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March 14, 2024


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March 13, 2024

In the Arena: Bill Cooksey, National Wildlife Federation

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

Bill Cooksey

Hometown: Jackson, TN
Occupation: Senior Sportsmen Outreach Coordinator for the Vanishing Paradise Program of the National Wildlife Federation, and NWF Director of Conservation Partnerships for Tennessee.
Conservation credentials: Outreach and partnership coordination expert who has ties across the conservation spectrum for his ability to drive cooperative efforts, a direct but amicable personality, and prowess as a waterfowl hunter.

Inducted into the Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame in 2022, Bill Cooksey is a well-known and well-respected Tennessee duck and turkey hunter and freshwater angler who is involved in conservation issues throughout the Southeast. Like his father, who was a trustee emeritus for Ducks Unlimited, Cooksey is highly regarded by the sporting community. As NWF’s Senior Sportsmen Outreach Coordinator for the Vanishing Paradise program, Cooksey currently works with TRCP and other partners to address coastal restoration and water flow/quality issues from Texas to the Mississippi River Delta to the Florida Everglades, and is now also setting his sights on conservation efforts farther up the Mighty Mississippi.

Here is his story.

Photo Credit: Bill Buckley

I don’t really recall my introduction to hunting and fishing because my father began taking me when I was very young. I know I caught my first fish at age three and began dove and duck hunting with him when I was four. I can only recall snippets from those experiences, but they obviously inspired me in the direction my adult life would take.

According to both parents, I’d cry if my father said he was going hunting or fishing without me, and I’d cry when he said it was time to go home. Some would call it child abuse, but Dad would tie a hookless Christmas Tree Bomber on my Zebco rod and reel and let me throw that sucker all day long. My wife says I’m not much smarter today.

My first real “outdoor” memory was of a Ducks Unlimited Rally (precursor to the banquet) in Jackson, Tenn., in 1971. It was in the Civic Center, and I can recall a man on stage holding a shotgun and blowing a duck call. Suddenly, a mallard was flying through the air, and it fell when he shot. Three-year-old me had no idea it was a shackled duck and blanks. To me it was just the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Conservation was always part of my dad’s life, culminating in Trustee Emeritus at Ducks Unlimited, with many accolades along the way. Thus, conservation was always just part of the experience for me. I suppose you could say I just don’t really know another way.

Photo Credit: Bill Buckley

I’ve been blessed to hunt with so many incredible people and in so many wonderful places it’s an embarrassment of riches. It’s impossible to say which adventures are my favorites, because as one memory rises to the top another comes to mind. But I’d say the various “firsts” for my sons, and their first turkeys especially, might just take the cake. They were killed 17 years and 100 yards apart. When my youngest killed his, I recall crying on the drive home. Our oldest had passed away ten years prior, and my father died just a month before turkey season. The two people I most wanted to call and share Bill’s accomplishment with were gone.

I live where I do for a reason. I love duck hunting the southern half of the Mississippi Flyway. I mean, I love everything about it. Sadly, the trend here appears to be going the wrong way, and I’m very concerned about the future. Changes in weather patterns, habitat and even production in the Prairie Pothole Region are taking a toll on waterfowl hunting in my home range. 

Photo Credit: Ron Wong

Here in western Tennessee, I can step out my door and hit Kentucky Lake with a rock, so the biggest conservation challenge in my backyard is invasive Asian carp, but that’s just the most obvious. More frequent, and sustained, flooding is wreaking havoc in all of our reservoirs and bottomlands. Late spring and early summer floods scour our reservoirs and kill the grass that our native fish – and waterfowl in the winter – need, and sustained spring flooding is killing huge tracts of bottomland hardwoods.   

These are challenges we face. But because of my dad, I don’t really know how not to be involved in conservation and efforts to address these sorts of threats. If nothing else, being involved helps me understand what’s happening with our wildlife, and, surprisingly to some, it makes me a better hunter and fisherman. Keeping it light, being involved also helps fill the time between hunting seasons with something related to them. It’s really not so very different from hunters shooting clays or running retriever hunt tests. Being involved in conservation means being involved in my favorite sports.

Being involved in conservation has allowed me to connect with incredible sportsmen and conservation leaders around the country, while learning far more about places I care about. When the national news features an environmental catastrophe in south Florida, it’s likely to be about red tide. Rarely will they explain the common link between red tide, algal blooms, and fish kills with needed Everglades restoration. How many times have you seen coverage of a hurricane or tropical storm approaching Louisiana and heard mention of the fact the marshes are disappearing at the rate of a football field every 100 minutes, and that sediment diversions are the best way to restore the coast? When was the last time you heard about the rapid loss of bottomland hardwoods in the southern Mississippi flyway?

Photo Credit: Bill Cooksey

Without sportsmen and conservation organizations pushing out important information at every opportunity, nothing happens. And successful conservation is the only way the next generation of hunters and anglers will have anything approaching the experiences I’ve enjoyed.  

Click here to help protect and restore Everglades habitat.

Read more about Mississippi River Delta restoration efforts here.

Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email us at info@trcp.org


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March 8, 2024

Pennsylvania’s Trout Fishing Streams: Why They Lack Full Protection

There’s a growing list of popular trout fishing streams awaiting full protection at the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. What can anglers do about it?

In this short video, we explain how the state of Pennsylvania is working to protect the cold, clean waters that trout require, but is coming up short for one simple reason.

Pennsylvania anglers who have followed TRCP for the last few years are probably aware that four times each year, the state’s Fish and Boat Commission proposes a number of streams for conservation protections. These streams are given a designation based on how sustainable their trout populations are, and we help ensure that our members’ voices are heard by the state during each of these cycles.

What folks might not understand is that some trout streams the commission recommended for full protection to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) years ago still haven’t received these safeguards – or why that’s happening.

It’s time DEP clears the backlog and conserves Pennsylvania’s best trout waters.  Make your voice heard and send DEP a message through our simple comment form.

Learn more and explore a map of backlogged Pennsylvania trout streams here.


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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



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.

Learn More

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