September 20, 2023

Every Angler Can Help Control Aquatic Invasive Species

Professional fisherman Ish Monroe shares his personal perspective and tips to mitigate damage to America’s fisheries from non-native threats

I started fishing tournaments when I was 14 years old. I had a passion for competing and wanted to make it my living. In 1997, when I was 22, Bassmaster came out West and I qualified for their pro bass fishing tour. It was right then that I put everything I owned into storage and never looked back.

As a pro angler for almost the last three decades, I’ve met a lot of great people, and heard from parents how much it meant to their children to see someone with a similar look and background in this sport. 

Because fishing is not only my livelihood, but my passion (I love to saltwater fish for fun, and just got back from an offshore tuna fishing excursion), I pay attention to threats to angling in America. One of the biggest, least understood, and most difficult to address threats arrived in this country a long time ago. I’m talking about aquatic invasive species (AIS).

A zebra mussel-encrusted boat propeller. (Image courtesy of Sam Stukel/USFWS)

AIS Are Everywhere

In America, AIS issues range from well-known Asian carp and zebra mussels in the Midwest to lake-choking hydrilla out West, and from sunlight-blocking water hyacinth down South to northern snakeheads and blue catfish in the Chesapeake Bay. If you’re a recreational angler, and especially if you own a boat, there’s a very good chance you’ve already encountered some of these aquatic invasives.

You may know what I’m talking about – you’re in a state that is dealing with zebra mussels or quagga mussels, and you need to pull your drain plugs and be sure livewells are totally dry before you go to another body of water to fish. In California, where I’m from, if you don’t follow these procedures your boat goes into quarantine. But this initiative is critical to preventing further spread of these mussels. 

Asian carp represent some of the most visible AIS issues in the U.S. (Image courtesy of Carla Burnside/USFWS)

AIS problems represent a huge hassle for anglers and aren’t something we can ignore. If unaddressed, the problems only get worse. Invasive mussels will eventually clog up drinking water or irrigation pipes. Snakeheads will eat everything, from the fish we catch to the prey items in their diets. Invasive vegetation will degrade the habitat of native fish.

And then there are Asian carp.

These invasives, which come in multiple species, including silver and bighead carp, remove plankton that normally provide forage to native bait species. Also, when the bass are in a spawning area, the carp can ruin the beds they’re spawning on with their gluttonous feeding habits.   

These carp also leap out of the water when they’re agitated, and I’ve had them fly right into my boat. Imagine going down the lake at 60 miles per hour and having one jump up in front of you. People actually get hospitalized for this.

Invasives Cost Billions of Dollars, Hurt Communities  

Maybe the biggest threat aquatic invasives present is the financial burden they put on federal and local economies. Our federal government alone spends an estimated $2.3 billion annually to prevent, control, and eradicate domestic AIS issues. In fact, AIS cause $100 billion worth of damage per year in the U.S.

Those are only big-picture costs. Fishing supports communities, and sometimes the real damage from invasives occurs at a more local level. When AIS take over an area, the fishing gets bad. When fishing gets bad, people stop fishing. Entire communities suffer.

The only good news about the economic damage AIS problems cause is that it has forced politicians and other decision-makers to take notice. People won’t get behind AIS battles unless the economics and dollars are there.

Monroe at the helm, on the Pacific Ocean off central California. (Image courtesy Ish Monroe)

Management & Control of Invasives

Clearly there’s good reason to want to control, or at least mitigate the damage from, aquatic invasives. The best option is to never allow an exotic species to move into a body of water in the first place. We all play a part in preventing future spread.

Once AIS establish themselves, full eradication is often the ideal solution, even though in most cases it’s not financially feasible or practical to implement. Species like zebra and quagga mussels, and fish like freshwater Asian carp and lionfish in our oceans, offer little benefit to North American environments. If possible, we want to remove them. That’s much easier said than done, however. The best thing is to never allow invasives to gain a foothold in a waterway in the first place.

Myself and other pro anglers on the circuit, along with our sponsors, are already doing our part to help deal with AIS issues. Bassmaster’s Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) offers great information to pro anglers on how to reduce the spread of invasives, and also is now officially part of the national Clean Drain Dry Initiative. And Yamaha Rightwaters, the number-one program where I work on conservation issues, does more than just waterway clean-ups, like the Tennessee River Beautiful effort I’m involved with. Among the program’s initiatives is a national AIS Commission convened with partners like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Diverse AIS Commission Sets Priorities

In 2021, the TRCP worked with Yamaha Rightwaters and other partners to form an AIS commission to improve the prevention, control, and mitigation of aquatic invasives. I chose to be on the commission because I see where things are going with tournament bass fishing, and if I don’t do something to help it could eventually go away.

It was a difficult but great process to try and wrap our minds around such a big issue. Among our recommendations, which were finalized in 2023, were the need to modernize federal law and policy, increase targeted federal funding, maintain access to water for anglers, and increase public education and engagement.

And that’s where you and other anglers come in. Please help do your part to help prevent further AIS spread, to benefit fish populations and our collective angling experiences.

How You Can Help Stop the Spread of Invasives:

  1. Follow the “Clean, Drain, Dry” rule. Don’t’ transfer water from one place to another.
  2. Be educated about AIS in your area. Know what you should or shouldn’t do.
  3. Get involved. Volunteer, follow an advocacy like Yamaha Right Waters, and let your elected officials know you expect them to address AIS issues.
  4. Consider organizing or entering a competition that focuses on AIS removals (and have fun in the process).
Monroe with a bluefin tuna he landed in the Pacific. (Image credit Ish Monroe)

Ishama “Ish” Monroe is a professional bass fisherman with nine career wins, five of them being on the B.A.S.S. tour. He has earned $2.4 million in lifetime prize winnings. Sponsored by Yamaha Motor, Bass Pro Shops, Simms Fishing, Ranger Boats, and other big names in the angling industry, he is based in northern California but competes and volunteers nationally.

Learn more about the AIS Commission and its recommendations here.

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August 16, 2023

Interactive Map Shows PA Streams Lacking the Conservation They Deserve

Explore the waterways that qualify for High Quality and Exceptional Value status but have been backlogged at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

If you’ve been following the TRCP for a while, you’ve likely seen us call for Pennsylvania anglers to take action in support of upgrading conservation safeguards that the PA Fish and Boat Commission can provide to our best trout streams. In this process, the commission opens a public comment period every three months and anglers are outspoken in their support of bestowing Wild Trout and Class A Wild Trout stream status where waterways are eligible.

Similarly, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection develops water quality standards designed to safeguard PA streams, rivers, and lakes and give the highest possible protections to our best waters. The agency designates qualified waters as High Quality or Exceptional Value to protect and maintain clean water where it already exists.

Unfortunately, a lengthy list of PA’s top wild trout streams qualify for the highest conservation safeguards at the DEP, but the agency has failed to implement these protections. And our trout streams have waited long enough.

Explore the map to see which streams in the Delaware River watershed are currently backlogged and pending designation by the DEP.
How Did So Many Streams Get Backlogged for Designation?

Waterways can be recommended for upgraded status by the DEP, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, or the public. After streams are proposed for additional designation, an arduous assessment by the DEP then follows. In fact, the evaluation of High Quality and Exceptional Value streams often represents years, if not decades, of work and detailed water surveys.

Even after this thorough process, though, some streams have not yet been designated. (See streams marked “Qualifies for Conservation” on the map.)

Many waters being considered right now are already recognized as wild trout waters and several are recognized as Class A wild trout waters by PFBC. (See streams marked “Recommended for Conservation” on the map.)

This means that not only do these waters sustain naturally reproducing populations of trout, but several of them are among the best in the state. These waters deserve top conservation safeguards, according to one state agency, but they await assessment and designation by the other. This has resulted in a lengthy backlog and delay in commonsense protections.

Why Is It Important to Clear the Backlog of Stream Designations?

Clearing the backlog is particularly important to our state’s $58-billion outdoor recreation economy right now. These additional protections are critical to helping the state manage and protect fish populations, especially as demands on water resources continue to increase. When you consider that roughly 40 percent of streams across the state are NOT suitable for fishing, swimming, and/or drinking water, according to the DEP, it makes sense to safeguard the exceptional waterways that already meet top standards and support outdoor recreation that drives our economy.

TRCP polling shows that 92 percent of sportsmen and sportswomen in Pennsylvania support maintaining and strengthening clean water standards in the state, which is home to some of the best publicly accessible fishing that the East Coast has to offer. Providing additional conservation safeguards to the best wild trout streams also supports small businesses like tackle shops and fishing guide services that make up an important part of the robust outdoor recreation industry in Pennsylvania.

Take action now and tell the PA Department of Environmental Protection to clear the backlog and conserve our best waters.

Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program.

Louisiana Commences Unprecedented Coastal Habitat Restoration Project

The state just broke ground on the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion—America’s largest and most expensive habitat restoration project to date—to breathe life back into a critical Gulf Shore basin and promote long-term fishery health

The first time I launched a boat out of Empire, La., along the Mississippi River south of New Orleans, I had just graduated from high school in 1994.

I had spent a lot of time, to that point, fishing across Louisiana’s coast, from Delacroix, east of New Orleans, to Dularge in western Terrebonne Parish, but I never had the opportunity to traverse the speckled trout and redfish paradise of the eastern Barataria Basin with its seemingly endless maze of bayous, marsh ponds, lakes, and bays between our launching spot and the Gulf of Mexico. 

Barataria bull redfish. Courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

About a decade later, those bayous, lakes, and bays were either gone or almost totally unrecognizable, laid to waste by Hurricane Katrina’s unprecedented storm surge and land-eating ferocity. Other powerful hurricanes like Gustav, Ike, Laura, Delta, and especially 2021’s Ida, which washed away more than 100 square miles of coastal wetlands, have gouged and gashed the Barataria Basin in the 18 years since Katrina. These, along with nature’s consistent, relentless attacks and effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have further altered the basin.

What was once eight miles of marsh between Empire and the Gulf is now open water dotted with pilings and concrete riprap where old fishing camps and natural gas canals used to be. The Barataria Basin was 700 square miles of varying coastal marshes, swamps, bays, and islands from the west bank of the river to Bayou Lafourche in 1900. More than 430 square miles of that have vanished in the last century. 

Louisiana’s coast, and the Barataria Basin, before and after Hurricane Ida. Courtesy USGS.

On August 10, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, federal partners, and hundreds of Louisianans gathered just north of Empire to break ground on the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, a project designed to breathe life back into the Barataria Basin by reconnecting the Mississippi River to the marshes, bayous, islands, and ponds it originally built.

It is America’s largest, most ambitious, and most expensive habitat restoration project to date, designed to move as much as 75,000 cubic feet of sediment-laden water per second through a gate on the Mississippi River levee and a two-mile conveyance channel to mimic the connection that once existed between the river and its delta. The price tag is estimated at an astonishing $2.9 billion, almost all covered by penalties levied against BP and others for damages caused by the 2010 oil disaster including $660 million for construction from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. Optimistically, the project is set for completion by 2028.   

Thousands of years of annual floods and consistent connections between the river and the basin immediately to its west built what was once one of the world’s most productive fishery and waterfowl wintering grounds. But since that connection was cut off, beginning initially in the late 19th century to straight-line the river’s channel for ease of navigation and with levees built to control flooding, Barataria has been sinking and eroding faster than any other coastal basin in the world.

Wetland scientists, engineers, and fish and wildlife biologists have been predicting the basin’s eventual demise since the late 1800s because of efforts to disconnect the river from dozens of outlets south and west of New Orleans. Even back then, with a seemingly inexhaustible expanse of wetlands and barrier islands still present, there was an appreciation that removing the land-building sediment and the life-giving water and nutrients meant eventually the coastal habitat would vanish, taking away the fisheries and wildlife production and natural protection for coastal communities. However, the prediction was that the region and nation would both benefit so greatly from consistent navigation and flood control it would undoubtedly re-invest in the ecosystem at some point.

A ceremonial groundbreaking recognized commencement of the project. Image courtesy of Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority

It took numerous devastating hurricanes, the worst oil spill in the country’s history, and the resulting fines, the Gulf lapping at the doorstep of New Orleans’ West Bank, more than 50 years of discussion, and the unweaving of bureaucracies and complex environmental laws and policies for that prediction to come true. While CPRA, federal agencies, and parish governments have invested billions in important marsh creation, ridge and barrier island restoration, and hurricane protection over the last four decades, none of those projects truly addressed the fundamental cause of the land loss like the Mid-Barataria diversion is designed to do

While valuable, dredge-created barrier island and marsh restoration projects begin subsiding and eroding as soon as the project is finished. They are only built to withstand, at most, three decades of sinking, winds, and waves. Mid-Barataria, on the other hand, is designed for longevity as it will mimic the annual sediment slugs and wetland-sustaining water and nutrients that built the basin prior to straight-jacketing levees and jetties.

Certainly, reintroducing freshwater and sediment will change local fisheries. The Barataria Basin will become more like unlevied areas east of the river and to the west where the Atchafalaya River’s annual spring floods inundate coastal wetlands with water and sediment. While those changes have drawn harsh criticisms from commercial and even some recreational fishers, including the threat of lawsuits to try and stop the project, the narrative used by opponents that Mid-Barataria will mean the end of catching speckled trout, redfish, shrimp, crabs, and other species in the basin is simply not true. If the Barataria is to have any chance in the future of producing and sustaining the harvest of all those species, the Mississippi River must be re-connected, and the habitat rebuilt.

While the politics and the bureaucracy of diversions is complicated, the biological equation describing what’s happening in the basin is relatively easy to explain. The Mississippi River, when connected to the basin, regularly delivered sediment, water, and nutrients. That consistent engagement created a rich environment perfect for innumerable fish and animals to thrive in, but with seasonal changes based on how much freshwater was in the system. When the connection between river and marsh was cut off, the nutrients continued to leach out and feed the system as the wetlands degraded. Fisheries production exploded, but a timer had been set for eventual collapse of productivity while saltwater overtook and killed brackish and fresh marshland and swamp. At some point, there simply wouldn’t be enough marsh left to degrade.

Schematic of the planned diversion structure, once complete. Image courtesy of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority

Collapse is where we are now. Over the last 40-plus years of fishing the Barataria Basin, I can look back at too many days to count where friends and I caught trout and redfish until we didn’t want to cast any more. Literally hundreds of fish in a day. A two-person limit of 60 trout and redfish on ice by 8 a.m. wasn’t unusual. Fishing un-rivaled by anywhere in the country, the best place to catch a redfish in the world

Until Katrina, unfortunately, we took for granted that it would always be like that. Louisiana’s current, ongoing, heated discussions over reducing trout and redfish creel limits because of productivity loss have their origins in devastating habitat loss. We just don’t have the fish we once did.

In the wake of Hurricane Ida, the Barataria Basin northeast of Grand Isle was unrecognizable. Miles and miles of marsh washed away. Communities 40 miles from the Gulf were covered in fetid mud from dying swamps, leaving residents to question how much of this loss and devastation could have been avoided if the projects to reconnect the river and sustain wetlands had been built 30 or 40 years ago instead of debated and dismissed as too costly. The longer these types of projects sit tangled in bureaucratic morass, the more habitat is lost as the costs skyrocket.

The Mid-Barataria Diversion gives Louisianans like me an opportunity to think positively about the future of our coast. Certainly, it will change the approaches we take to fishing the Barataria Basin. But it will give us a chance to experience a basin that is growing and an opportunity to see new land, gain new shorelines to cast to, and new ponds and grass beds to sustain a diverse fishery. For me, it’s a welcome change from the constant disappointment of knowing each year more and more of my home state will be lost to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the best chance we have.

Groundbreaking photo at top courtesy of Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority

Click here to learn how the $2.9 billion investment from the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project will create thousands of jobs and propel our economy forward while strengthening habitat for fish and wildlife.

July 21, 2023

Nine Major Menhaden Developments in 2023 

An update on Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico menhaden recovery successes, challenges, and recent events since January

A lot has already happened this year on the menhaden conservation front, so probably not even the most engaged followers have been able to keep track of it all. The TRCP wanted to provide its members, supporters, and partners with a summary of everything that’s happening along both coasts, and point out what’s to come later this year.

Here are five major developments related to Atlantic menhaden, and another four related to the fishery in the Gulf, that saltwater anglers and conservationists should know about. 

Atlantic/Chesapeake Bay

Plans to Study Menhaden Ecology, Economics

The state legislature in Virginia passed a bill in late March which directs the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to develop plans for studying the ecology, fishery impacts, and economic importance of menhaden populations in Virginia waters. In September, VIMS will present their plan to the General Assembly. The TRCP will be supportive of a comprehensive and unbiased study plan, and looks forward to working with VIMS and the General Assembly in 2024 as they execute the plan.

Voluntary Agreement Between Omega Protein and Virginia

A final memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and foreign-owned reduction fishery giant Omega Protein was published in late April. While the MOU is intended to protect Chesapeake Bay shorelines from fish spills and limit user conflicts between the reduction fishery and other stakeholders, through voluntary buffer zone avoidance and other measures, it lacks what the original regulatory proposal from 2022 provided – legal teeth. VMRC rejected a proposal from Governor Youngkin’s administration late last year that would have created mandatory one-mile buffers from Bay shorelines and a half-mile buffer on either side of the Bay Bridge Tunnel, where purse seining would be prohibited, along with summer holiday seining restrictions.

New Appointments Coming to Marine Resources Commission

The TRCP led 17 partners and state groups to sign a letter to Governor Youngkin in May, expressing support for qualified and balanced candidates to the VMRC Board who will support recreational fishing and conservation. Two VMRC Board positions are expected to be appointed by the governor soon. We will be monitoring the two upcoming appointments by the Youngkin administration to ensure that both candidates are fair and balanced towards recreational interests. In the meanwhile, keep letting the governor know it’s time to stop industrial menhaden fishing in the Bay – or at least work toward more effective regulations to conserve this critical forage fish.

If Chesapeake Bay Menhaden Really Are That Abundant…

Earlier this month, seven of Omega Protein’s larger seine boats – the majority of its Chesapeake Bay menhaden fishing fleet – steamed 200 miles north to fish off New York and New Jersey, presumably to find more fish. Typically the fleet focuses on the Bay this time of year, due to plentiful and easily accessible menhaden. Could this incredibly expensive tactic indicate a lack of enough available menhaden close to the company’s home base in the Bay, where the vessels are typically found fishing around this time? Add to that the fact that osprey reproductive success is crashing in areas of the Bay where the raptors rely primarily on menhaden to feed their chicks, and the concerns about the state of the Bay’s menhaden become even more worrisome. Whether or not this fleet movement is a result of lower menhaden numbers in the Bay than Omega Protein proclaims are present, it’s clear there’s a problem and we need to push to protect Chesapeake Bay menhaden and the ecosystems and recreational activities this important fish supports.

Opportunity to Change Menhaden Regulations in Bay this Fall

From October to December each year, the VMRC has the ability to change menhaden regulations in the Commonwealth. The TRCP and its partners will be focused on getting proposals passed that have real legal teeth to protect Chesapeake Bay’s menhaden, rather than relying on handshake agreements.

Gulf of Mexico

Ecological Thresholds for Pogie Populations

In January, a study was published that quantified tradeoffs between menhaden harvest and predator biomass to develop ecological reference points – which assess a species’ overall role in an ecosystem, rather than simply considering that species alone. The study findings included that biomass for many predators was more affected by the commercial harvest of menhaden, also known as pogies, than by fishing pressure on the predator species itself. The research could inform efforts to better monitor bycatch in commercial nets and manage menhaden with their importance to sportfish in mind. However, a bill that used these results to propose menhaden catch limits based on the dietary needs of their predators and intended to establish purse seine buffers off Louisiana beaches to protect redfish spawning areas was stopped by opposition in the state legislature.

Proposed Rule Would Prohibit Net Abandonment

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries approved a Notice of Intent in February to prohibit the abandonment of purse seine gear and implement penalties for the wanton waste of menhaden as a public resource. The rule would also require notification to LDWF within two hours of any net spills. This notice came on the heels of a fish spill in September 2022, when Omega Protein abandoned a purse seine net off Louisiana. Omega not only left the net behind but spilled more than 900,000 dead menhaden into the Gulf, along with many sportfish caught as bycatch (including spawning-size red drum). The TRCP has previously shared information about how Gulf sportfish are affected by purse seining for menhaden, and will continue to apply pressure to establish more common sense menhaden regulations in the Gulf fishery.

Research on Gulf Bycatch

In May, proposals were due to the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission for plans to conduct a comprehensive bycatch study on menhaden fishing. Much anecdotal evidence indicates a significant amount of bycatch, including spawning size redfish and other sportfish, in Gulf seining operations, but the necessary scientific data are lacking. An announcement of the chosen research group is expected from the GSMFC soon. We will be monitoring the resulting bycatch study, which will be overseen by the GSMFC, to ensure that the methodology is unbiased toward industry interests. This September, the GSMFC will host the third menhaden reference points stakeholder workshop in Long Beach, Miss. The TRCP and partners, long focused on better management of menhaden, will participate in the workshop and focus on creating and implementing realistic, scientifically based ecological reference points that leave enough menhaden in the water for the predators that rely on them.

First Step to Conserve Louisiana Redfish

A continuing resolution was passed unanimously in June by both chambers of the Louisiana State Legislature, which urged LDWF to end the killing of breeding-size redfish by both recreational and commercial fishermen. The TRCP applauds this resolution, which marks a first step toward regulations that will conserve redfish and could also hinder the menhaden industry’s ability to kill many thousands of redfish via pogie boat bycatch each season.

Learn More About Menhaden

Learn more about how this tiny forage fish drives sportfishing and underpins marine ecosystems.

Osprey images courtesy of Katherine Crozier

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



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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