Do you have any thoughts on this post?
Last week, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and its sportfishing partners and sponsors hosted two days of in-depth discussions on improving fisheries management and conservation during the organization’s 8th annual Saltwater Media Summit at ICAST in Orlando. TRCP’s Chris Macaluso moderated the discussions, which were attended by more than 60 media members and representatives from several state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, and fishing tackle manufacturers.
This event is an important opportunity to raise awareness around the most pressing conservation issues facing our marine fisheries. Here are some of the highlights.
The first panel focused on improving data collection on recreational fishing effort, fish harvested, and stock assessments and incorporating this information into federal saltwater fisheries management. Speakers included Jessica McCawley, Florida’s marine fisheries director; Kevin Anson, chief marine biologist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; and Dr. Greg Stunz, chair of the Harte Research Institute for Sportfish Science and Conservation.
Anglers, fishing conservation and advocacy groups, and state and federal fisheries managers all agree that improving data collection on fish stock sizes, migration patterns, and fishing effort and harvest is critical to preserving the long-term health of fisheries and making access more consistent. Over the last decade, several efforts have been undertaken by fishing advocacy groups and state agencies to use smartphones and other electronic devices to shorten data collection times and provide more accurate in-season accounts of the number of fishing trips taken, as well as how many fish are being harvested by anglers.
In the case of Mississippi and Alabama, red snapper anglers are required to register electronically and submit information regarding the date of and how many fish were caught on each trip. Louisiana requires offshore anglers to obtain a Recreational Offshore Landing Permit and submit a phone number and email address, so they can be contacted during the season to determine effort and harvest. Florida, too, requires anglers to obtain a State Reef Fish Angler designation.
Requiring anglers to register and incorporating mandatory reporting and increased surveying has, by and large, improved the accuracy of in-season quota monitoring over the federal Marine Recreational Information Program and has led to more stability in Gulf of Mexico red snapper seasons.
At the same time, efforts have been made to improve stock surveys, most notably with the Great Red Snapper Count, a $10-million three-year effort in which several universities and 80 scientists used innovative techniques, like advanced sonar and remotely operated vehicles, to determine snapper populations over a variety of natural and artificial structures. They found an estimated 118 million red snapper Gulf-wide—more than three times the latest NOAA stock assessment estimate.
However, that abundance estimate has not yet resulted in longer red snapper seasons. In fact, Mississippi and Alabama anglers face the prospect of having their red snapper seasons cut by as much as 60 percent in coming years because of difficulties “calibrating” their mandatory reporting programs with existing federal MRIP data.
This is not simply a Gulf of Mexico red snapper problem. The hope was that improved data collection programs and the Great Red Snapper Count could serve as a model for management improvements in other contentious fisheries. Similar efforts to better determine stock abundance are underway for Amberjack in the Gulf and red snapper in the South Atlantic.
Fishing advocacy groups and anglers have been supportive of efforts to improve data collection and even urged Congress to provide funding to improve stock assessments for a host of fisheries. Anglers have also stepped up to help pay for improved data collection by supporting license fee increases and participating in mandatory reporting programs.
That support is in danger of waning in the future, however, if anglers and supportive legislators do not see their efforts resulting in management improvements—or if they believe the increased scrutiny will result in more constraints on access. The goal of our discussion was to identify ways to more efficiently incorporate new technologies and improved data collection programs into federal and state fisheries management, while building confidence among anglers and lawmakers that these new approaches are worth their time and money.
The following day, our second panel discussion focused on the negative effects of aquatic invasive species on state fisheries management, boating and fishing access, and efforts to recover and improve striped bass stocks in the Chesapeake Basin. Our speakers were Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Eric Sutton, National Marine Manufacturers Association Director of Federal Government Affairs Clay Crabtree, and CCA Maryland Executive Director David Sikorski.
The recommendations of the panel ranged from identifying ways to reduce bureaucratic impediments and ultimately better manage and control aquatic invasives to encouraging anglers to fish for and harvest invasive fish and eat them. We also covered ways to work with commercial fisheries to expand the selective harvest of some invasive fish—like Asian carp in the Mississippi and Tennessee river basins and blue catfish in the Chesapeake—and improving outreach with the boating public about how to limit the spread of invasive plants and mussels through proper boat cleaning.
Controlling invasive species is a growing issue across the country, with an estimated $140 billion in economic damages each year. The added costs of trying to contain the spread of invasive plants, fish, and animals has strained the budgets and personnel of state and federal fish and wildlife agencies and has cut into funds that could be used for improving native fish stocks and enhancing access to waterways.
The discussion highlighted the ongoing work of the TRCP, American Sportfishing Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, and corporate partners Yamaha, Bass Pro Shops, YETI, BoatU.S., and others on a campaign to identify ways to limit the spread of invasive plants and animals and encourage the harvest of invasive fish and crustaceans. Policy change would be needed at the state and federal level.
The advocacy organizations and corporate partners supporting this campaign have organized an expert commission of scientists, economists, state and federal fisheries managers, professional anglers, and others who have spent their careers trying to manage and adjust their approach to fishing because of the spread of aquatic invasive animals and plants. In early 2023, this commission will release a report that identifies ways to reduce bureaucratic and legal impediments to controlling aquatic invasive species and what recreational anglers and boaters can do to help manage and limit the spread of invasive fish and plants.
Photo by Clay LeConey.
Today, Senators Ron Wyden, Amy Klobuchar, and Michael Bennet introduced the North American Grasslands Conservation Act in an effort to conserve and expand iconic grassland landscapes for wildlife, ranchers, and rural communities. If passed, the bill will widely be considered one of the most significant steps for grassland conservation efforts in the 21st century.
“The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership applauds today’s introduction of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act—it’s an idea that is already popular with hunters and anglers, who understand what is at stake for grassland and sagebrush species and have seen what success looks like where private land investments have improved waterfowl habitat across the country,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “This legislation would create willing partners in habitat restoration where they are needed most, boosting big game and upland bird species. It would also fund conservation jobs, invest in the health of the outdoor recreation economy, and support the future of working landscapes. We thank senators Wyden, Klobuchar, and Bennet for their leadership and look forward to working with decision-makers on both sides of the aisle to advance this smart, proven conservation solution.”
The North American Grasslands Conservation Act would help kickstart the voluntary protection and restoration of grasslands and sagebrush shrub-steppe ecosystems by creating a landowner-driven, incentive-based program to conserve these imperiled landscapes. There’s urgency right now to maintain these systems for agriculture, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, and future generations of hunters and anglers, while supporting ranchers, farmers, Tribal Nations, and rural communities.
Grasslands and sagebrush habitats are considered some of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. More than 70 percent of America’s tallgrass, mixed grass, and shortgrass prairies have vanished, followed by the precipitous decline of grassland bird populations, which have plummeted more than 40 percent since 1966. Additionally, the grazing lands that have sustained generations of ranchers are dwindling, and species from pronghorn antelope and elk to bobwhite quail and pheasants are struggling to navigate the places they used to call home.
Conservation organizations across the country, including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, National Wildlife Federation, North American Grouse Partnership, World Wildlife Fund, Izaak Walton League of America, Wildlife Mississippi, National Deer Association, Land Trust Alliance, Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, American Bird Conservancy, and the Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance have all been advocating for this effort since fall 2020.
Sportsmen and sportswomen can encourage their senators to support the legislation using TRCP’s simple advocacy tool.
Top photo by Matthew Smith
The recent introduction of the RETURN our Constitutional Rights Act of 2022, also known as the RETURN Act and H.R. 8167, has rightly shocked and outraged sportsmen and sportswomen, who proudly contribute to America’s successful conservation funding model through our firearm, ammunition, and other gear purchases.
If you’ve been following the story, you know the bill’s goal is to obliterate Pittman-Robertson funding—which allows state wildlife agencies to make habitat improvements, enhance hunting and fishing access, run hunter’s education programs, and create public shooting ranges across the country. It purports to use other “unobligated” federal funds in a misguided attempt to replace the excise taxes, shifting the cost to every American taxpayer and undercutting the role of hunters and anglers in conservation.
But it actually gets worse.
In digging into the bill language, our experts have found that the RETURN Act only replaces P-R excise taxes with funding for non-game species conservation—diverting funds that have historically helped to restore and maintain populations of whitetail deer, elk, wild turkeys, bass, walleyes, and trout and spending it on salamanders and butterflies.
At best, this is a disastrous oversight. At worst, it is yet another red flag for the fundamental misunderstanding of some lawmakers when it comes to how our country’s conservation model works.
Hunters and anglers, meanwhile, are not confused about our essential role in conservation. We asked for Pittman-Robertson and the Dingell-Johnson Act (the fishing equivalent of P-R) decades ago to ensure the future of our outdoor recreation opportunities. We have more recently championed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act to fund the proactive conservation of our most at-risk game and non-game species. And we’ll continue to stand up for conservation funding today and into the future.
Add your voice to this outcry: Take action using our simple advocacy tool to urge your representative to oppose the RETURN Act. Public backlash has already prompted three co-sponsors to pull their support for this bill. Keep the momentum going and keep America’s proud conservation traditions working for fish and game.
Updating land management plans will result in better-informed decisions and conservation of high-priority big game habitats on Colorado public lands
Sportspersons applauded today’s announcement that the Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will formally and consistently incorporate big game seasonal habitat and migration corridor conservation into its land management plans. To do so, the agency has initiated an important land management plan amendment process. The BLM states that the primary purpose of the effort is to evaluate “alternative management approaches for the BLM planning decisions to maintain, conserve, and protect big game corridors and other important big game habitat areas on BLM-managed public lands and minerals in Colorado.”
“Robust elk, mule deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep populations are important not only because they provide Colorado’s sportspersons with world-class hunting opportunities, they are core to our state’s identity and absolutely critical for our tourism industry,” said Liz Rose, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Colorado field representative. “We appreciate the leadership demonstrated by the Colorado BLM, and we hope this planning effort takes a habitat-centric view that focuses on the conservation and enhancement of these habitats, including habitat restoration and improvement and managing development pressures like high-density recreation and renewable and conventional energy development.”
The continued health of migratory big game populations depends upon their ability to move between suitable habitats seasonally, year after year. Of the 8.3 million acres of BLM-managed public land in Colorado, millions of acres constitute high-priority seasonal and migratory habitats for big game animals such as elk, mule deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep. These herds help support Colorado’s $5 billion-dollar hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching economy, and conserving the habitats on which they depend also directly supports a broad range of other wildlife species that benefit from intact landscapes.
The majority of Colorado BLM’s existing Resource Management Plans are outdated, some of them decades old. These Resource Management Plans do not adequately reflect recent science demonstrating the dependence of migratory big game animals on various landscapes and habitats throughout the year and the need to be able to move freely between those seasonal habitats. By amending those land-use plans that overlap with high-priority big game habitats, the agency will increase consistency in management and decision-making in areas where it matters most for ensuring that elk, deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep herds continue to thrive in Colorado.
Conservationists are optimistic that this process will create valuable opportunities for investments in habitat restoration on BLM-managed public land, in turn bolstering private-land conservation efforts across Colorado.
“Conserving and connecting big game animals’ high-priority seasonal and migratory habitats helps build more climate-resilient ecosystems that wildlife will utilize as conditions on the ground continue to change,” said Rose. “By updating its plans and ensuring that management decisions are based on the best and latest science, the BLM will ensure a brighter future for Colorado’s wildlife, residents, and visitors.”
The BLM “seeks information related to all high-density activities and public land uses that may cause disturbance to important big game habitat and will consider that information as appropriate in determining if additional land use planning decisions are appropriate to incorporate into the scope of the alternatives for this planning effort.”
The deadline for comments from the public is September 2, 2022. The TRCP will be working closely with other partners representing hunters, anglers, and other wildlife conservationists as well as local officials, private landowners, and agency staff to provide the BLM with science-based guidance that will benefit Colorado’s big game animals, sportspersons, and those who reside in and around high-priority big game habitats.
Photo: Bill Sincavage (@jakeysforkphoto)
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