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March 8, 2024

PA stream backlog YouTube video screenshot 2024-03-08

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March 5, 2024

Productive Louisiana Freshwater Fishery “Dying a Slow Death”

The swamp-fringed Lac Des Allemands is losing ground without historical sediment flows, but Mississippi River restoration efforts offer a lifeline 

Lac Des Allemands is one of many storied freshwater fisheries in South Louisiana.

Located about 60 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, it’s the northernmost open body of water in the Barataria Basin, a 1.5 million-acre expanse of freshwater cypress and tupelo gum tree swamps that give way to fresh, brackish, and salt marshes, open bays and lakes, and eventually a chain of islands that form the barrier between the basin and the Gulf.

An ambitious angler in the right vessel could conceivably start the day catching redear sunfish in Des Allemands, make a move 25 miles south to fight redfish in the marsh near Lafitte, then jump through Barataria Pass at Grand Isle 25 miles from there and catch red snapper in the Gulf to end the day. I haven’t tackled that challenge yet, but was fortunate to fish Des Allemands recently with my friend Marsh Man Masson (check out the video below), when I saw ominous signs that the marsh is slowly dying.

Swamps Born of Sediment Flows

The entire Barataria Basin was formed by sediments and nutrients flowing from the Mississippi River over several thousand years. Those resources stopped flowing into the basin over the last 200 years as Bayou Lafourche, its western boundary, was dammed and levees were built along the lower Mississippi River to control floods and aid river navigation.

On average, about 10 square miles of wetlands have been lost each year in the basin since it was isolated from the river. Oil and gas exploration and manmade shipping canals have changed the region as well. Then there was Hurricane Ida, which slammed into the basin as one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the U.S., destroyed 100 square miles of coastal wetlands in August 2021, the overwhelming majority of them in the Barataria Basin. It also caused massive fish kills around Lac Des Allemands as bacteria blooms and saltwater intrusion sucked the oxygen from freshwater and brackish marshes.

The sad truth about Des Allemands’ moss-laden, fish and wildlife-rich cypress-tupelo swamps is they are dying, though – unlike a marsh – it may be hard to see.

A South Louisiana freshwater fishery. Photo Credit: nsub1


An Almost Invisible Death

When a marsh sinks, erodes, and eventually becomes open water, which has happened more in the basin in the last century than anywhere else in the world, the damage is obvious. One day there’s marsh. A year later, that same marsh is gone, replaced by shallow open water.

Swamps die differently. Trees starved of sediment and nutrients slowly perish. As the canopy opens, more and more grasses grow, rooted in feet-thick layers of muck and dying organic materials. Those grasses are much more vulnerable to hurricanes than hard-rooted trees. Invasive vegetation takes over and dissolved oxygen wanes in backwater areas, leaving fish fewer places to spawn, feed, and hide. Biological productivity dissipates over decades, leading to fewer successful bass and panfish trips and a whole lot fewer commercially important creatures like crawfish and channel catfish. Even ducks stop utilizing the area as wintering grounds.

The Des Allemands swamp is not the only one in the Mississippi River Basin dying a slow death. With so much attention, law, and policy directives focused on managing the river for flood control and navigation, with little regard for the ecosystems over the last 150 years, swamps and historic floodplains are struggling to continue to be productive fish and waterfowl areas. Nearby communities that have enjoyed the natural protection and flood retention of healthy swamps also are becoming increasingly threatened by sea-level rise, subsidence, levee over-topping, and nutrient loads that could be better filtered by allowing the river to flow through those swamps again.

Hope for Louisiana’s Wetland Habitats

The TRCP is working with a coalition of conservation organizations to engage the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and help guide an ongoing effort called “The Lower Mississippi River Comprehensive Management Study.” Congress has instructed the Corps to identify ways to manage the Mississippi south of its confluence with the Ohio River with an eye towards improving flood control, habitat, natural infrastructure, and recreational access.


If the Corps listens, reconnecting the Mississippi to swamps like Des Allemands will be at the top of the list of places to start.

Read more about recent Mississippi River Delta restoration efforts here.

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March 1, 2024

Atlantic Herring Measures Could Improve Angler Access to Baitfish

The New England Fishery Management Council is soliciting public comments to develop new management measures for this critical forage fish

The Atlantic herring stock is currently considered overfished, at a mere one-fifth of its target biomass. While the total herring harvest has decreased over the years, economic and on-the-water conflicts still abound between industrial midwater trawlers and other groups in New England who are reliant on a healthy herring resource, such as recreational anglers, other commercial watermen, and ecotourism operators.

Atlantic mackerel, a primary alternative prey species for herring predators – and harvested by essentially the same trawling fleet – have also crashed. In addition, the high volume of bycatch of already depleted species like river herring and shad, which are caught by the industrial herring fleet year-round, has prompted scientists and managers to ask two important questions:

What more can be done to mitigate bycatch from the directed herring fishery, and how can we enhance efforts to restore and maintain runs of river herring and shad?

Previous Protections Vacated in Court

Many New England anglers might remember the nearly decade-long process that was Amendment 8 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan. From 2015 to 2021, anglers and conservationists helped provide input toward the development of a 12-mile-wide “Inshore Midwater Trawl Restricted Area” as part of the amendment. This buffer zone protected nearshore areas in New England from the impacts of industrial midwater trawling, allowing recreational anglers and smaller-scale commercial gear types enhanced access to herring for bait, and leaving more forage in the water for herring lovers like striped bass, tuna, whales, and many more. 

Unfortunately, that buffer zone was short-lived; vacated in 2022 because the court determined that the rationale for its establishment – localized depletion of the herring resource – couldn’t be scientifically proven. So, it might come as no surprise that the issues prompting the buffer zone’s development nearly ten years ago still persist in 2024, and now there’s an effort to re-establish similar restrictions within the fishery.

Alewives are a depleted river herring species caught as bycatch by the directed herring fishery. Photo credit: NOAA

A Renewed Attempt to Protect Herring

In 2023, the New England Fishery Management Council began working in earnest to prioritize the development of new management measures through a new amendment to the Fishery Management Plan – Amendment 10 – to address the ongoing concerns, attain optimum yield in the fishery, and improve herring’s conservation status. Last year, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and partners launched a new campaign to work alongside the council to support Amendment 10 action and ensure that access to a healthy herring population is available to all stakeholders.

The council has since decided to explore a range of management alternatives to “minimize user conflicts, including spatially and temporally explicit gear restrictions, area closures, and possession limits.” Potential management measures it will consider include the spatial extent of the Midwater Trawl Restricted Area approved under Amendment 8, and a focus on areas not subject to current seasonal closures to midwater trawling.

What You Need to Know

The NEFMC is now soliciting public comments about which direction it should take when developing and implementing new management measures in the Atlantic herring fishery. The council is proposing to take action by addressing the spatial (location-based) and temporal (seasonal-based) allocation and management of this species at the management unit level. They have also produced a scoping document with a full list of questions for the public to consider when providing input, which can be found here.

In short, Amendment 10 management measures will be designed to attain optimum yield and improve the conservation status of Atlantic herring by accounting for its critically important role as a forage species; minimizing user conflicts; and addressing the incidental catch of river herring and shad by the directed Atlantic herring fishery.

Gulls and other birds, gamefish, and whales feed on Atlantic and river herring. Photo credit: Paul VanDerWerf

How You Can Help

There are two ways to let the council know which restrictions would improve your access to a healthy herring resource in your area: in-person comments at one of six scoping meetings, or written comments sent in via email.

From March 1 to April 22, the NEFMC is hosting in-person meetings in all coastal New England states, with two webinar options. The TRCP highly encourages you to attend your state’s hearing as the most effective means to convey your concerns. The full meeting schedule is available here. Alternatively, anyone can submit written comments via email during the scoping period from March 1 until 8 a.m. April 30. We have provided a simple prompt and talking points for you to email written comments directly to the council through this .

Some tips for making public comments:

  1. Be Specific – The council wants to know which spatial and temporal management measures they should develop. They need specific comments about exactly where user conflicts are, when they occur, how those conflicts might be affecting your business/fishing activity, and why new buffer zones could reduce conflict.
  2. Consider Management Area – The council wants to address herring management by management area. Consider tailoring comments toward the area(s) you utilize the most.
  3. Aim For “Optimum” Outcomes – The Council wants to attain Optimum Yield in the herring fishery. This is achieved by assessing the tradeoffs of the economic, ecological, and social factors that determine the greatest benefit to the nation (i.e., all stakeholders). Let the council know what you consider to be “optimum” for you as a user of the herring resource, so they can decide which management measures will resolve issues most effectively.

It’s critical that anglers and conservationists let their voices be heard during this process. Whether you provide a quick email comment, or attend an in-person meeting in your state, your input is vital to the NEFMC so that they can develop management measures that equitably allocate the herring resource among all stakeholders.

Last but not least, if you have ever experienced conflicts with the industrial herring fleet, we encourage you to fill out this anonymous survey, which will be used to help determine where those user conflicts take place and their impacts. Responses will be analyzed to understand the nature and severity of conflicts with the herring fleet, which could inform the design of one or more new buffer zones to reflect the needs of recreational and commercial anglers and other ocean users.

More on Forage Fish Conservation

For more information about the TRCP’s work on forage fish along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, click here. As always, feel free to reach out to me at jhiggins@trcp.org with further questions, or if you would like to get more involved with any of our campaigns.

Learn more about forage fish recovery efforts.

Top photo credit: Chesapeake Bay Program/Will Parson

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February 29, 2024

What is the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program? 

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program is a Farm Bill conservation program that protects wildlife habitat and maintains open spaces.  But what exactly is ACEP and how does it benefit hunters and anglers? 

In this short video, we demystify a crucial Farm Bill conservation program, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and shed light on its benefits to hunters and anglers. 

This program helps to protect wetlands, grasslands, and working farms and ranches through conservation easements. 

ACEP easements keep working lands working, ensuring farms and ranches in key areas are not developed or subdivided and maintaining their value for wildlife. By protecting and enhancing wetlands, ACEP easements not only provide prime habitat for waterfowl and other important species, but also sequester carbon, improve water quality, mitigates impacts of flooding, and maintain surface water during dry spells. 

The Farm Bill is the largest piece of conservation legislation that will come before the 118th Congress.  You can help ensure that habitat and wildlife remain central to sensible farm policy in the United States here

Learn more about Farm Bill Conservation Programs here

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February 27, 2024

24 Pennsylvania Trout Streams That Deserve a Conservation Status Update

Anglers are campaigning to update the designations of some Pennsylvania waterways to reflect the exceptional status of their wild trout populations and water quality

Four times each year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission proposes streams to be added to the Class A Wild Trout and Wild Trout lists. Right now, there are 24 Wild Trout Streams that represent the best of our best waters. Among those eligible for protection during this comment period include Still Creek in Schuylkill County, Clear Run in Adams County, and tributaries to Nesquehoning Creek in Carbon County. These outstanding waters positively affect surrounding communities through increased economic activity and improve the natural, scenic, and aesthetic values of the state.

Pennsylvania sportsmen and sportswomen have a chance to influence this process and seal the deal for our best trout streams—here’s why you should take action today.

The Economic Power of Trout Waters

With 86,000 miles of streams and about 4,000 inland lakes, Pennsylvania is home to some of the best publicly accessible fishing that the East Coast has to offer, including phenomenal trout and bass fishing. With opportunities like these, it’s no wonder that 1.2 million Pennsylvanians fished their local waterways in 2020, helping contribute to the state’s $58-billion outdoor recreation economy.

Since 2010, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has worked with sportsmen and local universities to distinguish our best waters through the Unassessed Waters Program. Based on the UWP’s evaluation, stream sections that meet a set of criteria are eligible for certain protections. For example, streams that have abundant populations of wild rainbow, brown, and brook trout can be eligible for Wild Trout Stream or Class A Stream designations. Protecting these streams ensures that the outdoor recreation industry continues to thrive and that future generations can enjoy the same (or better) fishing opportunities.

Tackle shops and fishing guides are among the businesses that make up an important part of the robust outdoor recreation industry in Pennsylvania. And giving special consideration to the best wild trout streams supports these small businesses. “When I worked in the local fly shop, the Class A list provided a great reference to point people in the right direction to find trout water,” says Matthew Marran, a flyfishing guide and former fly shop worker in the Delaware River Basin. “As a guide, I depend on Class A waters to put clients on wild trout with consistency and confidence. And I’m seeing more and more people ask when booking to fish exclusively for wild trout.”

Why Does a Designation Matter?

In these cases, what’s in a name really matters: Wild Trout and Class A streams qualify for additional protections from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, including the limitation of activities around these streams that would degrade water quality. The Wild Trout Stream title designates a water as a Coldwater Fishery and protects surrounding wetlands from development. Similarly, streams that qualify for the Class A designation get additional recognition as high-quality waters, which restricts in-stream discharges and guards against habitat degradation.

These designations from the PFBC are critical to helping the state manage and protect fish populations, especially as demands on Pennsylvania’s 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.

Fortunately, sportsmen and sportswomen understand the importance of this process. A TRCP survey found that 92 percent of Pennsylvania sportsmen and women support designating streams when they meet the right criteria.

What You Can Do to Help

Pennsylvania’s hunters and anglers have an important opportunity to conserve more critical streams. If we don’t speak up, these exceptional waterways could easily be degraded and eventually lost to pollution.

Take action now and tell the PA Fish and Boat Commission that you value these protections for clean water and fish habitat.

This blog was originally posted in November 2019 and has been updated for each quarterly public comment period. The current comment period ends on March 24, 2024.

Top photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli; other photos by Derek Eberly.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

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.

Learn More

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