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Entries in Lacey Act (5)

Tuesday
Feb182014

Exotics Take a Bite Out of Wetlands

Nutria photo from Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website.

Most anglers know that Asian carp are harming this nation’s fisheries, from the Upper Midwest down to the Gulf Coast and eastward through the Ohio River watershed.

What many do not realize, however, is that other exotics also are doing severe damage. They don’t receive as much publicity because their range is more limited.

But in Louisiana, the nutria, a large rodent, is devouring the wetlands, destroying spawning and nursery habitat for a multitude of important sport fisheries. In fact, the state estimates that damage at any given time is about 46,000 acres, as about 5 million of the web-footed animals with large, orange teeth feed on the roots and stalks of aquatic plants.

Additionally, the giant apple snail also is taking a giant bite out of the wetlands. They’ve been banned from the state since 2012, but that was too late to keep them from becoming a destructive force, courtesy of irresponsible hobbyists who dumped their aquariums into waterways.

“They eat a ton of plant material, anything they can get their tiny little mouths on,” said Michael Massimi of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program. “You are converting a water body from one dominated by plants to one dominated by algae.”

Asian carp, tiger prawns, water hyacinth, and giant salvinia also are among the exotic species doing damage to Louisiana’s coastal system.

Some limited good news is that the state’s nutria control plan, implemented in 2002, has lessened the impact of these furbearers, which were imported during the 1930s and promoted as a way to combat water hyacinth and other invasive plants during the 1940s.

Giant apple snails also are gobbling up wetlands.

Still the cumulative effect of these invaders is significant for an ecosystem already under siege. First came decades of habitat degradation and mismanagement, most of it originating from development and water diversions. These actions accelerated erosion and saltwater intrusion, which are crumbling away the equivalent of a football field every hour.

Then came the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its aftermath, which added to the peril of an ecosystem that is critical for sustaining the food web of the Gulf of Mexico.

Fortunately, the spill also provided impetus for passage of the RESTORE Act, which provides a rare opportunity to restore and enhance the Delta and its wetlands. Guiding that restoration is a multi-state, multi-agency group known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

And a coalition known as Vanishing Paradise is working to make sure that Council members remember the importance of habitat restoration, which can drive and support economic recovery.

“The people, business, communities, and economy of this region are undeniably reliant upon a healthy and productive Gulf, and ecosystem restoration should be the top priority,” said spokesman Ben Weber.

Sadly, passing legislation and creating coalitions will do little to counter the damage already being done by established exotic species, including the nutria and giant apple snail.

But something could be done to lessen the likelihood of future harmful invasions in Louisiana’s marshes and wetlands, as well as other waterways nationwide. Congress needs to strengthen the Lacey Act, which prohibits the import and trade of harmful species.

Here is how bad the problem is: Since the act’s implementation more than a century ago, only about 40 animal groups have been prohibited, and that usually occurred long after they were imported, escaped into the wild, and started doing damage.

By modernizing the Lacey Act, Congress could empower the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to first assess the potential risks associated with a species proposed for import before deciding whether to allow or prohibit its trade in the United States. The ineffectiveness of the current law is easily evidenced by Burmese pythons in the Everglades, Asian carp threatening the Great Lakes, and giant apple snails joining nutria in gobbling up Louisiana’s wetlands.

Monday
Oct212013

As Mussel Threat Moves West, Feds Sit Back and Watch

The federal government is doing a pitiful job of protecting our waters from invasions by exotic species. And I’m not talking about its reluctance to remove the manmade connection between the Mississippi River basin and Lake Michigan. Yeah, that’s a problem, but its failure is more all-encompassing.

During the 1980s, Asian carp escaped aquaculture facilities in the South, riding into the Mississippi and other rivers on flood waters. Within a decade, we knew that bighead and silver carp were crowding out native species, with the latter also a serious threat to recreational boaters because of its tendency to go airborne when frightened.

Yet, incredibly, the silver carp was not listed as an injurious species under the federal Lacey Act until 2007 and the bighead carp until 2011.

With the zebra mussel, the feds were a little more prompt. After it was discovered in Lake St. Clair in 1988, it was listed in 1991.

But the quagga, identified as a separate species about that same time, still is not.

What’s the big deal?  Well, invasive species don’t respect boundaries, and, under the Lacey Act, those who transport injurious species across state lines can be both fined and jailed for misdemeanors or felonies. Felony trafficking violations are punishable by a maximum of fine of $20,000, five years in prison, or both, and property used to aid the offense may be subject to forfeiture.

Had the weight of that law been hanging over his head, whoever carried quagga mussels across the Rockies in 2007 might have been a little more conscientious about cleaning his boat and trailer before beginning the journey to Lake Mead.

And if listing of both species had been combined with a more aggressive publicity and enforcement campaign by the feds, the two invaders might not now be threatening waters all over the West.

Already in the East, they’ve crowded out native species, disrupted food webs, fouled recreational beaches, and cost taxpayers billions of dollars in maintenance costs because of their tendency to clog water intake and delivery pipes and infest hydropower infrastructures.

“The little critters are a serious threat to the United States,” said Larry Dalton, recently retired invasive species coordinator for Utah, where mussels already have forced $15 million in repairs to water-delivery systems.

In a 2010 report, the Western Regional Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species (WRP) estimated that zebra mussels already had been responsible for $94,474,000 in direct and indirect costs for Idaho.

And the Pew Charitable Trusts warned, “Their rapid spread threatens water supplies and energy systems in the West, a region heavily dependent upon hydropower and often gripped by drought. In response, state officials have stepped up boat inspections and cleaning efforts . . .”

Right now, western states are trying to protect their waters from quaggas with a patchwork of rules and regulations. But anecdotal evidence suggests the piecemeal strategy isn’t effective, especially as a deterrent.

For example, a trucker was stopped last fall as he entered Washington State, towing a boat that with about 100 zebra mussels attached. The offender had been caught doing the same thing in 2010. And during questioning, he said that he also had been detained in another state with a contaminated boat.

So why isn’t the quagga mussel listed under the Lacey Act? You’ll have to ask the bureaucrats at the U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) about that and why Pew estimates the agency could take as long as 10 years to take action.

“It basically takes an act of God to put something on the injurious wildlife list,” said Leah Elwell, WRP coordinator.

Or an act of Congress. That’s why Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada is sponsoring H.R. 1823, the Protecting Lakes from Quaggas Act of 2013.

And that’s why the Western Governors’ Association is supporting it.

“This (the act) would invest federal and state authorities with an important tool for containing and eradicating quagga mussels by providing for increased inspections of boats cross state lines,” they said.

The act makes sense, of course, and thus should pass with bipartisan support. But that doesn’t mean it will.

Nor would its passage ensure that federal officials would vigorously prosecute offenders.

If past performance is an indication of future actions, the feds will continue to sit back and watch as quagga and zebra mussels spread throughout the West, as they have in the East. 

Tuesday
May142013

Izaak Walton League Was Champion for Recreational Fishing

Many in the industry recognize that B.A.S.S. played a pivotal role in the growth of recreational fishing as an economic powerhouse. But what most do not know is the important part played by the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) nearly 90 years ago.

If not for IWLA’s successful crusade to protect black bass from commercial harvest, it’s conceivable that largemouth and smallmouth populations would have been so depleted by the late 1960s that B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott would have stayed in the insurance business instead of founding his conservation and tournament fishing organization.

“That was an issue vitally important to our organization and sport fishing in general,” said Scott Kovarovics, executive director of one of the nation’s oldest conservation organizations. “It ranks very, very highly in our list of accomplishments because it goes to the roots of our organization supporting conservation and outdoor recreation.

“We wanted to protect a resource that was under threat and being rapidly depleted.”

Meeting in Chicago in 1922, sportsmen concerned about  the nation’s waters and wild places decided to form “a federation of fishing clubs” and name it after Izaak Walton, a 17th century fisherman/conservationist who wrote The Compleat Angler. Almost immediately, the goal became to protect outdoor America, as concern focused on how commercial harvest was depleting black bass populations.

By the late 19th century, market hunting had pushed some wildlife species to the brink of extinction. State laws couldn’t prevent overharvest because wildlife simply could be acquired in one state and shipped to another. Passage of the federal Lacey Act in 1900 stopped that trade, but it did nothing to protect fish.

Sounding the alarm, IWLA’s Outdoor America Magazine said this in its February 1926 issue:

“Scientists state that the yearly toll of black bass in this country is so great compared with the yearly hatch that this greatest of American game fishes is certain to become extinct within 10 years unless extraordinary efforts are made to protect it.”

In response to this threat, IWLA worked with Rep. Harry Hawes of Missouri to introduce into Congress the Black Bass Act of 1926, which was the fish equivalent of the Lacey Act. Speaking on behalf of the bill in the Senate, James Watson of Indiana said, “The bass is undoubtedly the great American game fish and the favorite of millions of the rank and file of American anglers. It is found all American fresh waters, ponds, lakes, and streams.”

And in its July 1926 issue of Outdoor America, the organization proudly proclaimed, “Great Waltonian measure becomes a law May 20.” In concluding an article about the historic event, E.H.R. said, “This measure is perhaps the greatest ever passed in the interest of game fish.”

The Black Bass Act was expanded in 1947 to include all game fish and in 1952 to apply to all fish. In 1982, it was repealed, with its provisions incorporated into the Lacey Act, which protects fish, birds, and wildlife.

Sadly, today it might not be enough to protect bass populations in New York and its surrounding states. Despite fierce opposition from angling advocates, that state recently approved sale of hatchery-raised bass in restaurants and markets, with no requirement that those fish be marked to confirm their origin.

“It’s rather disheartening to see the state’s absolute unwillingness to impose a regulation that would have required individualized tagging (serial numbers),” said Mike Cusano, former president of the New York B.A.S.S. Nation (NYBN) and chairman of the Onondaga County Fisheries Advisory Board.

“This regulation is going to impact bass populations across the state as market owners realize that wild-caught black bass are a much cheaper alternative than the hatchery-raised fish,” he continued.

Yes, the regulation stipulates that the fish must be hatchery-raised, but the words of Seth Gordon, the first conservation director for IWLA, serve as a chilling reminder of what once was and what could again be when we don’t learn from history.

 “So long as there is a legal market anywhere, you may bank on it that thousands of pounds of illegally caught bass will be sold,” he said during the campaign on behalf of the Black Bass Act.

 IWLA Today

 With the majority of IWLA’s membership from the Middle Atlantic through the Ohio Valley and into the Upper Midwest, sale of hatchery-raised bass in New York isn’t an issue that the organization is involved in.

“But our members everywhere practice common sense conservation,” Kovarovics emphasized. “They want to enjoy the outdoors while preserving the resource for the future.”

On the national front, strengthening the federal Clean Water Act is one of the IWLA’s top priorities.

“New EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) numbers are just out that show 55 percent of our rivers and streams are in poor condition,” he said. “And even though that‘s the latest, it’s based on random samples from 2008 and 2009. We don’t have quality information about how bad it is right now.”

IWLA also promotes healthy, sustainable agriculture and clean energy and air, as well as focuses on introducing children to the outdoors through fishing and other activities.

On the agricultural front, IWLA is concerned because market policy (high prices) is pushing more and more acreage into crops, Kovarovics said.  That translates into less land for wildlife and as buffer strips to protect water from agricultural runoff pollution. “We support voluntary conservation programs and cooperative compliance, but, unfortunately, that’s beginning to erode,” he said.

Additionally, IWLA pushes for restoration of large ecosystems, the executive director added, pointing specifically to improving water quality and fish habitat in the Upper Mississippi and Upper Missouri Rivers.

“The goal (in the Upper Missouri) is to bring back the endangered pallid sturgeon, the least tern, and the piping plover,” he said. “But when you improve habitat for them, you provide a multitude of benefits for other species.”

The organization’s 41,500 members, meanwhile, belong to 250 chapters, which sponsor conservation work and youth activities in their local communities. They monitor water quality and restore habitat, as well as organize cleanups. They provide hunter safety training for children.

“We connect kids to fishing through spring and summer events that were developed organically by the chapters over the years,” Kovarovics said. “And at the same time the kids are fishing, they are learning about habitat conservation. We mix fun with a bit of education.”

In its chapter manual, the organization provides members a variety of ways to get children and families outdoors, including the following:  hunter education, family day outings, scouting, national hunting and fishing day, wildlife habitat improvement, youth fishing events, youth hunting events, and youth conservation camp/outdoor classroom.

Also, IWLA keeps its members informed and involved through e-mail blasts, monthly newsletters, and, of course, its quarterly magazine, Outdoor America, which led the charge to protect America’s No. 1 sport fish, the black bass, nearly 90 years ago.

“The lakes, rivers, and streams where these fish are found are public property, open to the rich and poor alike,” IWLA said in the February 1926 issue, as urged its members to support the Black Bass Act. “Fishing is the least expensive of all sports. It gives the youngest boy his first contact with nature, his first feeling of mastery . . .

“This is not a sportsman’s bill. It is for the rich and poor alike. It is to preserve for those that come after us the things we have enjoyed.”

(This article appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer .)

Friday
Mar042011

Here Is Why We Have a Problem With Carp and Other Invasive Species

Asian carp were allowed into this country courtesy of a law passed in 1900 --- the Lacey Act --- and unchanged since.

During the 111 years since the Lacey Act was adopted, only about 40 animal groups have been prohibited under this legislation, and usually long after the animals have been imported, escaped into the wild, and are causing harm, according to this article.

How bad is it? Well, with Asian carp causing problems for more than a decade and now knocking on the door of the Great Lakes, the silver wasn't banned from import until 2007 and the bighead in 2010.

 By modernizing the Lacey Act, the U.S. Congress can empower the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to first assess the potential risks associated with a species proposed for import before deciding whether to allow or prohibit its trade into the United States.

"Stopping Asian carp should have happened before the first shipment. This incredible threat, this incredible expense, was avoidable," said Jennifer Nalbone, director of Navigation and Invasive Species for Great Lakes United.  "It's time for the antiquated Lacey Act to be modernized so that we never have to fight off another invasion like this again."

Burmese pythons, snakeheads, lionfish, and nutria are a few of the other troublesome species that have entered as a result of poor regulation, according to National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species.

Monday
Dec202010

It's not a Carp Problem; It's a Government Problem

 

President Obama has just signed into law a ban on the importation of bighead carp into the United States. Isn't that nice?

When Congress passed the bill in late November, Tom Strickland, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, said this: 

  “Along with other invasive Asian carp species, the bighead carp poses an immediate and significant threat to the nation’s freshwater fisheries, especially the Great Lakes. While normally we would list an injurious species under administrative rulemaking, the urgency of the situation called for swift action by Congress so that we can prevent this voracious fish from spreading to new areas and overwhelming recreational and commercial fisheries by effectively starving native fish.”

And, under the Lacey Act, silver carp were likewise banned in 2007.

The problem is that both species have been firmly entrenched in U.S. waters since the 1980s. And by the late 1990s, they were crowding out native species throughout the Mississippi River drainage. 

Today, they've either moved into the Great Lakes, or are about to. If they don't destroy the billion-dollar sport fishery there, it won't be because of any meaningful action by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the rest of the federal government, electric barrier notwithstanding. It will be because  Asian carp did not find the Great Lakes to their liking.

As with so much many other "actions" the government takes on our behalf, this ban on bighead carp is more about appearance than it is reality. The same goes for the appointment of a "carp czar" by the President.

Along with all of the other invasive carp species --- silver, grass, common, and black --- bighead are here to stay. They will crowd our waters, they will out-compete native fishes for food, and they will alter our ecosystems in ways that, right now, we can't even imagine.