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May 7, 2024

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In the Arena: Jon “Hoss” Haas

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.

Jon “Hoss” Haas

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
Occupation: Television show host/producer, conservation director for the Mid-South Fly Fishers club, and fisheries advocate
Conservation credentials: Producing and hosting an Emmy-nominated angling show focused on conservation issues and serving in board and director roles for conservation organizations, including being a past board member and communications director for the Coastal Conservation Association Oregon.

Jon “Hoss” Haas is host and executive producer of Emmy-nominated “Hoss Off the Grid,” which invites viewers into the rush of adventure-destination sportfishing. He’s a hardcore lifetime fisherman, whose endeavors are framed by a conservation focus in which he uses his sportfishing quests to highlight the need for fisheries stewardship. Hoss has also personally documented the menhaden reduction industry fleet removing these critical forage fish from the Chesapeake Bay, and freely shared that footage for conservation purposes. 

Here is his story.

I was lucky enough to have a best friend when I was young, around 9 years old, who had a much older stepbrother who liked to fish. He took us with him on occasion. This was mainly fishing in lakes and ponds for panfish, bass, and catfish in Arizona, but it gave me an appreciation for being in the outdoors and especially the bug for fishing at an early age.

Once my buddy and I were fishing in a park lake in Phoenix. It was an old, concrete-lined lake that had several fingers running out of it, and in one of them I saw a deeper hole at the bottom. In the hole I spied a round object that had moved slightly. Thinking it was a turtle, I dropped a worm on a hook down into the hole and to our surprise the “turtle” opened up and gulped the bait. It wasn’t a turtle at all, but a giant catfish.

Once hooked, it took off out of the concrete into the lake for a fight. We could see it was a big catfish and watched it tearing up the reedbed across from us. Eventually the line broke, but the impact forever changed me because I realized fishing was magical, it was a key to adventure since anything could happen. 

If I could hunt or fish anywhere, I would pick a fly-fishing trip in the Seychelles off the coast of Africa for giant trevally and bumphead parrotfish. The evolution of a fisherman generally goes from most, to biggest, then to hardest. For many species, hardest equates to the biggest on a fly. Those Seychelles fish are unique, aggressive at times, and very strong. Trying to land them on a coral atoll will test your skills and your gear. And being in a place like the Seychelles, remote and beautiful, with a limited footprint from mankind, is always rejuvenating to me. So, when I finally get there and hook one up, I’ll be scratching one off the top of my bucket list and recharging my batteries.

Conservation has enhanced my life significantly because without it being fought for by past generations, I don’t think there would be much wildlife or wild places left for my generation to enjoy. Being active in conservation is an opportunity for each of us to show we care about what happens to the world, now and in the future. Simple things like picking up the trash off a riverbank or donating to a conservation organization show you care. I have been lucky enough to travel the world and fish in a lot of wild places for great fish. The reason I did the television show “Hoss Off the Grid” was to show the great fisheries that are still left and why we need to fight to protect them.

“Without people being actively involved in conservation, there will likely be nothing left to conserve.”

I recently moved to Memphis, Tenn., and here we fish for big trout in a lot of the tailwaters below dams in northern Arkansas. Two of these rivers have produced world record-size brown trout and have robust trout fisheries. The Little Red River produced a 40-pound brown in 1992 and the White River produced a record 40-pound, 4-ounce brown that same year. These tailwaters are controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers for hydropower and flood control and have no minimum flow requirements that must be adhered to.

This last winter we saw water so low on the Little Red that it exposed the spawning beds upriver for over a week during the brown trout spawning run. That’s an issue. It’s never easy to get federal agencies to move quickly, so we will have to coordinate our efforts to magnify our individual voices to stop it from happening again.

I think conservation is a duty we all have to ourselves, the natural world, and future generations of outdoor enthusiasts. Without people being actively involved in conservation, there will likely be nothing left to conserve within a short period of time. A natural resource will always have folks who want to exploit it, and in most cases, if left unchallenged, they will overexploit it to the point they abandon it and move to the next thing to exploit. The Chesapeake Bay menhaden reduction fishery is a prime example of overexploitation to the point of decimation.  I saw the same thing on the Columbia River in Oregon, around commercial fishing for salmon when Endangered Species Act-listed runs of fish were trying to make it home through the same waters from which they originated.

It’s important for me to know I’ve contributed my part to try to make things better for the generations coming behind me. Conservation is really the only thing that will keep the wild places wild and ensure fish and other wildlife are available for the next generation of hunters and anglers to enjoy. I’ve already seen the degradation of some incredible fisheries in my lifetime and hope that our efforts to preserve ecosystems and guard our world’s natural environment from overexploitation will allow some of them to eventually recover. Without continued diligence on conservation efforts, we can’t hang on to what we have or make it better. That’s why it’s so important to get young people involved in conservation as much and as early as possible.

I also challenge the next generation to join conservation groups, since regulators care about votes. Membership in a group represents votes to those in power, and tells them they need to listen.

All photos courtesy of Jon Haas/Hoss Off the Grid

Support TRCP’s forage fish conservation efforts to help protect menhaden and herring.


The TRCP is your no-B.S. resource for all things conservation. In our weekly Roosevelt Report, you’ll receive the latest news on emerging habitat threats, legislation and proposals on the move, public land access solutions we’re spearheading, and opportunities for hunters and anglers to take action. Sign up now.

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April 26, 2024

TRCP Breaks Down Updates to BLM’s Oil and Gas Leasing Policies  

The Bureau of Land Management has modernized its rules regarding oil and gas leasing on public land to reduce conflict between oil and gas development and fish, wildlife resources  

Sportsmen and sportswomen have been promoting responsible land use and energy development for decades. Our community spends a lot of time exploring public lands, and at some point we all experience how energy development can impact our favorite time-honored traditions, recreational pursuits, and the fish and wildlife populations we love. 

This is why we’re pleased that the Bureau of Land Management has modernized national onshore oil and gas leasing regulations to help reduce the conflict between oil and gas development and other important multiple uses, including hunting, fishing, and wildlife habitat. Some of these updated rules come directly from the Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress in 2022 and are required to allow BLM staff to implement that new law. Many of BLM’s rules governing oil and gas leasing on public lands were over fifty years old; these new rules are more up to speed with modern day science and technological advancements, resource needs, and state and federal guidance. That is just good policy.  

Below are a few specific provisions from the updated rules that will help conserve your hunting and fishing opportunities and cultural resources where oil and gas development occurs: 

Updated bonding requirements. When for-profit entities develop public lands, the government should ensure that those entities can cover associated clean-up costs in the future to protect public land users and landscapes. One way to do this is to require bond money at the beginning of a project lifecycle. Oil and gas infrastructure, operations, ongoing maintenance, and reclamation have all become more costly since the existing bond rate was set in 1960, therefore the updated rule increases the minimum lease bond amount for developers/operators from $10,000 to $150,000, and the minimum statewide bond to $500,000. This will reduce the number of abandoned wells that taxpayers must foot the bill to clean up, which helps public land that’s no longer in production go back to providing us all with room to roam. 

Prioritization for leasing outside of important wildlife and cultural areas. The updated rule will help steer oil and gas leasing and development away from important wildlife habitats, such as migration corridors, and cultural sites, and toward lands with existing infrastructure or high production potential. 

Increased royalty rates. Because BLM’s leasing and development regulations allow for-profit entities to generate revenue from producing public assets (including oil, gas, and other hydrocarbons and minerals) on federal public land, a small portion of that revenue is paid back to the public agency through royalty payments. Under the new rules, royalty rates for leases will increase.  For leases issued during the 10 years after the effective date of the Inflation Reduction Act the royalty rate will be 16.67 percent (up from 12.5 percent), and after August 16, 2032, the rate of 16.67 percent will become the minimum. 

Increased minimum bid requirements. BLM oil and gas lease auctions have a minimum bid amount established to ensure that public lands and minerals maintain a minimum base value across the country. The BLM’s updated rules, per the Inflation Reduction Act, will increase the national minimum bid from $2 per acre to $10 per acre. A higher minimum bid rate will help ensure that only lands with high development potential are leased at auction and that the public lands we all value so much aren’t sold for pennies. 

Minimum rental rates per acre. Normally, lessees can hold on to federal onshore oil and gas leases for ten-year terms. The BLM’s new rules, per the Inflation Reduction Act, include a rental fee of $3 per acre per year during the first 2-year period of the lease term; a $5 per acre per year for the following 6 years; and then $15 per acre per year thereafter. After August 16, 2032, those rental rates will become minimums and could be increased. This creates a financial incentive for developers to release leases if they have no intention of developing them.   

Expression of interest fee. BLM staff assess all parcels for which there are ‘expressions of interest’ in leasing, and companies or individuals can propose lists of parcels whether they fully intend to bid on them during lease auctions or not. By adding a fee of $5 per acre, or a fraction thereof, for filing expressions of interest, the BLM will encourage speculators to submit expressions of interest for parcels for which there is genuine interest and value, which will likely reduce administrative burden on BLM staff as well. 

The case for updating BLM oil and gas leasing policies 

We all use significant amounts of energy to power our day-to-day activities and to get us to our favorite hunting and fishing spots, so ensuring that energy is developed responsibly is critical to maintaining our way of life.  

The 2024 Colorado College Conservation in the West Poll found that ninety percent of Western voters believe that oil and gas companies should pay to clean up their messes – a burden taxpayers have shouldered for too long. Also, sixty-three percent of Western voters believe drilling should only occur on land with the highest likelihood of producing oil and gas. The new oil and gas rule addresses both of these concerns by steering leasing away from land with little potential for drilling, and raising bonding rates to limit future abandoned and orphaned wells.  

The TRCP supports updating federal rules to facilitate low-impact and high-return energy development (including but not limited to oil and gas development) when and where it is appropriate according to the best data, science, and policy.  

These updates are not anticipated to impact domestic energy production but will ensure taxpayers receive a better rate of return on that development, and fewer impacts and disruptions to our public land pursuits and traditions. 

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April 24, 2024

Dingell, Westerman, and Newberg Receive TRCP’s Conservation Awards

Gala event co-hosted by Outdoor Afro’s Rue Mapp and MeatEater’s Ryan “Cal” Callaghan brings together D.C. luminaries, outdoor industry leaders, and TRCP supporters

At its 16th annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership proudly celebrated the conservation achievements of Representative Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Representative Bruce Westerman (R-AR), and Fresh Tracks host Randy Newberg. 

The gala event was co-hosted by Rue Mapp, CEO and founder of Outdoor Afro, and Ryan “Cal” Callaghan, director of conservation at MeatEater —at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

“We are thrilled this year to be presenting our 2024 awards to Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Congressman Bruce Westerman, and hunter, public land advocate, and host of Fresh Tracks, Randy Newberg,” said Becky Humphries, TRCP interim president and CEO. “Representatives Dingell and Westerman have been instrumental in clinching legislative victories for habitat, access, and conservation funding that will impact hunting and fishing opportunities for years to come. Our event is also a fitting way to celebrate a deeply appreciated champion in conservation, Randy Newberg, who has been part of this community for many years.”

Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell has been a champion for conservation from the first day she set foot in D.C. Over nearly a decade in Congress, she has fought for game changing investments in fish and wildlife conservation and expanded access for hunters and anglers, including through her leadership on the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act and the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. Both bills are rooted in broad support from the hunting and fishing community and ensure that future generations enjoy the same opportunity that we do.  

Photo by www.jonflemingphotography.com

As Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman has been a leading voice on improving forest health, protecting, and expanding access, and bolstering fish and wildlife habitat conservation. His bipartisan EXPLORE and LAKES Acts would remove barriers to access and modernize outdoor infrastructure, while the America’s Wildlife Habitat Conservation Act delivers several long-standing hunting and fishing community priorities like a fix to the Cottonwood court decision and would create additional pathways for proactive, voluntary conservation.

Photo by www.jonflemingphotography.com

Randy Newberg, host of the Fresh Tracks and On Your Own Adventures hunting television shows, the long-standing Hunt Talk web forum, and the Hunt Talk Podcast is a true champion of conservation and a steadfast advocate for the hunting community. As a true champion of conservation and a steadfast advocate for the hunting community, his unwavering dedication and humble passion make him a true advocate for the everyday hunter. 

Photo by www.jonflemingphotography.com

The 16th Annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner was made possible with the support of the following generous sponsors:


The TRCP is your resource for all things conservation. In our weekly Roosevelt Report, you’ll receive the latest news on emerging habitat threats, legislation and proposals on the move, public land access solutions we’re spearheading, and opportunities for hunters and anglers to take action. Sign up now.

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April 22, 2024

Blue Catfish in the Chesapeake are Gobbling Up Everything in It

This aquatic invasive species eats the striped bass, menhaden, and blue crabs so vital for the Bay’s health, recreational fishing, and economy

Great tasting: check. Will pull the rod from your hand: check. High chance of success: check.

It probably sounds like I’m talking about peak-season Gulf redfish or Long Island striped bass, but believe it or not, I’m talking about blue catfish – an incredibly resilient invasive species that is taking over the Chesapeake Bay’s waterways and harming important fisheries as it gobbles its way through them.

While native to middle America’s Mississippi and Ohio River watersheds, blue catfish are considered an aquatic invasive species in the Chesapeake Bay. Like other AIS threats around the country, their presence negatively impacts recreational fisheries, ecosystems, and economies. When TRCP and its partners convened an AIS commission two years ago, we had harmful species just like this in mind.

Photo Credit: Rocky Rice

As the largest species of catfish in North America, blue cats can exceed 100 pounds thanks to a voracious appetite, unmatched adaptability, and a willingness to live just about anywhere and eat just about anything. So what are they doing in the Bay, and what can be done to blunt their impacts?

Unforeseen Consequences

In the mid-1970s, the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries were overfished and highly polluted. In response, fisheries managers in Virginia decided they needed to stock a different type of fish – a hearty specimen that could handle the poor conditions, offer anglers a good fight, and provide nice table fare. They settled on blue catfish. An added benefit they saw to this freshwater species was that it wouldn’t be able to spread beyond the targeted rivers.

“They thought because they are river fish they wouldn’t tolerate the saltwater conditions in the Bay,” said Dr. Noah Bressman, assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Salisbury University. “But they were wrong.”

Managers initially released blue catfish into the James and Rappahannock rivers, but they have since spread widely throughout most of the upper Bay. Today, blue catfish can be found in every major tidal river in Maryland, and in some locations make up as much as 70 percent of the total biomass.

Photo Credit: Noah Bressman

“As an apex predator, invasive blue catfish continue to impact the ecological balance of the Chesapeake Bay by competing with native species for important forage species like menhaden and herring,” said Dave Sikorski, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association Maryland.   

Not a Picky Eater

Dr. Bressman is a top expert on invasive blue catfish, researching such areas as their primary diet, feeding behavior, and ecology in the Bay. His lab uses boat-based electrofishing with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to catch hundreds of thousands of blue catfish for research. What they’ve learned is that these generalistic, opportunistic omnivores—much like coyotes or cockroaches—will eat anything.

Bressman’s research has turned up a 47-pound catfish with a whole adult wood duck in its stomach, and a 30-inch catfish with a 19-inch striped bass inside. Blue catfish eat many millions of blue crabs per year, and readily gorge on white perch, menhaden, striped bass (also known in Maryland as rockfish), even turtles and muskrats and their own young. On the Eastern Shore, they also target other important forage fish species – alewives and blueback herring. Tissue sampling evidence even suggests they are eating the eggs of striped bass, herring, and other fish, and as top predators they also compete with sportfish for the same prey.

Photo Credit: AKZOphoto

“People think of catfish as slow-moving bottom feeders,” Bressman said. “But these are active predators. They eat anything and everything they can get their mouth around.”

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em

Ask anyone, and they will tell you this problem is not going to go away. Bressman said that blue catfish are the most abundant fish, by biomass, in the rivers around the Bay. The problem has gotten so bad in the last couple decades that it’s actually generated a growing commercial fishery.

“What started as me targeting striped bass and hard crabs, and only fishing for blue catfish in between, has now gotten reversed,” said Rocky Rice, owner and operator of Piccowaxen Creek Seafood.

Rice has been commercially targeting blue catfish in the Potomac River for the last 12 years. He started fishing for these invasives merely to generate income in slow seasons, but now blue catfish are the main focus of his operation. Using primarily longlines and hoop pots, he targets fish in the best eating range of about 3 to 10 pounds.

Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program

And Rice is not alone. In 2022, commercial harvesters on the Potomac reported more than 3.1 million pounds of blue catfish landed, according to the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. This number far exceeds those for all other finfish species, except menhaden, harvested in the brackish river. By comparison, striped bass was the next highest fish species commercially landed at 428,000 pounds. And that’s just in the Potomac.

Unlike striped bass, whose numbers have been trending lower for years, blue catfish populations are practically impossible to eradicate, or even stunt. Rice says it’s one reason he targets this invasive.

“Granted I’m a fisherman and I need to make money,” Rice said. “But if I can minimize negative impacts on our native species also it’s a win-win.”

Dr. Bressman says just to keep the blue catfish population stable, fishermen must remove 15- to 30-million pounds of catfish from the Chesapeake Bay each year, and much more to reduce it. He asserts that without active human intervention, catfish could likely become the dominant predator in brackish portions of the Bay.

Photo Credit: Rocky Rice
Fun to Catch

So the best solution to keeping blue catfish populations in check, and to help protect native species, is one that offers real rewards: Go fishing. Blue cats are known for growing big, fighting hard, and tasting far better than most people expect. They’re also fairly simple to coax a bite from, and in Maryland there’s no catch limit.

If you’ve got a rod and reel, and willingness to target a different sort of fish, Rice says you can fish virtually anywhere in the brackish and fresh portions of the upper Bay. Dr. Bressman can back this up. In a previous tournament targeting blue cats, he fished from shore to pass the time while he waited for boats to come back in for weigh-ins. He had to stop one hour into the eight-hour tournament, and still almost won the shore fishing category with a half-dozen fish.

Photo Credit: Noah Bressman

CCA Maryland, along with partners like Yamaha Rightwaters, is working to raise awareness with recreational anglers to help get them into the game. To target the threat of aquatic invasive fish species in the state, they offer fishing tournaments and other events to help engage anglers. A good example is the Great Chesapeake Invasives Count, which launched April 1 and runs through March 31, 2025.

“To combat this looming issue, and empower anglers to do their part, CCA Maryland is proud to partner with Fish & Hunt Maryland, Maryland DNR, Maryland’s Best Seafood, and others to promote the opportunities for fishing that invasive catfish present, and support data collection efforts to help guide future management actions,” said Sikorski.   

Even Better to Eat

“These aren’t your muddy-bottom catfish,” Bressman said. “They eat things we like to eat and that makes them taste better than other catfish.”

Bressman, Sikorski, and Rice all say they love dining on firm, flaky blue catfish filets, which taste quite similar to those of striped bass – largely because both species are active predators that compete for the same prey. The culinary value of this fish is catching on. Maryland’s Best, a state-run program that connects consumers with locally sourced agricultural products, offers a listing of 16 grocery stores and 24 restaurants that sell wild-caught Chesapeake blue catfish, to help support the state’s watermen and fight this invasive.

“It makes no sense for someone to buy a catfish that comes from overseas, because we have a better quality product right here,” Rice said. “We have to eat our way through this problem.”

Photo Credit: Stephen McFadden

Rice says he personally likes to deep fry the white, flaky filets, but has broiled and blackened them too. He’s even had blue catfish pot pie. He said their versatility and palatability is probably why chefs like these fish so much.

“I’ve fed it to a lot of my friends who’d said they didn’t like catfish,” he said, “and now that they’ve had it it’s one of their favorite foods.”

Do Your Part

If you do head out looking for blue catfish in the Bay area, be sure to share the photos and filets with family and friends – especially via online imagery – to help drum up interest. And whether or not you target these fish, if you ever catch one, be sure to not throw it back into the water alive (an exception being some parts of Virginia, where you need to be aware of a daily 20-fish creel limit and allowance for only one catfish over 32 inches).

If you don’t want to catch or cook blue catfish, you can always support Bay-area businesses that offer locally sourced blue catfish filets. The bottom line is that dealing with blue catfish is an all-hands-on-deck situation, so the conservation community needs a lot of people working to tackle it in different ways.

“We need a cultural shift,” Bressman says. “The more catfish you eat, the more striped bass and blue crabs will be in the Bay.”

Learn about TRCP’s AIS Report here.

The TRCP is your no-B.S. resource for all things conservation. In our weekly Roosevelt Report, you’ll receive the latest news on emerging habitat threats, legislation and proposals on the move, public land access solutions we’re spearheading, and opportunities for hunters and anglers to take action. Sign up now.

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.

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