds up to great news for hunters and anglers.”  


June 20, 2023

BLM’s Proposed Final Plan for Southeast Oregon Reflects Stakeholder Recommendations

The BLM’s plan includes balanced management for conservation on important public lands

Last Friday, the Bureau of Land Management released the Proposed Final Southeast Oregon Resource Management Plan Amendment that—when finalized—will guide land management decisions for more than 4.6 million acres of Oregon’s most scenic and recreationally important public lands overseen by the BLM’s Vale District office within the Owyhee and Malheur River country.

This significant step forward in the planning process will help determine how habitat conservation, outdoor recreation opportunities, grazing, and development will be balanced on BLM land. In the proposed final plan, the BLM has offered a management approach that incorporates recommendations made by the agency’s Southeast Oregon Resource Advisory Council, a group of 15 individuals selected by the BLM to represent diverse backgrounds who worked together for more than five years to develop recommendations. Under the plan, about 420,000 acres in the 4.6-million-acre district will be managed for their wild, backcountry characteristics and the wildlife habitat value they provide.

“A broad-based BLM advisory group rolled up their sleeves to create a well-rounded alternative within the Southeast Oregon RMP amendment, and we applaud the BLM for incorporating many of their recommendations in this proposed final plan,” said Michael O’Casey, deputy director for the Pacific Northwest with the TRCP. “We appreciate the BLM making changes to adopt a balanced alternative in the final plan that conserves special places from development, while ensuring continued access for hunting and fishing, habitat restoration, and ranching.”

Popular public lands in eastern Oregon help fuel the state’s $2.5 billion fish-and-wildlife-based economy, provide important wildlife habitat, and support other multiple uses. The Vale District manages most of the public lands within the Beulah (65), Malheur River (66), Owyhee (67), and Whitehorse (68) hunting units.

“Oregon’s Owyhee region is a critically important hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation area,” said Karl Findling, owner of Oregon Pack Works who grew up in Malheur County. “I appreciate that the BLM made changes that do right by sportsmen and businesses who depend on the management of these lands to safeguard some of the best wildlife habitat and hunting areas in the state.”

“The BLM has an opportunity to safeguard some of Oregon’s best hunting areas and wildlife habitat through these land-use plans, and do it in a balanced way,” said Chris Hager, Northwest Chapter coordinator for the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “We’re supportive of the proposed final plan and see it as a win-win for the varied wildlife we love to pursue. Proper management that includes conservation measures such as what’s proposed helps ensure that our valued hunting heritage, outdoor traditions, and way of life can be enjoyed by future generations.”

Now that the proposed final is published, the agency has opened a 30-day protest period. Governor Kotek has 60 days to review the plan for consistency with state policy, after which the plan will be finalized.

“Sportsmen and sportswomen will continue to weigh-in as these planning processes move forward,” continued O’Casey. “We are encouraged with the direction the BLM is going, and we support this plan as it moves toward the finish line.”

Photo Credit:  Tyler Roemer

June 13, 2023

Louisiana Lawmakers Take First Step to Conserve Redfish

Senate Resolution unanimously passed Louisiana Legislature, promoting protections for spawning-size redfish

Louisiana lawmakers recently passed Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 46, which urges the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission to prohibit the harvest of any redfish over 27 inches in length, to conserve the spawning stock of this iconic species.

Though it doesn’t force the Commission to make any changes to creel or slot limits for redfish, the resolution is a significant first step toward increasing the redfish spawning stock. The TRCP and its partners will continue promoting the adoption of this recommendation as an official regulation at the Commission level.

It’s become clear, based on public opinion and now the opinion of legislators in the state, that something needs to be done to address declining redfish populations in Louisiana.

Recreational fishing in the “Sportsman’s Paradise” is a $2.5-billion industry that supports thousands of businesses and nearly 18,000 jobs. Fishing is a fundamental part of Louisiana’s culture and brings over 1.2 million anglers from around the world to the state each year. This wouldn’t be possible without science-based regulations that ensure abundant food sources and healthy habitats to support sportfish populations.

Survival rates for juvenile redfish, also known as red drum, to achieve spawning age have been declining for more than a decade in Louisiana. The percent of mature red drum able to successfully spawn also has declined to 20 percent–or 10 percent lower than the state-mandated rate. Numerous factors have contributed to the decline; primarily, the loss of more than 2,000 square miles of coastal marshes in the last century. However, there is no doubt that recreational harvest and pressure from commercial fisheries, on both forage fish and via direct mortality of redfish as bycatch, also play significant roles.

While redfish are not considered overfished, they are currently undergoing overfishing, meaning the mortality rate is too high to maintain a healthy stock size. Recreational anglers, fishery managers, and political leaders must remain dedicated to protecting spawning-size redfish–generally fish 27 inches or longer–by returning them to the water. Efforts to limit bycatch and restore marsh habitat also are necessary to ultimately increase the overall population.

Although anglers are committed to being part of the solution for redfish conservation, more is needed to ensure healthy populations. Each year, foreign-owned industrial boats remove nearly 1 billion pounds of menhaden, forage fish also known as pogies, from Louisiana waters. Pogies are a critical food source for healthy redfish. Tens of thousands of reds are also killed annually while being trapped in the massive seine nets.

Gamefish like redfish and other popular sportfish need large populations of pogies to thrive. Louisiana is the only coastal state in the Gulf or the Atlantic that has no catch limit on pogies or has few to no restricted areas where industrial purse seining is prohibited.

Additional state regulations, including science-based catch limits, are needed to ensure sportfish populations have ample food available and to protect shallow-water beaches and spawning areas from the impacts of large-scale industrial pogie harvest. The TRCP and its partners remain committed to both redfish and pogie conservation, so that marine ecosystems in Louisiana—and along the entire Gulf Coast–can thrive for generations to come.

If you’re a Louisiana resident, send a message to your state legislators, thanking them for supporting Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 46, and encouraging them to support further sportfish conservation efforts.

Photo credit: Rob Shane



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.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

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