Five Ways to Celebrate National Fishing and Boating Week

NFBW Fishing Family

Image courtesy of Take Me Fishing.

June 1, 2014, kicks off the yearly, weeklong celebration known as National Fishing and Boating Week.  Each year during NFBW, boating and fishing organizations and enthusiasts alike work to extol the benefits of recreational boating and fishing on environmental preservation and quality of life.

Why should you choose boating and fishing?

  • De-stress: Boating is ranked as one of the top three of all stress-relieving activities
  • Connect with nature: 90 percent of Americans live within an hour of navigable water
  • Help conserve: The funds from your fishing licenses and boat registrations go toward the conservation of our natural aquatic areas

Want to go boating and fishing during NFBW? Here are some great ways to get started:

Try fishing for the first time. Many states offer free fishing days that coincide with NFBW. These days allow individuals to fish without having to purchase a fishing license. What better time to try out fishing than when it’s free? For a full list of states’ free fishing days, visit TakeMeFishing.org. Make sure to check out the “How to Fish” section on TakeMeFishing.org so you can learn all of the basics before you head out on the water.

Attend an event. Besides free fishing days, many states hold special events during NFBW. These events may include boat parades, fishing derbies, family festivals and how-to clinics. Head to the Events Page on TakeMeFishing.org to find events close to you.

Mentor a new angler or boater. Use the week as an opportunity to get someone new out on the water.  NFBW offers an excellent chance to mentor a new angler or boater and teach him or her the importance of the activities and their benefits both to the environment and the public. Teach them to hook their first fish and they may just be hooked for life.

Promote fishing and boating. Use NFBW as a way to show your friends and family how important fishing and boating is to you! On social media, you can use the #NFBW hashtag to tag your tweets, pictures and posts in celebration of National Fishing and Boating Week. You also can share photos of your big catch or your relaxing day on the boat with us by adding them to the Big Catch Photo Gallery.

Celebrate conservation. By simply participating in the activities of fishing and boating, you are helping to conserve your local and national waterways. A portion of every fishing license, boat registration and boating and fishing equipment sale goes toward keeping our waterways clean, safe and full of great fishing through the Sport Fish Restoration Program.

Want to find even more ways to get involved? Visit TakeMeFishing.org/nfbw for ideas.

TAKE ACTION! – Promoting liberty through conservation

Hunter with decoys and dog. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

Clean water gives us the liberty to pursue our hunting and fishing passions. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

SPEAK UP for clean water for hunting and fishing.

What does clean water have to do with liberty? Over at Field & Stream, our friend Hal Herring has a fascinating piece answering this question. Perhaps taking inspiration from Theodore Roosevelt’s adage that “there can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country,” he argues that clean water is the investment we make in America, the dividend of which is the liberty to pursue our hunting and fishing passions. “[W]hen we fail to conserve” our natural resources, “and protect them from those who would do them harm…not only do we lose our fishing and hunting, we also endanger our prosperity and liberty.”

Hal’s article is worth reading in its entirety.

Rounding out the one-two punch from Field & Stream, Bob Marshall writes about an action you can take right now to ensure clean water for hunting and fishing and promote liberty. The Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency are taking public input on a proposal to clarify what federal safeguards are in place for water quality. With just a few mouse clicks, you can add your voice to the chorus calling for strong protections for headwater streams and wetlands.

Former Republican Congressman Sherwood Boehlert also highlighted the connection between clean water and liberty when he wrote an op-ed in favor of the Corps and EPA’s action, reminding us of a time when Republicans were leading the conservation movement. (Case in point: the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and EPA were all created under President Nixon.) Congressman Boehlert quotes President Reagan, who succinctly captured the importance of conservation to liberty:

“The preservation of parks, wilderness, and wildlife has also aided liberty by keeping alive the 19th century sense of adventure and awe with which our forefathers greeted the American West. Many laws protecting environmental quality have promoted liberty by securing property against the destructive trespass of pollution. In our own time, the nearly universal appreciation of these preserved landscapes, restored waters, and cleaner air through outdoor recreation is a modern expression of our freedom and leisure to enjoy the wonderful life that generations past have built for us.”  (emphasis added)

The TRCP and its partners have prepared fact sheets, videos and other information explaining the Corps and EPA’s proposal. Visit the “Sportsman’s Tackle Box for Understanding the Clean Water Act Rule” to learn more, then TAKE ACTION so that decision makers in Washington, D.C., know you want clean water for hunting and fishing.

Attention all anglers

NOAA Rec Fisheries Summit

Image courtesy of NOAA.gov.

That’s what we are getting: more attention. That’s a good thing. More fisheries managers, bureaucrats and pols are hearing about recreational issues. That’s a great thing. Maybe the sleeping giant is waking up.

I have written about it in a past blog, but last fall the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, also known as the Morris-Deal Commission, began work on a report, “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries.”  That vision document was released during the Miami Boat Show and received a great deal of attention. And, yes, I realize that it did not universally make everyone in the recreational industry warm and fuzzy. The two biggest concerns I heard were that it did not represent the “average angler.” There was also a lot of angst about the apparent support for “flexibility” in effort to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which is the main federal legislation that manages fish. From my standpoint this is a valid concern and one that I personally share. However, I don’t think having the discussion is a bad thing. From my standpoint interested and engaged members of the recreational community need to have these kinds of hard discussions. I also feel that the vision should be a work in progress. The good news is it has already made some important folks in D.C. take notice.

Participants at NOAA Rec Fish Summit 2014

Participants at the 2014 Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit. Image Courtesy of NOAA.gov.

The introduction of the report by the Morris-Deal Commission was followed by the second national Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit held in Washington, D.C. This was described by one of the organizers at NOAA Fisheries “as taking down the walls, bringing in the community and working on solutions together.” It was an open forum, and folks came from all over the lower 48 and Alaska as well. Like the first summit, the second one was designed to have the stakeholders create and prioritize a list of projects and tasks for NOAA Fisheries to complete to help enhance the working relationship with and engagement of the recreational fishing industry and community. The first summit created an extensive action list, and NOAA Fisheries has completed about 90 percent of that list. It is currently digesting the output from the second summit. One item that was committed to at the summit itself was the creation of a national marine recreational fisheries policy. The plan on how this will be done is almost complete and is scheduled to be release this coming winter. There will be a series of outreach meetings to get recreational stakeholder input. There also will be an online survey available soon. I urge interested parties to make their thoughts known through one of the venues. As John Brownlee, editor in chief at Salt Water Sportsman, said in his keynote speech, “The work will begin when NOAA says yes.” So, get to work folks.

As this is written, I am finishing up the spring session of the Fisheries Forum, which is a collaborative effort of Duke University and Stanford. This forum was on recreational fishing issues. It has a lot of Regional Fisheries Management Council members and staff in attendance. It addressed some of the most problematic issues facing recreational management, not from a policy standpoint but from a process standpoint. Some of the output from this event can be found at FisheriesForum.org. Once again, this kind of effort keeps the recreational fishing industry and community front of mind with many of those making the important decision.

This is all good stuff. The worst thing that could happen would be to have this community ignored. The best is to have the management makers talking about you. I am reminded of James Michael Curley, infamous mayor of Boston, who said time and again, “I don’t care what they write about me. Just make sure they spell my name correctly.” Right on, Mr. Mayor.

Watch video coverage of the 2014 Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit:

The tortoise and the … javelina?

Sometimes a hunting trip may be more about what you don’t tag and take home.

Desert tortoise rescue

With his fate still unsure, Catherine holds a tortoise that was trapped in the abandoned mine pit you see in the background. Photo by Neil Thagard.

Earlier this year my wife Catherine and I were in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona bowhunting javelina. This ecosystem is one of the most strikingly unique anywhere, and any adventurous soul willing to explore this environment will find him or herself rewarded with a seemingly endless display of plants and wildlife.

As our adventure commenced we were hiking to one of the many high, rocky outcroppings to glass, carefully weaving our way through the ocotillo, saguaro, fishhook barrel cactus and jojoba. These prickly obstacles, while impeding our progress considerably, are common and essential sources of food, cover and nesting sites for Sonoran Desert wildlife such as Coues and mule deer, numerous bird and bat species and the desert tortoise, as well as the javelina we were pursuing.

We were carefully making our way during the early morning light and came upon the nearly vertical edge of an old mining pit. The area was heavily mined for copper, gold, silver and lead during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and these remnant exploratory mines are common, reminding us of those hardy souls who settled this harsh landscape in days gone by.

While we observed the pit, which was only about 6 feet deep, we noticed two objects crowded tight in opposite corners of the pit. Catherine and I blurted to one another, “tortoise!” It was obvious that the two tortoises had tumbled down the steep sides into the pit and were unable to escape. After some quick examination in hopes of ensuring that the ground in the bottom of the pit was safe for me to stand on, I climbed down to aid these timeless desert dwellers. Unfortunately, the first one I examined had succumbed to the elements, as there was no water or food available in the pit – there was no way of knowing how long she had been down there. This tortoise, a female, was probably 30-40 years old based on her size. I moved to the opposite corner to examine the other tortoise and realized this male, probably about the same age as the deceased female, was still alive. I gently picked him up and handed him to Catherine, who was standing on the rim of the pit.

Tortoise and cactus fruit

Though initially the tortoise had defensively withdrawn himself inside his shell, he could not resist the meal we had put in front of him. Photo by Neil Thagard.

I climbed out, and we carried the surviving tortoise to a spot away from the pit hoping to prevent him from ending up in it again. We provided him some much needed water (from the supply we carried) and food – the fruits from a nearby fishhook barrel cactus. Though the tortoise had defensively withdrawn himself inside his shell, he could not resist the meal we had put in front of him. He slowly poked his feet and head out of the shell to check us out, and, realizing we were not a threat to him, he proceeded to enjoy the fruit and water.

After polishing off several cactus fruits and some water, he slowly began his solitary trek back into the desert and appeared to be recovering well from his ordeal, all things considered. The desert tortoise is a resilient creature with evolutionary adaptations that allow his survival in the harsh demands of his desert home. Unfortunately, it is the human-induced factors in his environment that have that have landed him a threatened listing under the Endangered Species Act. Though he is not a critter that we as sportsmen and –women pursue, the tortoise and other keystone species’ well being indicate the future for the species we do hunt. It is not coincidental that President Roosevelt often referred to hunters as the “original conservationists” – in my experience sportsmen are keenly aware of their obligation to be stewards of the land and all its species!

Whether it is abandoned mine pits in the Arizona desert, punching gas wells in sage grouse habitat or paving roads through elk calving grounds, this experience underscores the importance of mitigating the human-induced factors that we impose on the inhabitants of our wild places.

Neil Thagard and Javelina 2014

Whether or not you believe in karma, we were rewarded later that day with a 30 yard shot that resulted in filling our javelina tag for 2014. Photo by Neil Thagard.

Though this adventure started out as a pursuit of javelina, it became one about providing a hands-on conservation act for a desert tortoise that would have been doomed without a helping hand. Whether or not you believe in karma, we were rewarded later that day with a 30-yard shot that resulted in filling our javelina tag for 2014.

I don’t find it strange that the memories of this hunt are as much about the tortoise as the javelina. It certainly validated to Catherine and me that sometimes our outdoor experiences are not just about what you bring home, but what you don’t.

Planting season in America’s heartland

Sprouting spring wheat. Photo by Ryan Wagner.

Sprouting spring wheat. Photo by Ryan Wagner.

Greetings from beautiful Day County in northeast South Dakota! After a long cold winter, spring is finally upon us, and it is planting season on my family’s corn, soybean and spring wheat farm. With this post I hope to give you a brief look into one of the busier times of the year on the farm.

Spring can be equal parts exciting and frustrating as the thrill of planting can quickly give way to the disappointment of a weather delay. We were fortunate enough to start seeding spring wheat on April 15 and finished on April 22. This year seeding conditions were about as good as we have seen for quite some time, and it was especially encouraging considering last year we did not begin seeding wheat until May 4.

As often happens, a good run of planting and hectic activity was brought to an abrupt halt as the first of many rounds of rain showers came through last week. This time of year farmers turn into amateur meteorologists, checking the radar and forecasts regularly, so I knew we would be going into wait mode because this weather system was predicted to hang around for a while (10 days and counting). Patience is a virtue – one that I do not possess – but I know this moisture will be very valuable later in the year, so for now all we can do is wait. A bonus of this rain delay is I will be able to attend my 5-year-old son’s second career soccer game tonight. I plan on bottling up some of the energy the Chickadees are sure to display and use it when I’m getting worn down later.

Planting wheat. Photo by Ryan Wagner.

Planting wheat. Photo by Ryan Wagner.

Soon enough, it will be full speed ahead at 4.8 mph. That may not sound very fast, but as the planter lumbers through the field at about that speed, there is a lot going on. Like many modern planters, ours is electronically controlled and monitored, so I have most planter functions and a view of its performance at my fingertips in the tractor cab. The GPS on board that automatically steers the planter tractor also teams up with various sensors on the planter to create “as planted” maps of many important planter operations. All this information is displayed in real time on a monitor and iPad in the tractor cab. My job is to make sure all these systems are working together to allow the planter to do its job of placing every seed exactly 2 inches deep and 6.2 inches from its neighbor. At more than 300 seeds per second, this is no small task! The first day is always the most stressful as we work out the bugs, but once we get into a groove and things start clicking, the sense of accomplishment is hard to beat.

Ag ap on the tractor iPad. Photo by Ryan Wagner.

Ag ap on the tractor iPad. Photo by Ryan Wagner.

Of course the end goal is to grow a crop and sell it (preferably at a profit), and an increasingly large part of my time is spent analyzing the profit margin for each crop and watching for selling opportunities. Today’s technology allows me to see the Chicago Board of Trade market prices live, not only in my office but in the tractor on the iPad as well. CBOT prices can be particularly volatile in the spring, so there is a lot of money at risk on a minute-by-minute basis, but tracking profit margin is always on my mind regardless of the season.

Farming has certainly come a long way since the days of open cab tractors, as technology continues to improve our productivity and our profitability, while reducing our impact on the land and water. It’s a great time to be an American farmer.

Ryan Wagner operates a family-owned farm near Roslyn, South Dakota. He and his wife Kerri participated in the 2013 TRCP Conservation Exchange Program.    

Sportsmen (and Beer Makers) Everywhere Rally in Support of Clean Water

Clean Water ActionWith the publication of the Army Corps and EPA’s proposed rule clarifying and restoring Clean Water Act safeguards for wetlands and headwater streams, many sportsmen’s organizations, including this one, are mobilizing comments in support of the proposed rule. You can stand with hunters and anglers in support of clean water through any of the following links:

Sportsmen are speaking up in the press, too. Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, penned an excellent op-ed explaining why it is so critical we protect headwater streams. In a Politico ad, nine different sportsmen’s organizations – the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, B.A.S.S., Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance, Izaak Walton League of America, National Wildlife Federation, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, TRCP and Trout Unlimited – called on Congress to support the rulemaking process to secure clean water for America’s outdoor legacy and the rural economies that depend on hunting and fishing. And Ted Turner, founder of CNN and Turner Broadcasting, demanded a return of clean water protections in an op-ed reflecting on the importance of small streams on his ranch in New Mexico.

It’s not just sportsmen. Businesses are championing clean water, too. The American Sustainable Business Council announced its support for the proposed rule in an ad featuring Kim Jordan, co-founder and CEO of New Belgium Brewing. New Belgium, the third largest craft brewery in the United States, went on to write an op-ed explaining why this proposed rule is so important to its business and many other industries. The National Farmers Union, which welcomed the rule proposal in March, has prepared a fact sheet debunking some of the most common myths and misinformation about the rule.

The TRCP and its partners have prepared fact sheets, video and other information explaining this issue. Visit the “Sportsman’s Tackle Box for Understanding the Clean Water Act Rule” to learn more, then TAKE ACTION so that decision makers in Washington, D.C., know you want clean water for hunting and fishing.

Turn down the heat

red snapper

Red snapper. Photo courtesy of NOAA.gov.

Just before NOAA Fisheries’ Saltwater Recreational Fishing Summit that I wrote about recently, a court in Washington, D.C., issued a verdict in the lawsuit of Guindon (a commercial fisherman) vs. Pritzker (the secretary Of Commerce). It had to do with what some perceive as NOAA Fisheries’ lack of ability to control the catch of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico by the recreational fishing community. However, by any reasonable measure it has a lot more moving pieces.

This issue has been bubbling away down along the gulf for a number of years, and this verdict has precipitated an immediate boiling over. Normally rational people have gone ballistic. People in the “media” are taking verbal shots at those they blame for this mess. The environmental community has jumped on the issue. The net result may cause this to get totally out of control. Or maybe it already is.

For those of us in the Northeast, we might simply turn to another station and go about our business. That might be the normal response, but this issue does have the potential to impact recreational fisheries all along our coasts. Its outcome might even impact the crafting and implementation of NOAA’s forthcoming national recreational fishing policy. This is not just a bunch of “good ol’ boys” spouting off about a decision they do not like. It has the potential to be a very important and impactful decision.

What’s it all about? Going back a few years, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council set quotas for both the recreational and commercial users of red snapper. The commercial harvest was implemented in the form of catch shares, in this case individual transferable quotas, which in its own right amped up the overall angst. The recreational harvest then proceeded to exceed the quotas for a number of years, except in 2010 when the BP oil-rig blowout essentially closed down the Gulf of Mexico. At the same time, the commercial quota now was well controlled. But the commercial fishing industry felt that its ability to take its quota and to have that quota increase with the rebuilding of the red snapper population was in jeopardy by the recreational overharvest. In fact, the population has continued to grow, and the potential for them to increase their take has, as well. By the way, because red snapper are slow-growing critters, the rebuilding period was not 10 years, but the built-in flexibility in the Magnuson-Stevens Act allowed a 24-year rebuilding period. Now that is real flexibility, but I’m not going there. A good overview of the red snapper fishery can found here.

As mentioned above, there are a lot more moving parts to this situation, but you get the general gist of it. So the Washington, D.C., judge who has minimal understanding about Gulf of Mexico fisheries supported the plaintiff in the lawsuit and ruled that NOAA Fisheries was not fulfilling its mandate under the Magnuson-Stevens Act to control the recreational catch of red snapper. The judge did not issue any remedial action. Perhaps one of the things that the judge discovered during the trial was that NOAA Fisheries has only a vague understanding of what the actual recreational catch is.

After the decision was rendered, one well-known blogger called the recreational red snapper fishery “embarrassing.” Another writer said of efforts to allocate additional quota to the recreational users, “stop asking for an additional helping when you’ve already taken more than your share.” The commercial industry, environmental groups and the recreational industry all are pointing fingers and shouting at each other. The individual angler is getting creamed and taking the heat. How is it that the individual angler is “embarrassing” or “taking more than their share”? I have not heard that there have been excessive numbers of anglers exceeding the limit or taking undersized fish. They stuck to the limits and season, so what’s wrong with that? Some of the pro-recreational organizations are advocating for more allocation and getting criticized for it. Well, duh, what should they advocate for? Less allocation. As more and more folks move to coastal communities, do we really know the number of angler trips and what their catch is? If we simply say that the current allocations will not change, that means a lot of folks only access to a public trust resource is through the local fish market.

If folks would work on pulling together all this disparate energy, maybe the problem could be solved. NOAA Fisheries needs to finish up the inner workings of the Marine Recreational Information Program. Then there might be a better understanding of what the recreational catch is and what the potential demand will be. There needs to be a new allocation model based on up-to-date and better recreational participation and, yes, it needs to have some element of the socioeconomic value of this fishery. Also, there needs to be some real cooperation and coordination between state and federal fisheries managers.

It is painfully obvious that what is being done now is not working. Solving this is not rocket science, unless folks are only interested in protecting the turf they have staked out.

Following the food: Migration is critical for big game

Muley migration

Mule deer need to travel between seasonal ranges to capture greening vegetation in the spring and to reach their winter range in the fall. Photo courtesy of Joe Riis.

When I started in the wildlife profession a few decades ago, all I wanted to do was study big game and work with the iconic “charismatic megafauna,” as large mammals often are called. I made that dream a reality and worked on deer, elk and bighorn sheep projects as an undergraduate student and concentrated on bighorn sheep for my master’s degree. I read all the scientific literature diligently and learned many things in the field while spending countless hours with our magnificent big game animals.

I thought, as most students do, that I knew a lot – not all there was to know, but a lot. But when it comes to understanding nature and how the biological world works, one adage rings true: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

I distinctly remember one key lecture in a wildlife management class from a pioneering mule deer researcher, Dr. Richard Mackie at Montana State University. Dr. Mackie once was in a camp of deer biologists who believed winter range was the sole factor responsible for sustaining mule deer populations in Montana and across the West. But in that lecture, after presenting his pioneering research on winter range as a major limiting condition for mule deer, Dr. Mackie pronounced, “We were wrong!” Had it been 2013, he might have proclaimed, “We didn’t know what we didn’t know.” He then told our class about the complexities of nature and how we have learned that several different factors influence deer populations and their ability to survive in different environments. It was an eye-opening lecture I’ve never forgotten.

Fast forward to present day. Land managers still focus heavily, and in some cases almost exclusively, on winter range as the key to protecting deer populations in the West. Winter range is important, but big game habitat use and needs during different seasons goes far beyond just protecting winter range.

One thing we’ve learned from the science on big game is that nutrition on summer and fall range is absolutely vital and that those animals entering winter range in poor condition simply won’t make it, no matter how much winter range there is or how good of a shape it’s in. But we also know that big game animals like mule deer, elk, pronghorn and caribou migrate between areas where they spend their summers and winters. What we don’t always know are the intricate details of migrations, and, in many cases, we don’t even know which populations migrate or how far.

That’s key in a new study released by the University of Wyoming Cooperative Research Unit and the Wyoming Migration Initiative. Research biologist Hall Sawyer recently set out to study a deer population near Rock Springs, Wyoming, that was thought to make only short-distance movements between seasonal ranges. To everyone’s surprise, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Global positioning system collars (that recorded each marked deer’s location with pinpoint accuracy every three hours) revealed the longest known migration of any mule deer population – 150 or so miles from the Red Desert to the high mountains near Jackson, Wyoming.

WMI Event

On Earth Day, April 22, 2014, the University of Wyoming and Wyoming Migration Initiative held an open house to release their report on the longest mule deer migration in North America. Photo by Ed Arnett.

Why is this important for mule deer? Sawyer said it best when he likened migration to driving long distances between two cities with no hotels, gas stations or grocery stores in between. Migrating animals need to freely pass through the landscape and stop occasionally to fuel up and rest. These places, called “stopover” habitats, are very important, because without them, deer could unnecessarily burn fat stores just trying to get to their winter ranges. Migration is all about finding and conserving body energy when trying to get from point A to B.

Barriers to movement or procuring food will cost some animals in the long run as they endure long, cold winters in the West. The Wyoming study identified several barriers and other management issues along this 150-mile corridor that could negatively impact mule deer. This study can help guide the management and protection of these important habitats while also pointing out the highest priority areas to target conservation dollars for easements, habitat enhancement and other management projects. That’s good news for this herd if state and federal agencies, private landowners and stakeholders work together to protect and conserve this migratory corridor. But what about other migrating herds of big game?

By learning more about what we didn’t know, scientists have solidified the need to think far beyond just one or two seasonal ranges or habitat types for mule deer populations. A more holistic view and management strategy with policy to back it is needed.

Migration corridors and habitats where big game animals rest and forage during migration are critical pieces in a complex habitat puzzle that is key to the health of populations of mule deer and other big game animals. But the science on migration has yet to make it into policy. Bureau of Land Management resource management plans do not identify migration corridors, stopover habitats or provide for their management. Now, with work like this there is an opportunity to get those lines on the map and start incorporating them into planning. That’s why the TRCP will keep working with partner groups, land managers and other stakeholders to ensure our big game populations are managed for long-term sustainability. If we do not manage and conserve key habitats on all seasonal ranges and the migratory passageways between them, big game populations likely will decline and impact both our outdoor traditions and our hunting-based Western economy.

Watch a video of the mule deer migrations:

Three things you need to know about catch and release fishing

Mia releasing summer steelhead

The author releases a summer steelhead in British Columbia. Photo courtesy of Mia and Marty Sheppard.

When our daughter was three she watched her dad harvest a hatchery steelhead; it was the first time she had ever seen one of us kill a fish. Horrified, she almost started to cry. We had to console her and explain that it was OK, that the fish was from a hatchery and was produced for take. In her mind, all fish should be catch and release, and to this day she still believes all fish should be returned to the water.

I practice catch and release, but don’t take me for a purist. I love to eat fish! I commercial fished in Alaska for three years, harvesting millions of pounds of crab and salmon for consumption. I indulged in eating the catch of crab, sockeye, kings, cod and halibut.

The decision to catch and release is a personal choice. Sport fishing isn’t just about the catching; it’s an excuse to see beautiful places, fish new water and, when I’m lucky, feel the take of a curious fish, watching my reel spin and hang on for the ride. It’s the experience of connecting with a life form that is powerful and mysterious.

Catch and release is also about healthy returns for future anglers. I believe every fish returned is an opportunity for another angler. Returning fish also gives that species a chance to spawn, and more spawners contribute to more angling opportunity and healthier runs. Plus, older fish produce more offspring.

As a sportswoman, I want to see more fishing opportunities in the future, and if releasing fish will increase my opportunity for healthier runs then it’s one less fish in the cooler and one more fish for the future.

Techniques for catch and release:

Pinch down the barbs on all of your hooks

I pinch down all my barbs and have found that I do not lose more fish. You’ll be surprised how few fish you lose using barbless hooks. Barbless hooks allow for a quicker release with less damage to the fish’s mouth. You can use pliers to pinch down the barbs or you can carefully file them off large hooks.

Keep the fish in the water

Lifting fish out of the water stresses them. Remove the hook with your hand or with pliers and let the fish swim away. This should go without saying but do not drag your fish up onto the shore or riverbank. Research has shown that keeping a fish in the water dramatically increases its chances of survival. You can get beautiful photos of the fish still in the water.

Keep your hands wet when handling fish

If you do handle a fish and you do it with dry hands, it can cause some of the protective coating or “slime” on the fish’s skin to come off. This coating is designed to protect fish from disease. Wet hands reduce this risk and can actually make it a little easier to handle your catch. Some anglers prefer soft wet gloves.

Learn more about catch and release practices. Happy angling!

A national recreational fishing policy

Rod and reel courtesy NMFS/NOAA

Photo courtesy of NMFS/NOAA.gov.

Well, it looks like the recreational fishing industry got an April Fools present. No, really, we did. It’s not a joke.

NOAA Fisheries has committed to establishing a national recreational fishing policy. What does that mean? The real answer is in the future, but the door that some like to say was “rusted shut” has been opened.

During the first days of April and what finally felt like real spring, I attended the Recreational Fishing Summit organized by NOAA Fisheries in the Washington, D.C., area. This summit was the fourth time the recreational fishing industry has come together to try to influence federal policies on fishing in general and specifically the policies that directly impact the recreational fishing industry and the 11 million saltwater anglers.

The first summit was held on the West Coast. Then came St. Petersburg, Fla., in the early 2000s. The last was in the D.C. area four years ago and started the ball rolling to change how the recreational fishing industry has been and is viewed by federal policy makers. This summit produced a fairly long list of changes that attendees wanted implemented. To his credit, Eric Schwab, then head of NOAA Fisheries, committed to getting that list checked off as soon as possible. While 100 percent of the items were not completed, most of did get done. One of the outstanding and frankly most important items is to get the “new” Marine Recreational Information Program, or MRIP, completed and functional. Time after time, at the summits and just about everywhere else, the recreational industry has questioned the data being used to manage the recreational users. There are substantial fluctuations in some of the catch number that just do not make any sense. If bad data are being used to set seasons, bag limits or assess catch, then folks’ suspicion is warranted. MRIP needs to be fully functional and completely trusted.

Marine Visioning Report for America's Saltwater Recreational Fisheries

Image courtesy of Trcp.org.

This year’s summit was a follow-up to the previous one. The output was a list of things to be addressed by NOAA Fisheries. The list was not as long, but it has some fairly complicated issues to address. To a great extent the list is directly reflective of the Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries and the report presented by the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission, Recreational Working Group. The “vision report” had a short list of important items, but several rise to the top in my mind. They did also at the summit. First, establish a national recreational fishing policy. Next was allocating marine fisheries for the greatest economic benefit to the nation. Also managing for the forage base. All of these were high up on the short list from the summit. All of these would change management policy and finally recognize the value of the recreational fishing industry.

I am happy to report that Eileen Sobeck, the newly appointed head of NOAA Fisheries, concluded the summit with the commitment to move ahead with establishing the national recreational fishing policy. Great stuff! But from the recreational industry standpoint, the real work now begins. We need to make sure that what goes into this policy is the right stuff. John Brownlee, editorial director of Salt Water Sportsman, Sport Fishing and Marlin magazine and keynote summit speaker, put it correctly when he said that the real work begins after we get NOAA Fisheries to say yes!

Yes, I do think that we are making headway. Rather than looking back and saying, “It’s about time,” I look forward and say, “We need to make sure we get it right this time!”