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Entries in Congress (51)

Friday
Apr222016

Action Needed to Save Everglades, Florida's Coastal Fisheries

If you follow news related to fishing, you know that an environmental disaster has unfolded this year in Florida. That's because we  altered the ecosystem in the southern part of the state decades ago to protect people living around Lake Okeechobee from flooding.

Much of the water that should be flowing south to nourish the Everglade and Florida bays is diverted to the east and west coasts. This year especially, those enormous slugs of contaminated freshwater have been catastrophic for coastal fisheries.

Congress and the state of Florida need to act--- and quickly--- by appropriating funds and redirecting much of that water toward the Everglades, both to revitalize that unique system and stop the coastal decimation.

Here's what the National Wildlife Federation has to say:

This year, the Corps has already flushed record amounts of water from Lake Okeechobee east through the St. Lucie and west through the Caloosahatchee to relieve the pressure on the dike. This sends billions of gallons of polluted freshwater into the St. Lucie Estuary, Indian River Lagoon, and the Caloosahatchee Estuary – estuaries critical for the health of our sportfish – while too little went south to the Everglades and Florida Bay.

The visibly dark, polluted discharges prompted Governor Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in several counties, but the damage was already done. It’s a disaster for sea grasses and the delicate balance of salt and freshwater so vital to estuarine life. A disaster for those who make their living relying on the health of these ecosystems.

Congress and the Florida legislature need to spend the money needed to change the plumbing diagram and send the water south, in the measured amounts on a proper schedule, and in the right condition: clean. That means implementing CERP (Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan).

Not spending the money now will cost us all and it will potentially wreck an economy that depends on us to want to fish there. The experts have drawn the diagram of the pipes. It’s time for our political leaders in Washington and Tallahassee to pay the plumber.

Last month, Florida legislators took a step in the right direction by approving the Legacy Florida Act (HB 989/SB 1168), a bill requiring the state to set aside up to $200 million each year for Everglades restoration projects that implement CERP, and $50 million to fund springs restoration. The money comes from Florida’s Amendment 1, which dedicates resources to buy, restore, and manage conservation and recreation lands in Florida. The funding stream set up by Legacy Florida, specifically intended to carry out projects outlined in CERP, will help protect America’s Everglades and the fish, wildlife, and people who depend on it.

Go here to learn more and to sign a letter on behalf of your business or organization, asking Congress to restore the Everglades.

Tuesday
Apr052016

War on Bass Is Spreading

If you fish for bass outside the Midwest and Southeast, chances are that you are catching "non-native" fish.

"So what?" you ask. I'll tell you.

In the wake of the state of Washington joining Oregon to remove limits on bass on the Columbia River, Congress has just painted a big, red bull's eye on North America's most popular game fish outside its native range. Since it has established populations in 49 states, that covers a broad area--- including Texas.

Following a hearing entitled “The Costly Impacts of Predation and Conflicting Federal Statutes on Native and Endangered Fish Species" in Washington, D.C., you can bet  that environmental groups across the country also will look to portray non-native fish in general, and black bass specifically, as Public Enemy No. 1 in issues related to protection of native aquatic species. It's the old "monkey see, monkey do" corollary.

To put it mildly, B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland was irate in the aftermath, pointing out that those chosen to testify clearly favored "the native species crowd."

An "expert" who received the most speaking time said,  "Bass species are good for the sole purpose of sportfishing and this isn't a good reason to keep them around," according to Melanie Sturm of the American Sportfishing Association.

Additionally, Will Stelle from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration (NOAA)  proved be a "strong proponent that predators (sea lions and birds, along with non-native fish) are a huge problem," Sturm said. She added that Stelle argued "control programs should swiftly be implemented and NOAA welcomes legislation to do that."

And here's the exclamation point: "A lobbyist for ASA talked to Pelosi (House Minority Leader Nancy) face-to-face and she told him these non-native fish have got to go . . . Period," Gilliland said.

In the real world, meanwhile, the black bass'  only crime is its adaptability. But its high profile makes it a convenient scapegoat for opportunistic politicians catering to frustrated native fish advocates and a multitude of other interests who demand that something--- anything--- be done to stop the demise of native species and/or deal with complicated water management issues.

For years, Ground Zero for this issue has been the West Coast. But the groundwork was laid decades before, when the needs of salmon were given little consideration as more and more water was diverted from the California Delta to irrigate farm fields and supply cities and as the Columbia and other Northwest rivers were dammed for hydropower and irrigation.

Additionally, bass and other warmwater species were stocked by both the states and federal government, and, as they thrived, salmon declined. Today, an argument actually could be made that salmon  are the non-natives in these highly altered systems, which more closely resemble the warm waters and lake environments where bass evolved.

Do bass prey on young salmon? Yes, they do, but the numbers are insignificant in the "big picture" of declining salmon stocks. Study after study shows it. And they do so only because altered ecosystems facilitate the predation.

"I suppose the numbers can say whatever you want them to say if you put on your 'bias pants' when you go to work," said Lonnie Johnson, conservation director for the Oregon B.A.S.S. Nation. "Is there predation. Yes. Is it significant? Highly questionable."

Those in Congress who now want to wage war against bass in a futile attempt to bring back salmon would be well advised to acquaint themselves with Peter Moyle, a professor in the University of California- Davis’s Wildlife Fish and Conservation Biology Department and an honest broker on this issue.

"The historic Delta ecosystem cannot be restored," he said. "The Delta of today bears almost no resemblance to the Delta of 100 years ago. . .  Only three percent of the historical wetland acreage exists today. About the only familiar features would be the main sloughs and river channels, and even they have high levees on both sides."

Although specific alterations are different, the same is true for the Columbia and other rivers of the Northwest.

Preserving native species requires intensive management of human-dominated ecosystems  that contain a mixture of native and non-native species, Moyle added. "We humans decide by our actions which of these species are desirable and worth preserving often without making a conscious choice.qqq"

That's exactly what happened during the early 20th century, when governments and developers decided irrigation, water supply, and hydropower were more important than healthy salmon runs.

But that won't stop the bass blame-game by native fish and environmental groups and the politicians who are all too eager to curry their favor.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Saturday
Feb272016

Republicans Support and Democrats Oppose Sportmen's Act

The House of Representatives passed the Sportmen's Act yesterday, legislation that recognizes the importance of fishing and hunting to our nation. It passed 242-161. Curious as to who voted against it, and with no idea of what I would find, I went here.

This is what I discovered:

230 Republicans voted for it, and just 4 against it. On the other hand, just 12 Democrats supported it and 157 voted against.

If you hunt and fish, you be the judge as to who you should vote for in November.

Here's a summary of the bill.
*****
Also, if you fish and hunt, encourage your Senators to support the legislation.

Here's what Keep America Fishing says:

“Given all that is going on in the world of politics, for our nation’s sporting traditions to receive full consideration by the House of Representatives demonstrates that our Congressional leaders recognize the importance of recreational fishing and hunting to the nation.”

Monday
Feb222016

EPA Violated Federal Law With Propaganda Campaign for Clean Water Act

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) engaged in "propaganda" and violated federal law by using social media to urge people and influence Congress to support rules to strengthen the federal Clean Water Act, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma said that he is not surprised, long suspecting "that EPA will go to extreme lengths and even violate the law to promote its activist environmental agenda."

EPA used Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and an innovative new tool, Thunderclap, to counter opposition to the rules that critics argued would be too broad and enable government overreach onto private properties.

Federal agencies are allowed to promote policies, but aren't allowed to engage in propaganda, which is defined as covert activity intended to influence the public. They also are not allow to use federal resources to conduct grassroots lobbying, which is defined as urging the public to contact Congress to take a certain kind of action on proposed legislation.

GAO concluded that EPA did both. "The critical element of covert propaganda is the agency's concealment from the target audience of its role in creating the material," the watchdog agency said in its 26-page ruling.

Environmental groups argue that new rules are needed because court decisions have weakened protections. Bob Wendelgass of Clean Water Action said the proposed rules are "taking the way the Clean Water Act works back, so that it works the way water works in the real world."

As proposed, they would extend to streams regardless of size or how frequently they flow, as well as to ditches, gullies, and almost any low spot where moisture collects on a seasonal basis.

Opponents insist that current provisions are strong enough to protect public waters and the new rules would infringe on private property rights.

"The EPA's draft water rule is a massive power grab of private property across the U.S.," said U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas. "This could be the largest expansion of EPA regulatory authority ever."

Implementation of the new rules already had been blocked by a federal court, after they were challenged by 18 states. Additionally, the Republican-led House of Representatives hopes to use Congress to stop them permanently.         

Thursday
Jan282016

Gulf States Should Manage Gulf Red Snapper Fishery

Under this administration, recreational fishing for red snapper in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico has been diminished to a fraction of what it once was, as the feds have turned over more and more of it to a few commercial operations.

It's time for a change. The Gulf states have better data regarding the health of the fishery and are for more likely to manage based on science than politics. That's why HR 3094, the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act, needs to be passed by Congress. Here's what its sponsor, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, has to say:   

As Ben Raines’ weekend article in the Times Picayune and AL.com illuminated, the federal government has hand-picked dozens of multi-millionaire “Sea Lords” by allowing them to control the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. While these select few “Sea Lords” are making millions from our fish, the season for recreational anglers – who used to be able to fish for red snapper all year long – has been absurdly diminished. In 2015, the recreational red snapper season was 10 days.

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As it stands today, the right to catch 77 percent of the annual red snapper harvest is controlled by just 55 people, according to an AL.com analysis of hundreds of pages of federal documents, reports and websites--- AL.com

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The agency charged with managing our national fishery, the National Marine Fisheries Service, conducted a study on the health of red snapper fish stocks in the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll be shocked to learn that federal government’s methodology and results were grossly inadequate.

Their analysis failed to include reef areas – the actual habitat of red snapper, a reef fish. Think about that. It’s like looking for polar bears in Louisiana, finding none, and declaring the population to be at risk of extinction.

Let me be clear, the sustainability of our fisheries is paramount. It is critical that we employ the best science to responsibly manage them and to support their long-term viability.  It’s no secret that Louisiana is home to some of the nation's top restaurants that rely on the supply of fresh, wild seafood to meet demand. Some argue that expanding recreational access would lead to overfishing and threaten commercial interests.

This mentality has bred the current system of a government sanctioned oligarchy that monopolizes a public resource. And it has punished tens of thousands of families across the Gulf Coast that enjoy fishing in Sportsman’s Paradise. Luckily, there is another way.

In July of last year, I introduced HR 3094, the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill simply gives the five Gulf states’ wildlife departments the authority to manage the red snapper that live offshore their coast. This approach favors local control and would transfer management decisions to the professionals who are closest to the fishery.

In Louisiana for example, our Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has demonstrated a commitment to using the best science to sustainably manage our fisheries through efforts like the agency's LA Creel program, which helps to provide an accurate count of red snapper fish stocks in our coastal waters. Today, HR 3094 has nearly 30 bipartisan sponsors from across the nation.

The fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico are public property and should be enjoyed by all - not managed like a long-abandoned "sharecropper" model that enriches a select few.  Sometimes all it takes is a little sunshine on bad policy to fix things.  To quote Herbert Hoover, “all men are equal before fish.”  Let's enact HR 3094 so we can ALL enjoy the Gulf's bounty.