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Entries in Congress (54)


Report Released to Improve Recreational Access for Saltwater Fisheries

Fishing conservation organizations and trade associations recently released recommendations that they hope the incoming Administration and Congress will follow to improve access to saltwater recreational fishing, create economic growth, and enhance the conservation of marine fish stocks.

"While our highly successful model of inland recreational fisheries management is often envied by countries around the world, in many cases federal management of our marine recreational fisheries continues to struggle in meeting the needs of the angling public," said Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation.

 "The Vision document provides recommendations that will bring federal fisheries management into the 21st Century, enhancing both the conservation and economic contributions of America's anglers."

A Vision for Marine Fisheries Management in the 21st Century: Priorities for a New Administration recommends a shift away from using the same tools to manage commercial fishing and recreational fishing at the federal level. New approaches should reflect the reality of demand for recreational access to our marine fishery resources, the current economic activity associated with that access, and the scientific data of the light footprint recreational access has on our fishery resources.

 “While progress has been made in recent years to improve saltwater recreational fisheries management, many important opportunities and challenges remain,” said ASA President and CEO Mike Nussman.

 “We look forward to working with the next Administration to fully develop our outdoor economy including embracing the important role that saltwater recreational fishing plays in creating jobs and promoting sustainable enjoyment of our nation’s fisheries resources.”
The report points out antiquated federal policies that have inhibited a vital source of economic growth and a proud American tradition.  It highlights the economic value of recreational fishing in coastal waters. Today, 11 million American anglers fish for recreation in saltwater. From license sales to retail sales, the recreational saltwater fishing industry contributes more than $70 billion annually in economic activity and generates 455,000 jobs.

However, outdated federal management policies threaten to stem this positive economic trend.
“Fishing is a treasured pastime and tradition for millions of Americans and needs to be treated as such,” said Jeff Anglers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation.

“The new Administration and Congress should take steps to keep this tradition alive – for the benefit of all those who enjoy fishing, for the hundreds of thousands employed in the recreational fishing industry, and for future generations of anglers who will fall in love with the sea.”


House Approves Financial Help for Florida's Water Pollution Crisis

Legislation was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives this week that could help alleviate the environmental crisis plaguing Florida's coastal waters, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades, and, by extension, Florida Bay.

In passing the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), the House by an overwhelming 399-25 vote included $1.9 billion in critical funding for the Central Everglades Planning Project, as well as authorization for waterway access improvements and the use of natural infrastructure wherever possible.

In a nutshell, coastal waters on both sides of the state have been damaged by nutrient-rich waters discharged out of Okeechobee, which feed massive blue-green algal blooms. Before man's interference, high water at the Big O flowed naturally south in the Everglades, where it was filtered, even as it sustained life there. From there, it provided vital fresh water to Florida Bay.

But levees were built to prevent flooding around the lake and allow for development south of it. And that required discharging the water east and west.

“The sportfishing industry recognizes that it is vital for the Florida Everglades to receive funding as soon as possible to expedite the implementation of multi-year projects that will help fix the water quality and water management challenges that plague south Florida,” said American Sportfishing Association Government Affairs Vice President Scott Gudes. “These projects have been through an extensive review process and will provide significant environmental benefits by moving more water south from Lake Okeechobee. We encourage Congress to conference quickly on a final bill so that appropriations and construction can begin as soon as possible.”  Gary Jennings, Keep Florida Fishing manager, added, “These projects will bring much-needed relief to our state’s estuary systems.

"Florida is the Fishing Capital of the World, and we thank lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate for recognizing the urgent need for measures that will have a major positive impact on fisheries conservation, ecosystem restoration and water quality.”

In a joint statement, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) expressed confidence that reconciling the differing versions of WRDA reauthorization in conference will be relatively easy.

"The strong, bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives is a clear sign that we can reconcile the House and Senate bills swiftly and smoothly," they said.


New Campaign Launched to Increase Angler Participation

A new national campaign aims to increase the number of anglers in this country from 46 million in 60 million in 60 months (by 2021).

Dubbed "60-in-60," the project is being jointly sponsored by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). Additionally, it is supported by the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation (CSF) as well as members of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus.

"Because of the current angler demographic between ages 52 and 70, we risk declining participation rates in the next decade," said CSF President Jeff Crane.

"In order to effectively recruit enough anglers to sustain the industry's economic impact in the country, as well as the significant contribution anglers and boaters make to conservation, we need a new approach to get people reconnected with one of the nation's most enduring pastimes - fishing."

The Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, a program first established by Congress in 1950, generates revenue for state natural resource agencies through excise taxes paid by anglers and boaters on fishing tackle, marine electronics and motorboat fuels. Currently, the fund distributes $600 million annually to all 50 states for fisheries management, habitat improvement projects, boating access, and aquatic education.

"Boating and fishing are two of the most popular activities in America, and our industries have a significant economic impact throughout the country," said NMMA President Thom Dammrich.

"'60-in-60' is about recruitment, retention and reactivation. It's about partnerships between the industry, state governments, and anglers to focus on what we can do better to grow the sport and improve the fishing experience."

"This new initiative is focused on what the sportfishing community needs to do to be more customer-focused and develop the next generation of anglers," added ASA Vice President Scott Gudes.


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.


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.)