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Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

Hard Country: A Lesser Prairie-Chicken Final Frontier

By Lew Carpenter

Reprinted with permission from the North American Grouse Partnership. This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 edition of the Grouse Partnership News.

Thirty years of drought has been tough on lesser prairie-chickens in eastern New Mexico. The hard scrabble country leaves little opportunity for a bird that once exploded skyward by the hundreds throughout the landscape on any given day. And, while lesser prairie-chicken numbers have recently ticked up – offering hope that proper wildlife management and private landowner incentives will ultimately save this prince of the grasslands – so much still must be done.

 

Jim Weaver left his work – 18 years at Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, Department of Ecology and Systematics where he focused on endangered species – to raise both a family and cattle on an eastern New Mexico ranch; plus to engage his passion, hunting with a falcon. Drought and the  inherent logistics of the remote ranch got the better of the cattle operation, but the lesser prairie-chickens are still there – not in the great numbers of the mid 70s, but with respectable populations that would not exist without landowner passion and respect for the habitat.

 

“It’s not what people think about when they think of a beautiful New Mexico Ranch. We are out on the eastern side where the country has been beat up for so long it’s hard to find a place that easily fits the travel brochure – let’s put it that way,” Weaver said.

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

The Weaver Ranch is on the High Plains where it’s nearly all been farmed at one time or another. The redeeming thing for Weaver is that this was where all the prairie chickens were, which means at least from that standpoint everything was looking pretty good.

 

“We started off buying a couple of sections down here and it was $40 an-acre-land if that sort of puts things in perspective – so at that point a couple of sections wasn’t that big of a deal for someone still holding down a university job,” he said. “So, at any rate, that’s how we started, and over time other pieces and properties came together and we ended up with roughly 30,000 acres of this kind of country over the past 30 or 40 years.”

 

When Weaver put together a cattle operation he did things a little differently than others. He started out with some Mashona cattle, a tribal breed of the Shona people of Zimbabwe, that he ran into over in Africa when he was there doing bird research, and brought that breed over here through an independent USDA import protocol and started them in 1995. “That was more-or-less a success and it was great having the breed here. But we sold out of those cattle probably six or seven years ago,” he said. “We’d had a couple of exceptionally dry years, even for the overall drought, and we could no longer make that pencil out on a normal kind of cattle operation, so we sold out and went back to just worrying about prairie-chickens, more-or-less, and continuing to improve the land and get it back in shape where we thought it was optimal lesser prairie-chicken habitat.” Habitat on the ranch has been improved during the years and, along with the deep sand and hard flats, it has more than a hundred pastures of various sizes with some irrigated pastures running organic alfalfa. The improvements have been good for the chickens, keeping them alive by providing access to water and insects in those pastures.

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

“In the beginning, for a period of three or four years in the early to mid-70s, you could easily see a thousand chickens in a day,” Weaver said. “I was hunting chickens back then, and other game birds, with a falcon. And we would use pointing dogs, too. We were camping down here in those days and we were out there every day. Many, many times we would see three or four hundred fly right over the top of our camp.”

 

It’s hard to say what the total population was back then since there was no real effort to figure it out, according to Weaver. If the birds were gone folks would just say they’ll be back like they always have, but it has taken a lot longer than anyone anticipated.

 

“I’ve always been one of the people that’s been against the listing of the birds,” he said. “All management and control of a species rests with the US Fish and Wildlife Service once they are federally listed as Threatened or Endangered. But there just isn’t any money to do anything once they are listed. And this goes back to my time at Cornell years ago with endangered species. It’s just the worst thing in the world when you start inhibiting people’s ability to work with wildlife – at least from a wildlife management standpoint – if you can’t get in there quick and get your hands on something to make a difference then you’re pretty much dead in the water.”

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

However, in Weaver’s mind there’s always hope. It really depends on whether the remaining habitat can be optimized with such little suitable habitat left in New Mexico – just two or three counties still have appropriate habitat, and very small portions of those counties. In addition, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) payments in the area have been cut to their lowest in the country making it difficult to convince farmers to get on board. “They don’t even pay them enough now to cover their expenses,” Weaver said. “And then they cut out the mid-management contract and cost sharing and so on. So the farmers’ incentive is to plow it back up and we’ve seen a couple of leks plowed out of expired CRP. In this area its mostly classified as Highly Erodible Soil that has suffered by wind erosion since the Dust Bowl days. That’s one of the saddest things about it. Private landowners are willing to help, but they need to get paid.”

 

Mesquite and shinnery oak were Weaver’s biggest problems on the ranch when he arrived. And they still are a problem today, sucking what little moisture the landscape receives, preventing the grass from growing. Lesser prairie-chickens need residual grass for nesting habitat, but you can’t have residual grass unless you have grass in the first place. “The shinnery oak prevents the grass from becoming dominant again in the way it used to be back in pre-European times, and you’re up against that battle all the time,” Weaver said. “Mesquite is another big problem because chickens avoid places where the mesquite is more than three or four feet tall, so you’ve got to get rid of the mesquite.”

 

Weaver thinks the chickens could probably survive on a managed, million-acre complex. It doesn’t all have to be adjacent parcels, but they need to be close enough – not blocked by another wind farm or some high-tension wires, or something else that further breaks up the habitat that’s available.

 

“It’s really all they have left,” he said. “There’s really no place else for them to go. It’s absolutely the end of the line for the New Mexico lesser prairie-chicken if people don’t really start paying attention. New Mexico Game and Fish has been great. They’ve got chicken areas all over the place but they lack management money. But we’ve lined up some of those places for the Game and Fish to buy and it’s worked out great, and we’ve got a charitable foundation that buys acres when they become available to try to hold them for conservation-minded people that may want to buy them later, whether that be private folks, NM Game and Fish or US Fish and Wildlife Service – whoever might come along when they are solvent enough to want to make these kinds of conservation investments.”

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

Opportunities for the million acres of lesser prairie-chicken habitat could include Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. The BLM assets in this area aren’t all the best chicken habitat, but they do own some of it, and the BLM has made some positive strides, according to Weaver. “They’ve changed some of their grazing regimes around, which has been pretty unpopular for them in the ranching community, but it was the right thing to do to reestablish and maintain good habitat. There’s been no subsoil moisture here to speak of for almost 30 years. That moisture regime has to be returned and the brush has to be controlled and we might come back to a reasonable diversity of grasslands that will sustain these birds.”

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

Currently, there are about 17 leks on Weaver’s ranch up from three to four at the lowest point. He saw a good year, last year, with almost a tripling of numbers of birds on lek in just that one season. He’s optimistic that there are plenty of people coming along that want to conserve the country, and with good wildlife management and private landowner incentives something significant could be done. “We’ve worked closely over the years with groups or agencies that offer grant or cost-share assistance for conservation work. US Fish and Wildlife Partners for Fish and Wildlife, the NRCS Grasslands Reserve Program, Farm Services Agency EQIP and CRP programs, Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico Dept. of Game and Fish, New Mexico State Land Office, and Center of Excellence have all cooperated at some point. Folks want to do the best thing they can for the land and the wildlife and the habitat,” he said. “And they are proud of what they have to show for it when they do fix things up for game birds and for wildlife in general, which leads to better biodiversity overall.”

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Photo by Matt Vincent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new bill would provide critical investments to study and stop the spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurological disease threatening deer, elk, and moose populations in the United States. The Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act, introduced by Representatives Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) will help researchers better understand the disease, give state and Tribal experts the resources they need to control its spread, and protect wildlife.

“Chronic wasting disease is one of the greatest threats facing deer, elk, and moose populations across the country, jeopardizing hunting opportunities, ecosystems, and our nation’s outdoor economy,” said Mike Leahy, director for wildlife, hunting, and fishing policy for the National Wildlife Federation. “We are grateful for Representatives Kind and Thompson’s steadfast leadership on this critical issue. The bipartisan Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act will help ensure state and Tribal agencies on the front lines of controlling this disease have the resources they need to better understand and stop its spread.”

Chronic wasting disease is a highly transmissible disease that spreads among members of the deer family, including white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, and elk, that are critical to ecosystems along with local economies and hunting traditions. The disease is nearly always fatal and, once established in an area, hard to control.

Although there have been no reported cases of chronic wasting disease in people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention some studies “raise concerns that there may also be a risk to people.”

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NEWTOWN, Conn. — NSSF® the firearm industry trade association, marked a milestone achievement when firearm and ammunition manufacturers topped $14.1 billion in contributions to the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund since its inception in 1937.


“This is truly a remarkable win for wildlife conservation,” said Joe Bartozzi, NSSF’s President and CEO. “This fund has been responsible for the restoration and recovery of America’s iconic game species, including the Rocky Mountain elk, whitetail deer, pronghorn antelope, wild turkeys and a variety of waterfowl. It is also responsible for funding the recovery and conservation of nongame species, including the American bald eagle, reptiles, fauna and conservation lands that allow them to thrive. The firearm industry is proud to perform such an important and vital function to ensure America’s wildlife remains abundant for future generations.”


The Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund, commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson fund or Firearms and Ammunition Excise Tax, is a tax paid by firearm and ammunition manufacturers on the products they produce. The excise tax is set at 11 percent of the wholesale price for long guns and ammunition and 10 percent of the wholesale price for handguns. The excise tax, paid by manufacturers and importers, applies basically to all firearms produced or imported for commercial sales, whether their purpose is for recreational shooting, hunting or personal defense. The tax is currently administered by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in the Department of the Treasury, which turns the funds over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).


USFWS then deposits the Pittman-Robertson revenue into a special account called the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund, which is administered by the USFWS. These funds are made available to states and territories the year following their collection.


These 10 to 11 percent excise tax dollars collected since 1937 under the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act are specifically designated to be used by state wildlife agencies for conservation. Collectively, purchasers of firearms and ammunition, hunters and the industry are the greatest source of wildlife conservation funding.



About NSSFNSSF is the trade association for the firearm industry. Its mission is to promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports. Formed in 1961, NSSF has a membership of thousands of manufacturers, distributors, firearm retailers, shooting ranges, sportsmen’s organizations and publishers nationwide. For more information, log on to www.nssf.org.

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Recreation infrastructure often is supported by LWCF funding, providing access to hunters and anglers. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Boat ramps, bathrooms, public open space, picnic tables, recreation infrastructure – simple things we often forget about until we can’t use them (due to pandemics or lack of maintenance). The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) often is a little-known financial backbone for communities that support hunters, anglers and outdoor recreation users in their wild pursuits.

LWCF generates new jobs, creates new opportunities for recreation and provides fuel for state and local economies. For more than five decades it has helped create and maintain parks, hiking and biking trails, ballfields, waterfront access, hunting and fishing access and so much more in nearly every county in the United States.

Since inception in 1965 LWCF has pumped $219,100,000 into Louisiana’s vast recreation and wildlife infrastructure.

When Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1965, it devised a funding mechanism that would use offshore oil revenues instead of taxpayer money. The fund is entitled to receive $900 million a year, but only twice in its history has it received the full amount since Congress usually diverts funding to non-conservation projects. The permanent full funding bill currently coursing through Congress will finally remedy that situation so the Land and Water Conservation Fund will be able to reach its full potential.

Recently permanently authorized, but not fully funded – I know, it makes no sense – LWCF is in the crosshairs of current federal legislation. And, there are many reasons why you should care.

Since its inception in 1964, the LWCF program has established many of our nation’s most coveted public lands that generate billions of dollars for state and local economies. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation supports $778 billion in annual consumer spending and 5.2 million jobs across the country. While LWCF enjoys broad support for these clear economic benefits, the program relies on a standing account of the United States Treasury which is subject to constant diversions from its intended purpose.

Permanent authorization of LWCF in 2019 was an important step in addressing these issues, but it did not ensure that all of the funds identified for LWCF are used for their intended purpose. This underfunding has created a backlog of conservation and recreation access needs in every state across the country. Therefore, Congress must pass legislation now to provide full and dedicated funding for LWCF at the authorized level of $900 million.

Bassmaster Magazine Editor James Hall lands a nice keeper redfish in the marsh

Lowering your boat to the river or marsh by rope without a launch sucks. So does erosion at epic scale making access difficult at best. We need public infrastructure now more than ever. We need to keep people hunting, fishing, recreating and we need to support communities that support our sport!

Recreation infrastructure development provides jobs, too, in places that will badly need them in the coming years. So now, when Congress is rightly focused on how to stimulate the economy, many leaders are realizing that one of the solutions is right in front of them. 

Across the country there are scores of shovel-ready projects just waiting for LWCF funding. These projects will provide jobs in construction, restoration and conservation. That in turn will provide additional opportunities for American families to get outside to hunt, hike, bike, camp, fish and pursue many other outdoor recreation passions. According to the Trust for Public Land, every dollar invested in LWCF returns at least $4 in economic benefits. For an investment of $900 million, that’s a $3.6 billion return.

While often unknown, LWCF funding supports access and habitat improvement to areas like Delta NWR in the bird’s foot of the Mississippi River Delta. Photo by Lew Carpenter

LWCF has helped support some of Louisiana’s most beloved public places. The list of major projects funded by LWCF in Louisiana includes:

Federal Public Land Investment ($143,000,000):

Atchafalaya NWR

Bayou Cocodrie NWR

Bayou Sauvage NWR

Big Branch Marsh NWR

Black Bayou NWR

Bogue Chitto NWR

Cane River Creole NHP

Cat Island NWR

Delta NWR

Grand Cote NWR

Isle Dernieres

Jean Lafitte NHP

Kistachie NF

Lake Ophelia NWR

Louisiana Black Bear NWR

Red River NWR

Southeast LA NWRs Tensas River NWR

Upper Ouachita NWR

Forest Legacy Program ($340,000)

Habitat Conservation, Sec. 6 ($500,000)

American Battlefield Protection Program ($450,000)

State Program, Total State Grants ($74,900,000)

Total: $219,100,000

To get a detailed look at LWCF investment in Louisiana since the 60s, see here: http://projects.invw.org/data/lwcf/grants-la.html

Now is the time to recommit this investment in conservation and restoration to begin the economic healing from the pandemic. Providing full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund will produce jobs for the unemployed, provide new parks and hiking trails for our health and well-being, and stimulate our local economies with new recreation opportunities for generations to come.

Anglers rely on recreation infrastructure to access Louisiana’s vast waterways. Here, Eric Cosby yanks a fine redfish from Louisiana waters.
Photo by Lew Carpenter

So when that big bruiser of a redfish crushes your lure, the sea trout stack up in your cooler, the call from offshore gifts you with a cow yellowfin tuna, or taking that brace of blue winged teal – after thanking the hunting and fishing gods, tip your hat to a quiet American program that supports communities in their ability to support you. It matters.

Click Here to Support Permanently Funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund >>

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Photo by Lew Carpenter

WASHINGTON, DC — New legislation aimed at updating one of the nation’s foundational hunting and angling programs will strengthen wildlife management and conservation across the United States. The National Wildlife Federation urged Congress to swiftly enact the Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act.

“Ensuring a future where wildlife thrive depends not only upon our ability to restore habitat and confront threats like invasive species and disease, but equally upon our ability to engage more and diverse participants in our outdoor heritage,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The National Wildlife Federation enthusiastically supports Representative Scott, Representative Veasey, Representative Duncan, and Representative Dingell’s bipartisan efforts to advance both of these critical conservation goals and urge swift passage of the Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act.”

The legislation, introduced by Congressman Austin Scott, Republican of Georgia, and colleagues, would support important programs to recruit, retain, and reactivate hunters by allowing Pittman-Robertson hunter education funds to be used for hunter outreach and recruitment programs as well.

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Washington, D.C. – May 1, 2015 –Leaders in the recreational fishing and boating community yesterday highlighted the

Lew Carpenter with 6.5-pound flounder. Access and habitat rely on re authorization of Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Lew Carpenter with 6.5-pound flounder. Access and habitat rely on re authorization of Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

progress in elevating the importance of saltwater recreational fishing in the nation’s primary law governing marine fisheries management. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources yesterday approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), H.R. 1335, to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), which addresses top priorities of the recreational fishing community.

These priorities were identified by the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, also known as the Morris-Deal Commission after co-chairs Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boats. In 2014, the Morris-Deal Commission released “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries,” which includes six key policy changes to produce the full range of saltwater recreational fishing’s social, economic and conservation benefits to the nation.

“The recreational fishing community owes a debt of gratitude to Chairman Rob Bishop and Congressman Don Young for incorporating meaningful changes to recreational fisheries management into the reauthorization of the nation’s marine fisheries law,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “The Morris-Deal Report set forth a vision for the future of saltwater recreational fishing, and this bill would help to achieve that vision.”

“The nation’s 11 million saltwater recreational anglers have a $70 billion economic impact annually and support 450,000 jobs,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. “However, federal marine fisheries management has never sufficiently acknowledged the importance of recreational fishing to the nation. H.R. 1335 would enact many of the necessary changes to elevate saltwater recreational fishing to the level it deserves.”

The recommendations of the Morris-Deal Commission include:

– Establishing a national policy for recreational fishing
– Adopting a revised approach to saltwater recreational fisheries management
– Allocating marine fisheries for the greatest benefit to the nation
– Creating reasonable latitude in stock rebuilding timelines
– Codifying a process for cooperative management
Managing for the forage base

“Management that emphasizes conservation and abundance, and allows for consistent access to public resources for saltwater anglers, was at the heart of the recommendations made by the Morris-Deal Commission,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Including those recommendations into legislation aimed at improving our nation’s fisheries management means Congress is recognizing the importance of angling to American culture and our economy.”

“The broad coalition of leading recreational fishing and boating organizations that has come together to support our community’s priorities should be pleased with this bill,” said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. “RFA is proud to have participated as part of this coalition.”

One of the recommendations of the Morris-Deal Commission was addressed by an amendment offered by Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) that would prompt a review of quota allocations in fisheries in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico with both a commercial and recreational component. Despite the tremendous importance that allocation decisions have in maximizing the benefits that our fisheries provide to the nation, federal fisheries managers have not revisited allocations – most of which were determined decades ago – primarily because of a lack of clear guidance on how decisions should be made and because these decisions are inherently difficult.

“Congressman Duncan’s amendment is a significant achievement for ensuring that the benefits of our nation’s fisheries are maximized,” said Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “For far too long, allocations have been rusted shut, and we applaud Congressman Duncan for his leadership on this critically important issue.”

A separate amendment offered by Congressman Garret Graves (R-La.) that would transfer management Gulf of Mexico red snapper to the five Gulf states failed to be included. However, there was widespread agreement expressed by committee members that Gulf red snapper management is broken and in need of significant changes.

“Rep. Graves is a great leader for sportsmen and women in the Gulf Coast,” said Angers. “He understands the challenges of sound resource management and is working to get anglers back on the water.”

“We hope that as MSA moves forward there will be additional opportunities to enact the Gulf states’ plan,” said Patrick Murray, president of the Coastal Conservation Association. “MSA’s reauthorization surely has a long road ahead, but H.R. 1335 provides the recreational fishing community with a very solid first step.”

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The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is the sportfishing industry’s trade association committed to representing the interests of the entire sportfishing community. We give the industry a unified voice, speaking out on behalf of sportfishing and boating industries, state and federal natural resource agencies, conservation organizations, angler advocacy groups and outdoor journalists when emerging laws and policies could significantly affect sportfishing business or sportfishing itself. ASA invests in long-term ventures to ensure the industry will remain strong and prosperous, as well as safeguard and promote the enduring social, economic and conservation values of sportfishing in America. ASA also gives America’s 60 million anglers a voice in policy decisions that affect their ability to sustainably fish on our nation’s waterways through KeepAmericaFishing™, our angler advocacy campaign. America’s anglers generate over $48 billion in retail sales with a $115 billion impact on the nation’s economy creating employment for more than 828,000 people.

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The National Wildlife Federation’s Sportsmen Initiative invites you to attend the 2014 Nebraska Fishing Trip. Your event fees will support NWF’s work with hunters and anglers to conserve fish and wildlife habitat and protect our sporting heritage.

Brian Bashore, NWF Board Director and professional walleye guide (thewalleyeguides.com) heads up this great event.

Brian Bashore, NWF Board Director and professional walleye guide (thewalleyeguides.com) heads up this great event.

Experience:
Fishing – 2 full days of Nebraska’s finest walleye and trout fishing
Golfing – on what might be the world’s most undisturbed golf course
Learn about NWF’s sportsmen programs and the Nebraska Wildlife Federation
Meet NWF’s new CEO/President, Collin O’Mara          

What:   2014 Nebraska Fishing Trip

Where: The Prairie Club

When:  October 16 – October 19th

Time: Thursday, the 16th, starting at 5 pm Happy Hour. Sunday, check out

Please see the flyer and the response card for more information on how to register to attend. See you in the Sandhills!

http://www.nwf.org/Sportsmen/Events.aspx

 

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Group sends letter saying protecting wildlife and habitat will yield economic recovery for the Gulf

(New Orleans – May 22, 2013) Today, more than 350 hunting and fishing businesses and organizations sent a letter to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, asking that the Council prioritize restoration of the Gulf ecosystem in order to also achieve economic restoration in the region.

The Restoration Council is a multi-state, multi-agency group that has been tasked with developing a comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan for the Gulf. The Council is currently developing the plan, with a draft due for public comment this spring.

Vanishing Paradise drafted the letter, which illustrated that hunting and fishing are major economic drivers in the Gulf and are supported by habitat restoration and wildlife conservation. In 2011, in the five Gulf states alone, nearly 8.5 million hunters and anglers spent $15.7 billion on their outdoor pursuits. This spending supports more than 255,000 jobs and generates $3.3 billion in federal, state and local taxes.

The letter to the Restoration Council united thousands of sportsmen and women in their commitment to protect wildlife and habitat.

“If the wild spaces of the Gulf region aren’t protected and restored, sportsmen and women will lose the return on their long-standing investment, and the region will lose its rich hunting and angling heritage,” the letter stated. “A restored and productive Gulf ecosystem is essential for both regional and national economic recovery and growth. Every dollar spent on ecosystem restoration helps the recovery of the Gulf’s natural resource-based economy.”

“The Gulf Coast is a national treasure that is near and dear to the hearts of sportsmen and women across the country,” Ben Weber, national sportsman’s coordinator for National Wildlife Federation said. “Millions of Americans enjoy the productive Gulf landscape for its fisheries and waterfowl hunting every year, but without substantial investments in projects that create, enhance or protect essential wildlife habitat, the world-class hunting and fishing opportunities that make the Gulf such a special place for the nation’s hunters and anglers will suffer, leading to the loss of billions of dollars in generated revenue for the Gulf states.”

For more information, please visit www.vanishingparadise.org.

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New report addresses recreational and commercial fishing apportionment

Alexandria, VA – January 30, 2013 – For many years, the sportfishing industry has called for a reexamination of the outdated and inequitable allocations of many marine fisheries that are limiting recreational fishing participation which has an economic impact on the coastal 20130130-112118.jpgcommunities it supports. The report released today by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) – “Marine Fishery Allocation Issues: Findings, Discussion, and Options” – summarizes how saltwater fisheries have historically been apportioned between recreational and commercial fishing and provides options on how to improve the allocation process.

“Allocation has been the 800 pound gorilla in the room during fisheries management discussions, however, we’re hopeful that this new report will help spark a renewed interest in revisiting these issues,” said American Sportfishing Association (ASA) President and CEO Mike Nussman. “Many biological and socioeconomic changes have taken place in saltwater fisheries, from rebuilding fish stocks to more people fishing in saltwater. We appreciate that NMFS has started the important process of revisiting current allocations, many of which are based on decades-old criteria.”

In fisheries with both a recreational and commercial component, fisheries managers are required to allocate a percentage of the harvestable fish to each sector in a manner that is “fair and equitable,” as described in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Many recreational anglers believe that these fixed percentages are highly subjective and favor the commercial sector. For example, despite studies that show the economic benefits of shifting a greater proportion of the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery to the recreational sector, approximately 300 commercial boats take 51 percent of the total harvest every year, while hundreds of thousands of recreational anglers are allocated the remaining 49 percent.

“Clearly the current piecemeal approach hasn’t worked and has left many anglers and industry members frustrated by the level of inaction,” said Nussman. “This report provides valuable insights and suggestions that NMFS and the Regional Fishery Management Councils should act upon, including the need for formalized guidance on issues to consider when making allocation decisions. This must be the next step, and NMFS must take the lead, working with Councils and stakeholders, to develop this guidance.”

Nussman concluded, “Allocation decisions are inherently difficult, but we can no longer allow that to be an excuse to keep outdated allocations in place. There are too many jobs at stake to continue down the path of inaction.”

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