For the Future of Striped Bass

Keep Fish Wet’s executive director explains why Atlantic striper numbers are down, and offers anglers science-based best practices to make the fishery more resilient

It’s early May in New England and like many anglers that love to target striped bass, I am gearing up and itching to get out on the water. A friend of mine on Cape Cod has been catching stripers for the last week and while I enviously hit the like button on his social media posts, I also worry about what this season will bring for the most popular recreationally targeted saltwater species on the East Coast. If you are also a striped bass angler, you probably know that the stock is in trouble, and the fish need our help. 

A gorgeous Cape Cod striper.  Photo credit: Bri Dostie

Currently, striped bass are overfished and the spawning stock biomass – an important indicator of the health of the stock and equal to the combined weight of all females capable of reproducing – is much lower than where it needs to be to have a thriving fishery. While the commercial harvest of striped bass has been slowly decreasing, the recreational harvest took a big jump in 2022, which is partially why the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the governing body for striped bass, took emergency action in 2023 to narrow the slot limit for harvest to 28 to 31 inches. 

But here’s the rub — since 1990, approximately 90 percent of striped bass that have been caught have been released either voluntarily or due to regulations, so it’s not just direct harvest that is causing declines. Currently, ASMFC estimates that 9 percent of stripers that are released alive don’t make it and eventually die. Just to put this into perspective, of the 29.6 million stripers caught and released by recreational anglers in 2022, an estimated 2.7 million died. This estimate is very rough, and while we still need more science to obtain a more accurate assessment, it’s in line with the estimations used by many other fisheries agencies, which are often in the 10 to 15 percent range. 

Striped Bass Are in Our Hands

It’s not all doom and gloom for our beloved stripers, however, and as you head out on the water you have an opportunity to make an immediate difference to help striped bass each time you catch one. There is ample science that shows that the fate of fish after release is primarily determined by how we as anglers chose to catch, handle, and release each fish. The science also shows that subtle changes in angler actions when catching, handling, and releasing fish can reduce mortality. It would take little effort to increase the chance of survival and health for stripers after release, and a reduction in that 9 percent mortality estimate by just 1 percent would save an additional 300,000 stripers to be caught again another day and support recovering stocks.

A fish-friendly angler properly releasing a striper.  Photo credit: Kyle Schaefer

Keep Fish Wet, the organization I run, provides science-based best practices so that you can help create a more resilient striped bass stock. Several years ago, we collaborated with two striper guides (one of whom is also an artist) to create Stripers In Our Hands, an open-source campaign and infographic with step-by-step instructions on how to create the better outcomes for each striped bass that you release. The campaign is centered around our three science-based Principles that are best practices for releasing fish: minimize air exposure, eliminate contact with dry surfaces, and reduce handling time. These three Principles constitute the actions that are most within an angler’s control and that make the most amount of difference to the health and survival of fish after release. They can be used with any type of fishing, so whether you’re fishing from a center console, kayak, or the shore, and throwing bait, plugs, or flies, learning and adopting our three Principles is the swiftest way to put conservation into action. 

As more science emerges on how striped bass respond to capture, handling, and release, Stripers In Our Hands will evolve so that anglers trust that a systematic, objective process was used to derive the best practices. We encourage anglers to sign up for our Advocate program – it’s free! – to stay in the pipeline about our science-based Principles and Tips, including information on taking fish-friendly photos.

Another example of proper striped bass release etiquette.  Photo credit: Kyle Schaefer

If we want vibrant striped bass stocks for years to come, we all need to do our part and advocate for the fish on and off the water. That means using science-based best practices to take better care of each striped bass intended for release. This will help build resiliency in the striped bass stocks as we continue to work through solutions for other challenges that striped bass are facing, from antiquated policy and management to habitat loss and climate change.

Sascha Clark Danylchuk is the executive director of Keep Fish Wet.  She uses her background as a fisheries scientist and passion as a fisher to build a community around helping anglers create better outcomes for each fish they release.  

Stripers In Our Hands is a collaboration between Keep Fish Wet, Soul Fly Outfitters, and Confluence Collective.

Support TRCP’s forage fish conservation efforts to help protect striped bass.

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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May 9, 2024

Freshwater Fishing Benefits from Mississippi River Restoration

South Louisiana’s Maurepas Swamp offers good opportunities for panfish, bass, and catfish that will get even better once its waters are reconnected to the river

If you’re targeting good-eating panfish – or for that matter, a whole host of fresh and saltwater fish or waterfowl – there are few places in America better than south Louisiana. The incredibly productive marshes, lakes, swamps, and coastal bays and islands of the Mississippi River Delta, the result of thousands of years of nutrients and sediments delivered to the region by the immense river, are what earned it the nickname “Sportsman’s Paradise.”

The dynamic fishing duo of Marsh Man Masson and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Chris Macaluso recently ventured to the Delta’s Maurepas Swamp, popping corks for bluegill, goggle-eye and chinquapin while offering great advice on the best lures and locations to target these tasty panfish. The swamp offered them classic Louisiana bayou scenery and decent fishing, but the fishing and waterfowl hunting there stand to get a real boost in the next few years as the swamp will soon be reconnected to the Mississippi River for the first time in more than a century.

“This is another one of those swamps, similar to the Des Allemands, that at one time had a connection to the Mississippi River, and that connection has been cut off,” said Chris Macaluso, TRCP director of the Center for Marine Fisheries. “In the process over the last century, since levies were put up, you’ve seen a slow decline in not only the water quality but also the overall health of this swamp.”

Construction of a small-scale diversion to reconnect Maurepas Swamp and its fisheries to the Mississippi River is set to begin soon, to once again introduce beneficial freshwater flows from the river. The diversion, a project being implemented through the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority, will provide fine sediment loads to help offset the subsidence that is eating away at southern Louisiana, due to sea level rise and lack of natural replenishment of terra firma from silt-laden flows brought down to the Delta by the Mississippi.

More directly, it will immediately restore beneficial nutrients and oxygen-rich water to the swamp. Backwater areas that lack significant flows of fresh water, such as seasonal inputs from a river, can over time become hypoxic – meaning they have low levels of dissolved oxygen that make survival difficult for fish and other aquatic life.

“When water gets back in the swamp there’s so much detritus on the bottom that decays, and when the water pulls out, it just doesn’t have much oxygen left in it and can be devoid of fish,” said Todd Mason, angling-savvy host of the popular YouTube fishing show Marsh Man Masson.

The TRCP is working with a coalition of conservation organizations to engage the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to guide an ongoing effort referred to as “The Lower Mississippi River Comprehensive Management Study.” Congress has instructed the Corps to identify ways to manage the southern half of the Mississippi River to improve flood control, habitat, recreational access, and natural infrastructure.

You can also learn more here about TRCP’s involvement in a major Mississippi River Delta restoration effort – construction of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion.

All images credit Todd Masson

May 7, 2024

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.

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.

In the Arena: Edgar Diaz

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.

Edgar Diaz

Hometown: Austin, Texas
Occupation: Founder of Sight Line Provisions.
Conservation credentials: Championing conservation efforts on-the-ground and through his company.

Edgar Diaz’s lifelong connection to the outdoors, shaped by childhood adventures in Baja and Southern California, led him to found Sight Line Provisions—a brand deeply committed to conservation. With a blend of personal passion and professional dedication, Edgar advocates for responsible stewardship of our wild spaces, inspiring others to join him in protecting the outdoors for years to come. 

Here is his story.

From my earliest memories, the outdoors has been my sanctuary. Those family vacations to the beaches of Baja and the mountains of Southern California are etched in my mind like the lines my father used to make on our old powder blue tent marking each destination we visited as a family. Camping on bluffs in Ensenada and by the Kern River, I found solace and excitement in nature, especially when paired with my father’s love for fishing.

Edgar has always been called by the ocean and mountains where he developed his love of fishing, mountain biking, and birding. His connection to the outdoors started with these activities.

Today, if I could pick any place to hunt or fish, it would undoubtedly be Baja California. The allure of chasing California quail in the morning, followed by the exhilaration of pursuing roosterfish, fills my dreams. I recall a particularly memorable fishing trip where I stumbled upon a California quail —and it was a perfect blend of my passions. I know this trip would be an epic cast and blast.

Conservation has become more than just a cause; it’s a way of life for me. As the founder of Sight Line Provisions, I’ve woven conservation into the fabric of our brand. Preserving our natural resources isn’t just a duty; it’s essential for our enjoyment of the outdoors. Here in Central Texas, I’ve personally witnessed the impact of conservation efforts, especially through organizations like Guadalupe Trout Unlimited, which has transformed our local fishery into a gem for our community.

Yet, despite the progress, challenges loom large, none more pressing than water conservation. Here in the Texas Hill Country, water is a precious resource, one that’s often wasted, diverted, or even stolen. It’s a battle we must fight together as a community, safeguarding our natural treasures for future generations.

For me, being involved in conservation isn’t just about reducing my footprint—it’s about leaving a legacy. It’s about ensuring that the wild places I love remain for those who come after me. Through Sight Line Provisions, I strive to support the very organizations and efforts that protect the landscapes and waters that have shaped me.

Sight Line Provisions partners with organizations like Captains for Clean Water, Trout Unlimited, The Mayfly Project, and the F-Y-S-H Project to raise funds and awareness for issues important to the sporting community.

But conservation isn’t just about protecting nature; it’s about preserving a way of life. It’s about passing on the tradition to the next generation of hunters and anglers. In a world where progress threatens to overshadow the simple joys of the outdoors, it’s our responsibility to ensure that future generations have the same opportunities to connect with nature that we’ve had. It’s about staying informed, acting responsibly, and most importantly, getting that younger generation into the great outdoors. After all, they are the stewards of tomorrow, and it’s up to us to equip them with the knowledge and passion necessary to protect our wild spaces for generations to come.

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

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.



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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