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Though initially the tortoise had defensively withdrawn himself inside his shell, he could not resist the meal we had put in front of him.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

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!

TRCP has a member in the Olympics!

Lowell Bailey, U.S. Biathlon Team, shooting

The TRCP is proud to have a member, Lowell Bailey of the U.S. Biathlon Team, headed to the Sochi Olympics! Photo courtesy of US Biathlon/Nordic Focus.

Not only is Lowell Bailey one of the top biathletes in the world, he’s a TRCP member!

If you’ve never seen a biathlon race, be sure to tune in to the Olympics. The sport is a combination of precision target shooting and long-distance Nordic skiing (while carrying your rifle). Americans have never medaled in this event. But this year, the team is stacked and ready to go.

We heard Lowell grew up in the Adirondacks, a conservation (and fly fishing) haven. So we chatted with him to learn more about the sport and talked about everything from custom rifles to fly fishing and even T.R.!

________________________________________________________________________________________________

TRCP: Biathlon is not a sport you hear a lot about. How did you get involved with it?

Lowell: I’ve cross country skied my whole life and began racing probably around 5 years old. When I was 13 or so I was asked to a talent ID camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. Well, you put a .22 in the hands of a 13 year old kid, and I fell in love with the sport right away.

TRCP: What do you like most about biathlon?

Lowell: Biathlon is unique because you have two entirely different sports that couldn’t be farther away from each other, and you have to figure out a way to make both of those sports work together. To have a good biathlon race you have shoot well and ski fast, and the pursuit of doing those two things is extremely challenging and extremely motivating.

TRCP: How does the shooting aspect of a biathlon race work?

Lowell: The shooting in biathlon is different from other competitive shooting sports. Because you’re racing, you’re always under the clock. A typical shooting stage lasts around 20-25 seconds. In that time you ski into the range, take your rifle off your back and get into position, take five shots and put your rifle back on. That all happens in 20-25 seconds.

TRCP: Wow. So, what’s the distance and size of the targets?

Lowell: There are two different positions in biathlon: prone, which is lying down, and standing. Prone position you’re shooting at a target roughly the size of an Oreo cookie from 50 meters. The standing target is a little bigger, roughly the size of a CD, because the standing position is less stable than the prone position.

TRCP: Here at the TRCP, we are a bunch of gun geeks.  Can you give a rundown of what you’re shooting?

Lowell: We shoot .22 caliber long rifles with iron sights, no scopes or anything like that. The rifles that 95 percent of the World Cup field uses are made by Anschutz, in Germany. They’re highly precise, accurate rifles. They weigh roughly seven pounds, and we wear the rifles on our back during the entire race. Each athlete’s rifle has a customized stock, made of wood or carbon fiber, that’s made to fit that athlete’s body type and shooting preferences.

Lowell Bailey, fly fishing

Lowell Bailey, fly fishing in his free time. Photo by Erika Edgley.

TRCP: We’ve been told you are an avid fly fisherman. How did you get into fishing?

Lowell: Well, I grew in the Adirondack Park, and as you may know, the Adirondacks has some of the best fishing in the country due to the fact that it protected as a state park. My parents always encouraged my sister and me to be outdoors, and fishing was something we just did for as long as I can remember. At some point I moved from spin casting to fly fishing, and now I do both. I’m lucky to live in Lake Placid where I can fish the AuSable River, which is a great trout stream.

TRCP: Do you ever get to go fishing while you’re on the road for competition or training?

Lowell: I do actually. I’ve fished a few times on the Traun River in Germany for rainbows and brown trout. Rudi Heger is a world renowned fishing guide out of southern Germany, and he’s also a big biathlon fan, so he’s taken me and some of my teammates out on a few different fishing excursions that were pretty amazing.

Rudi actually set up a biathlon/fly fishing competition, for a promotional video and just because it was funny. There were three athletes, and we skied with fly rods on our back up to the edge of this private pond that’s just chock full of rainbows. We had to quickly assemble our rods and the first person to catch a fish was the winner. It’s all on video somewhere…(It didn’t take us long to find this video…check it out here!)

Lowell Bailey, with trout

Lowell with a trout. Photo by Erika Edgley.

TRCP: How did growing up in the Adirondacks shape your views on conservation?

Lowell: I think that the Adirondacks is one of the more unique areas in the country because you have private land ownership within a state park, so development and the way you are allowed to use the land is highly regulated by the Adirondack Park Agency. As a result, we have this robust tourist industry that drives the local economy in Lake Placid and the surrounding areas, and it’s all because of conservation. We have mountains for people to hike in; we have lakes for people to fish on; the recreational possibilities in Lake Placid and the greater Tri-Lakes Region are really endless.

TRCP: Your sister leaked to us that you use a T.R. quote as your pre-race mantra. Which one?

That’s true. The quote is “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I use that quote almost daily and definitely every time I go into competition. On the World Cup circuit, there are typically 25,000 to 35,000 spectators in the stands as well as media, coaches, other athletes. It’s a very distracting environment, and in order to maintain my

Lowell Bailey, U.S. Biathlon Team, Nordic Skiing

Lowell Bailey of the U.S. Biathlon Team, competing. Photo courtesy of US Biathlon/Nordic Focus.

focus I repeat that quote in my head while I’m warming up. It reminds me to stay focused on things I can control, and the things that I can’t control, they’ll be what they will be. The only thing that I can do at that given time, on that given day, is focus on the elements that I can control.

TRCP: Very cool. Lowell, we really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. And we wish you the very best in Sochi.

Lowell: Thanks. I’m psyched the TRCP thought of me. I think what you guys do is awesome.

Follow in Lowell’s footsteps and become a TRCP member.

 

The first biathlon race of the Sochi Olympics will occur Saturday, Feb. 8. For the full schedule of biathlon events and to learn more about Lowell and the U.S. team, visit the Olympic biathlon website.

The State of the Union that sportsmen and -women would like to hear

Below is the State of the Union address that sportsmen and -women would like to hear.

My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk about what it is that makes America great and what we need to do to keep it great. And I want to talk about jobs.

America was built on the notion of rugged individualism, and no one personified this more than Theodore Roosevelt. But President Roosevelt, perhaps the nation’s greatest sportsman, understood that the nation’s resources – its lands, waters, minerals, timber, fish and wildlife – were not inexhaustible. Without proper stewardship, without conservation, we would abuse nature’s bounty and leave a legacy of extinction and pollution for future generations.

So Roosevelt did something about it. He created the core of our public lands network, conserving hundreds of millions of acres where anyone could hunt, fish, hike or just enjoy God’s bounty.

Hunters and anglers across the nation picked up on Roosevelt’s challenge and chose to pay – through excise taxes, licenses, stamps and other means – to ensure that this conservation legacy would be implemented, expanded and professionally managed. Today the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is the envy of the world and is responsible for more than 40 million Americans getting outside to fish and/or hunt every year.

Our conservation system is the foundation of an outdoor economy that generates $646 billion in direct expenditures every year and supports more than 6 million jobs. These jobs are growing in number every year – more than 5 percent annually, even through the Great Recession – and they’re jobs that will never be exported abroad.

But as Theodore Roosevelt understood, we need to protect our conservation legacy from those who favor today’s bottom line over tomorrow’s collective wealth. We do not need to look very hard to see that the same forces that Roosevelt battled more than a century ago are still active today. Consider:

  • Those who would put the world’s largest open pit mine, which would require toxic remediation forever, in Alaska at the headwaters of the world’s most productive salmon fishery.
  • Those who would ignore the threat of a leaking chemical storage tank in West Virginia and what it might do to a river and the people who get water from that river, and yet who argue that the Clean Water Act is an inappropriate government intrusion on free enterprise.
  • And those in Congress who propose selling off our public lands, or who would mandate unsustainable resource extraction from the public’s lands, or who would limit the public’s legitimate voice in how our public lands are managed.

Today I am proposing a seven step plan to re-affirm America’s commitment to conservation.

  1. I propose to reinvest in conservation. Today conservation represents just about 1 percent of the federal budget, down from about 2.5 percent in the 1970s. By 2020, America should return to a conservation commitment of at least 1.6 percent of the federal budget, the same level it was in Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
  2. We must fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, State and Tribal Grants program, WaterSmart and the other programs that invest in on-the-ground conservation. Not only do these programs meet real needs and create jobs, they leverage more than three times the federal investment from state and private funds.
  3. We must commit to expanding public access for all Americans, including our hunters and anglers. We will fully fund the USDA Open Fields Program and LWCF and target the acquisition and easement funds to projects that help reconnect the public’s access to its public lands.
  4. We must pass a Farm Bill that rewards stewardship. America’s farmers are the most productive in the world and farmers are by definition land stewards. But if we incentivize poor stewardship, we have no one but ourselves to blame when we lose topsoil, foul our rivers, and watch pheasants and other species disappear. The new Farm Bill must help farmers and ranchers act as stewards through a robust commitment to conservation programs and by eliminating any programs that encourage unsustainable practices.
  5. We must balance energy production with conservation. In 2010, I proposed sweeping changes to how the nation does energy development on our public lands, and in 2014, I will finally implement those changes. All of them. In addition, we must recognize that renewable energy also has impacts. Wind farms and solar arrays must be sited in the right places, as must transmission corridors. We will invest in cellulosic ethanol and eliminate unwise mandates for additional corn ethanol production. We will do all this while recognizing that we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and challenge the rest of the world to do the same.
  6. We must invest in sustainable fisheries. America has done a remarkable job over the last decade of reducing overfishing and rebuilding depleted fish stocks but the time has come to invest in recreational anglers. Recreational anglers represent about half the economic benefit generated by our marine fisheries, but they are managed under a system almost exclusively designed for commercial fisheries. I call on my administration and Congress to work together to amend the current system so that broad social and economic benefits can be maximized while we maintain our commitment to conservation, thereby ensuring that future generations can enjoy catching and eating the ocean’s bounty.
  7. Finally, we must work together to address the oncoming water crisis. For California, that crisis is already here. For other states, it’s on the way. We need better water planning and a stronger investment in water conservation. I am not suggesting that we change the basic tenets under which water is managed, but unless we work together and with a sense of urgency, drought emergencies, dry rivers, lost fisheries and withered crops will be our legacy. We must also strengthen the Clean Water Act so that wetlands and streams can play their natural role in water conservation and ensuring water quality.

In closing, Theodore Roosevelt once said that “There can be no greater issue to this country than that of conservation.” He was right. The legacy we leave to future generations will define this generation. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue, nor liberal or conservative. It is an issue that is core to what America is today and what it should be in the future.

Thank you, and God bless America.

Sportsmen Should Be Optimistic in 2014

No one will remember 2013 as a great year in federal conservation policy. Every day we lost more grasslands and wetlands in the prairies to agricultural development. Congress could not pass a Farm Bill and the administration would not use its powers to reverse or even slow the losses.

Sequestration indiscriminately cut more funds from already strapped federal agencies as Congress failed to pass normal spending bills. In fact, Congress’s political posturing led to a 16-day government shutdown, which happened to coincide with the beginning of hunting season in many states. While federal workers got back pay once the government reopened, the same cannot be said of the guides and local businesses impacted by the shutdown. Billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money was wasted as most government activity came to a halt.

And comprehensive sportsmen’s legislation, once poised to pass Congress, was delayed in early 2013 when partisan politics again trumped good policy.

With this backdrop, it is remarkable that I look to 2014 with optimism. Why? Because the adults appear to be back in charge of Congress, and the administration seems to realize that it has less than three years to leave a conservation legacy. Some examples:

House and Senate conferees appear to be close to finalizing a Farm Bill that may prove to be one of the best pieces of private lands conservation legislation ever passed. If all goes well, it will come before Congress for a final vote by February.

Maybe we had to hit rock bottom before we could move forward. Few of us expect the next year to be free of acrimony and election year politics but, if events fall the right way, 2014 could prove to be a great year for sportsmen. It will take a strong commitment from all in our community to work together and make it happen.

As always, the TRCP and our partners will continue to advocate for legislation that strongly funds responsive fish and wildlife management, conserves important lands and waters and increases access for American hunters and anglers. Join us.

Coming to Justice

Photo courtesy of SC DNR

 

A couple of years ago, I wrote about four Maryland commercial netters – or should I say “poachers” – who were linked to illegally setting gill nets to catch tens of thousands of pounds of striped bass. The investigation was triggered by the discovery of an illegal net off Kent Island in the upper Chesapeake Bay in February of 2011. It turned up falsified catch documentation going back to 2007. Much of that illegal catch then was traced as being sold across state lines to New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Seemingly, that would violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits such actions.

In November a federal grand jury handed down an indictment on this long-pending case. The indictment alleges criminal conspiracy in the illegal catching of striped bass and the subsequent interstate sale of the illegal catch. My sincere hope is that these alleged criminals, masquerading as hard-working commercial fishermen, become wards of the federal government for a very long time. History, however, is not on the side of that outcome.

I applaud the Maryland Department of Natural Resources officers for putting a lot of long hours into researching this case. Their perseverance and dogged determination led to the indictment. Without their efforts it is likely that the alleged perpetrators would get only a slap on the wrist and have to pay a small fine, which only amounts to a cost of doing business. State and local judges have been reluctant to throw the book at this type of criminal activity. With this indictment, the case gets elevated to a federal court as a Lacey Act violation. That carries some real consequences.

Some might say that these DNR officers are only doing their jobs. Yeah, I get it. They are, but from my standpoint I don’t know what keeps them motivated when in the past their hard work has been largely disregarded by the state and local court systems. How many times have I read coverage about illegal fishing activities only to see those who got caught pay a small fine and be back at business as usual the next day. Why courts have been so reluctant to take a harsher stance is beyond me. Something akin to the three strikes kind of process would be a deterrent. First time … OK, it might have been a mistake, but a reasonable fine should get your attention. Second offense is not a mistake. You pay a hefty fine, do some jail time and lose your fishing permit for at least a year. Third offense: bye, bye. Pay a very hefty fine, do a big chunk of jail time and be subjected to a lifetime loss of all fishing permits.

I know, I know. Judges are very reluctant to take away someone’s ability to make a living. Can’t say that I understand why. I am unable to distinguish between stealing a public resource and robbing a 7-Eleven. The courts should understand that illegal harvest of common property resources takes away someone else’s ability to earn a living. It has a ripple effect far beyond the criminal activity itself.

I want to be sure that DNR officers, environmental police or whatever they are called in different states continue to be motivated to go the extra mile in pursuing a case. These folks are protecting our resources, and their job is not easy. In today’s world of bending way over backwards to protect the “rights” of the criminals, I wonder how we are trampling on the rights of the innocent – not to mention the condition of our resources. Too often, natural resource officers do whatever they can do to bring a case to justice, and all their work is negated by too light of a sentence. Those of us who would like to see our resources around for future generations need to support their good work.

The Great Conspiracy

In last week’s blog, as well as previous blogs, I have mentioned “The Great Conspiracy.” What finally dawned on me is that I have not really addressed what I am referring to in any of these blogs. I have done so in other writings.

We’ll have to start back a few years according to the “nattering nabobs of negativism,” a term popularized by then Vice President Spiro Agnew but actually written by New York Times columnist William Safire. According to the proponents of this conspiracy theory before President Obama was elected, the environmental community led by the Pew Environment Group, the Environmental Defense Fund and maybe the Walton Foundation was infiltrating the fisheries management system and positioning the likes of Dr. Jane Lubchenco to become the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Somehow they knew the outcome of the election, but we’ll put that aside. Pretty amazing stuff! They couldn’t have simply guessed right, it had to be some sort of backroom deal. Actually, isn’t there a lot of that in politics no matter which side one is on. Yeah!!!

Well, OK, I’m getting a little sarcastic, but it does take a fairly vivid imagination to pull all the pieces of The Great Conspiracy together. So the environmental nongovernmental organizations ended up on the right side of the election, which should not be too surprising to anyone, as they tend to be more liberal than conservative in politics. According to the believers, Phase 2 was put in place with the confirmation of Dr. Lubchenco, and now EDF was running all the Regional Fishery Management Council activities. I must have been on an anomalous RFMC.

Yes, we had a council member who worked for EDF, but I’d be hard pressed to find a major or, for that matter, minor, council action that had EDF’s fingerprints all over it. Too bad, actually, as some of the ideas proposed by the council member made a lot of management sense. Oh, yeah, catch shares. Well, we have to rewind the clock on that one as well.

The New England Fishery Management Council began the catch shares discussion in 2001, well before any NGO infiltration, and the rollout of more extensive catch shares was just an extension of that discussion. What happened at the NEFMC may not be typical of what happened at other councils, but I am familiar enough with other council actions to know that the NGO community was not railroading a lot of new council actions through the system. Was the environmental community part of the council process? Yes, of course it was. It is one of the three constituent groups represented on the council.

If we look at inside the Beltway (Washington, D.C., for those not familiar with the world of politics), the story is different. The NGO community has been very active in the political process. In fact, it has been extremely influential in the legislative process. Environmental NGOs were able to get much of what they wanted in the Magnuson- Stevens Act reauthorization passed in 2006 that included annual catch limits, accountability measures and the continuation of mandated rebuilding periods.

This is not meant to be a debate about the merits of those measures but a discussion about our political system. Let’s face it: the environmental NGO community has deep pockets to use in pushing for the issues it wants enacted. From my standpoint the community has been very effective at using that influence to get what it believes in. It also has been effective at working collaboratively. Is that a conspiracy? If it is then organizations like the National Rifle Association, the farm lobby and for that matter all of K Street are involved in serial conspiracies. I am not saying that I agree with all the outcomes. Unless we change the system, the environmental community is simply using it to the best advantage. Money talks and BS walks. Do we need to change the system? I tend to think so, but that is a discussion for another time.

I always have wondered what the response would be from those who think that the environmental NGO community is hell bent on eliminating extractive uses of the ocean environment, if these NGOs used all their clout to do what the conspiracy theorists want. Would there still be a hue and cry of conspiracy then? I doubt it. Folks would happily say that is just the way the system works.

Call me crazy, oblivious or naïve. I do not believe that all environmental NGOs are out to end fishing. Nor do I support all of their proposed measures. I do believe that most are interested in having sustainable resources for the future. They have some very substantial economic clout and are not afraid to use it. What the recreational fishing industry should do is to find a way to partner with them … or would some see that as conspiratorial?

Join the TRCP in Shaping a Future for Conservation

Every day, hunters and anglers see wetlands drained and buffer strips bulldozed – and valuable acres once enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program plowed into corn fields. Guides cancel hunts with their clients because there are so few birds – and the habitat needed to support them is quickly disappearing. 

Click here to see how you can help.

Read John’s story and support the TRCP’s efforts to mobilize leaders and get a full Farm Bill through Congress.

Ocean Planning Makes Sense

Photo courtesy of Flyfishinsalt.com

This is being written on what was going to be “Black Thursday.” The day the idiots in DC wanted to see what might happen if the United States welched on its promise to pay. Don’t get me started on this subject. Needless to say, in their infinite wisdom, they have kicked the can down the road for a couple of months, so we can ruin the Holiday Season listening to their partisan bickering.

Despite this aberrant behavior, the process of trying to have some control over the development of our territorial oceans continues. I know that some in the recreational fishing industry think that “ocean planning” is part of the great conspiracy to totally eliminate extractive activities like recreational or commercial fishing. They feel that this process is simply “ocean zoning” intent on removing fishing. Maybe it is and I am just too naive to see it, but there are too many signs pointing in other directions. First, I don’t believe in the great conspiracy theory and secondly, I think that doing some real planning makes a whole lot of sense and I understand that in that process there will be winners and losers. The best description, IMO, of how ocean planning should work is found on Sea Plan’s, an independent ocean planning policy group, website: “Coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP) aims to distribute and accommodate both traditional and emerging ocean activities to produce sustainable economic and social benefits while minimizing spatial conflicts and environmental impacts.  CMSP is an iterative process that uses the best available science along with stakeholder input to support integrated, adaptable, and forward-looking ocean management decision-making.”

The part of the process that I find objectionable is the building of more bureaucracy to complete this task. There are already agencies at the federal, regional and state level that deal with these issues. Do we need several layers of bureaucracy just to get these organizations to play in the sandbox together?

In any case, here in New England, we have the Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC), which appears to be a regional version of the National Ocean Council (NOC). However, it was organized by the NE Governors about 5 years prior to NOC, which was established under an Executive order from President Obama and likely the genesis of the anti-ocean planning movement. Many feel that this was merely an end run around the failed legislation called Oceans 21. Again, maybe it was, but that does not negate the need for some real thinking about how we use our oceans. Things such as renewable energy development, at sea LNG terminals, pipeline construction, ocean mining, etc, etc are going to happen. In comparison to those industries, fishing doesn’t stand a chance. We would be road kill on the developmental highway without some controlling structure.

While, I don’t happen to believe that it is enough, fishing does have some representation at the Northeast Regional Planning Body (RPB) level. This is through a representative from the New England Fishery Management Council sitting at the RPB table. Yes, fishing is just one voice among many, but without any representation, there would be no chance.

Recently, a coalition of marine interests including SeaPlan, representatives of the boating industry, New England states and the state of New York, U.S. Coast Guard, and NROC conducted a survey titled Northeast Recreational Boating Survey. This effort was designed to get stakeholder input on how boaters use the Northeast waters. It was a very comprehensive survey that got input from 12,000 participants. The survey shows the importance of boaters who generated $3.5 billion in economic activity. A much older survey conducted by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) indicated that 75% of all powerboats were used for fishing at some point. I don’t know if that holds true today, but it indicates fishing is still a substantial part of this economic engine. The take home message is that NROC is concerned about the recreational fishing industry and how it fits into the planning process.

I am also aware of efforts that are being taken to reach out to individual anglers to get their input into the process. These are being developed as this is written. NROC also has made an effort to include the party/charter fishing industry as well. If they had no interest in the fishing industry, I doubt they would make this level of effort to include stakeholder input.

While there are and will continue to be concerns about the whole Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) area, the idea that this is simply an underhanded plan to end all fishing just doesn’t carry any water (pun intended). As users we need to be involved with this type of planning and we need to try to make sure that our access to marine resources is not compromised.

More Recreational Fishing Closures in South Atlantic Fishery

More waters could be closed to recreational fishing when the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meets this week in Charleston, S.C.

 

On Wednesday morning, the council’s Snapper Grouper Committee will discuss whether closed areas are beneficial. Then the committee will consider the establishment of 12 new marine protected areas and habitat areas of particular concern and the tweaking of four current closed areas to increase the population of speckled hind and warsaw grouper.

The waters in question range from North Carolina to Florida. If everything that has been proposed is approved, the total amount of protected area would increase by a few hundred square miles. Whatever the committee decides, public hearings won’t be held until 2014.

I am not against having closed areas as long as there is a need for them and they protect the species in question. Unfortunately, the federal government has a track record of claiming a species is in dire need of protection and goes ahead with plans to close an area to fishing.

When anglers and, in the case of Florida, for example, biologists with the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission challenge that claim, the feds suddenly announce that the species in question is actually doing quite well and the closure is no longer needed.

Another problem with closed areas is they often prohibit all types of fishing. In the case of bottom-dwelling species like speckled hind and warsaw grouper, it makes sense to prohibit bottom fishing for other groupers and snappers because there is a chance of accidentally catching the species in question.

Not allowing anglers to troll or live-bait on the surface for species such as dolphin, wahoo and billfish, even though the chances of catching a grouper or snapper are between slim and none, makes no sense. In this case, the South Atlantic Council could allow trolling.

One other problem I have with closed areas is they rarely ever become open areas again, despite the promises of the reigning federal fishery managers. What often results is a perverse type of Catch-22.

If the protected area doesn’t work, the managers and environmental groups, many of whom believe that no one should be allowed to fish, will say that the area needs to be expanded to make it work better.

If the protected area does work, those same people will say that since it is doing such a good job of increasing fish populations, it makes sense to expand the area to protect even more fish from the hooks of recreational anglers.

Then there are the factors that do way more damage to fish and their habitat than recreational anglers, but are never considered, like fertilizer-laden runoff and minimally treated sewage.

In Florida, those things lead to algae blooms and bleaching of coral reefs, which negatively impact the juvenile fish that fishery managers are so concerned about protecting from anglers.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to tell anglers that they can’t fish somewhere than telling state, federal and municipal bureaucrats that they need to stop pumping fouled freshwater into our estuaries and the Atlantic Ocean.

For Your Information

More ‘no bottom-fishing’ preserves proposed for South Carolina, Southeast offshore

South Atlantic Fishery Council to discuss closing Georgetown Hole, other areas, to fishing