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Entries in Vanishing Paradise (19)

Monday
Jul062015

BP to Pay $18.7 Billion for Gulf Oil Spill

BP will pay $18.7 billion in penalties and damages for its role in the largest oil spill in U.S. history, which polluted the Gulf of Mexico five years ago.

“Today‘s settlement moves the wildlife and habitat of the Gulf Coast forward on the road to recovery. It’s time to look ahead to the future and work toward getting real, on-the-ground restoration projects done," said Steve Bender, director of Vanishing Paradise, a coalition of more than 800 sportsman and outdoors groups, organizations and businesses working on Gulf Coast and Mississippi river Delta restoration.

“Because Congress passed the RESTORE Act in 2012, 80 percent of the money BP pays as a result of the Clean Water Act penalty will be returned to the Gulf Coast for much needed restoration and to improve the region’s long-term resiliency. Repairing the ongoing damage from the oil spill is also of utmost importance going forward, and the settlement dollars BP pays through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment will help the areas devastated by the spill – including habitat that supports world-class hunting and fishing."

The Gulf Coast region is an ecological and economic driver for the entire nation, and sportsmen and women care about ensuring this national treasure is restored for future generations to enjoy. With as many as 14 million waterfowl migrating to the Gulf’s warm shores annually, and salt and freshwater fishing unlike anywhere else on the planet, we must make sure this entire region – including the endangered Mississippi River Delta – is on the path forward to long-term health and recovery. We look forward to working with federal and state officials and the RESTORE Council to make sure every dime of oil disaster money goes to meaningful, comprehensive restoration.”

Background

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, ongoing findings deliver truths omitted by BP’s ads: the oil disaster’s negative effects are increasingly clear, present and far from resolved.

A recent infographic depicts ongoing impacts of the Gulf oil disaster five years later. And over the past year alone, new scientific research has surfaced:

A 2014 study found evidence of a 1,250-square-mile area of oil contamination on the ocean floor around the Macondo wellhead in deep Gulf sediments.

A previous NOAA study found a large number of dead dolphins in heavily oiled places, including Barataria Bay, La.

Recent studies estimate 1,000,000 birds died as a result of being exposed to BP oil.

Modeling for a recent stock assessment projected that between 20,000 and 60,000 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles died in 2010 as a result of the spill.

A 2014 study found concentrations of PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) – which can cause harmful effects in many birds, fish and wildlife – in Barataria and Terrebonne marshes, which may persist for decades.

A 2012 study found that oiled marshes in Barataria Bay eroded at double the rate of non-oiled marshes.

A recent survey found that 70 percent of Americans believe BP should pay maximum fines under the Clean Water Act for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

VP has identified 19 projects from Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast that have the greatest potential to restore our coast. 

Monday
Jun292015

Why Bass Anglers Should Care about the Gulf of Mexico

In the June issue of B.A.S.S. Times, did you read my feature about restoration efforts for the Gulf of Mexico? If you didn’t, probably it was because you believe that what happens in the Gulf has little to do with bass fishing and bass fishermen.

Sadly, this “it’s not affecting my fishing so I’m not interested” is all too common among anglers on many issues related to the future of recreational fishing. Otherwise, with our numbers around 40 million, we’d be a far more formidable force than we are for protecting access and enhancing the nation’s fish and waterways.

Aside from that, bass fishing and the Gulf of Mexico are inextricably tied, from Tampa Bay in Florida to Galveston Bay in Texas. Ask anyone who has caught both largemouth and snook in Florida’s Crystal River or targeted bass, along with redfish, in the marshes around Venice, La. Or ask Mike McClelland, who focused on the Clear Creek area of Galveston Bay to finish second in an Elite Series event out of Orange, Texas, this past spring.

To reach his waters, McClelland ran 230 miles round trip, and thus was limited to fishing just 2 ½ hours each day.  “Two hours was the fastest I could make the run, and that was under perfect conditions,” he said.  “On Saturday, it took me two hours, 47 minutes to get there. It was just brutal.”

But worth it. McClelland checked in with 46 pounds, just 4 behind winner Chris Lane.

Clear Creek and other freshwater waterways that pour into Galveston Bay haven’t received nearly as much press for their bass fishing opportunities as those in coastal Florida and Louisiana. But they are there, pumping in vital fresh water and nutrients to feed the bay system.

“The Trinity and San Jacinto rivers are the two largest, but there are dozens of small and medium-size streams feeding the bay, and most of them hold freshwater fisheries,” said Shannon Tompkins, a veteran outdoors writer for the Houston Chronicle who has been fishing the area for more than 40 years. One of Tompkins’ favorites is the lower Trinity, which boasts the largest remaining cypress swamp in Texas, just a few miles upstream from where it enters Galveston Bay, as well as good fishing for bass, crappie, catfish, and other species.

Many of the tidal streams, he added, have been severely degraded over the years, as have other Gulf inshore waters, but still manage to be productive, although not to the level they once were or might be again.“Maintaining, enhancing, and restoring those waterways is crucial to the health of the bay system, as well as important to provide recreation, including freshwater fishing,” Tompkins said. Restoration efforts include projects aimed at improving and/or restoring freshwater systems throughout the Gulf.

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Bass Anglers for Saltwater Conservation

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On a recent trip to Galveston, officials with the Galveston Bay Foundation and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) showed me how conservation projects are bringing back marshes and sea grasses to benefit the entire ecosystem, from invertebrates and sea birds to flounder and bass.

And five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, if bass anglers will join with their salt cousins to demand that RESTORE Act of 2012 funds be spent on coastal restoration, all will benefit.  “The restoration of the Gulf environment is key to the longevity of recreational fishing in the region,” said Amanda Fuller, deputy director of NWF’s Gulf of Mexico Restoration Program.

The RESTORE Act mandates that 80 percent of Clean Water Act civil and administrative penalties paid by BP and other companies responsible for the spill go to the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund. That means each of the five coastal states will receive hundreds of millions of dollars for restoration projects. But Fuller and others worry that states might be tempted to use some of that money for projects that are more about job creation and infrastructure than about habitat restoration and improvement of water quality.

“That’s why it’s important for sportsmen to get involved,” she said, emphasizing that they should tell their governors to spend the money on restoring the Gulf environment.

And if that’s not enough to convince you that restoring and enhancing the Gulf of Mexico is in your best interests as an inland bass angler, consider this: If we don’t sustain the fisheries there, many of those salt anglers are going to start moving in on your waters.

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

Wednesday
Apr082015

Galveston Grass

Photo by Robert MontgomeryBeneficial marsh grasses like this will grow more plentiful as restoration projects enhance fish and wildlife habitat in Galveston Bay. With the Galveston Bay Foundation and Vanishing Paradise providing oversight and assistance, much of the work will be financed by the  RESTORE Act, using funds provided by BP to compensate for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill five years ago.

Wednesday
Apr082015

Restoring Galveston Bay

Activist Angler is down at Texas' Galveston Bay, looking at efforts to improve the wetlands, sea grasses, and oyster reefs.  Galveston Bay Foundation and Vanishing Paradise (VP), an initiative by the National Widlife Federation, are making certain lots of good work is being done with money from the RESTORE Act.

Following a tour of the projects, we found time to do a little fishing with Captain Chris Howard. Andy McDaniels, VP national sportsmen's outreach coordinator, is holding the redfish.

Wednesday
Dec172014

Vanishing Paradise Champions Gulf Coast Restoration

The Gulf Coast was imperiled even before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.  

That’s because erosion and saltwater intrusion are destroying wetlands and marshes in the Mississippi River Delta and have been for decades, mostly because of manmade alterations and degradations. In 2009, that realization prompted the National Wildlife Federation and Ducks Unlimited to unite to awaken Congress and the nation to the crisis through the Vanishing Paradise (VP) coalition.

As a result of that serendipitous timing, fish, waterfowl, sportsmen, and coastal communities have a champion in their corner today as BP pays billions for damage inflicted upon the Gulf. With more than 800 fishing and hunting businesses and organizations supporting its mission, VP wants that money used to restore and enhance those wetlands and marshes, as well as mitigate the environmental damage done by the oil spill all along the coast.

“We engaged heavily to get anglers and hunters to Washington, D.C. to talk to their legislators and help pass important legislation,” said Steve Bender, VP director. “And it worked. We delivered the RESTORE Act.”

A volunteer Advisory Council and Conservation Pro Staff deserve much of the credit not only for passage of the act but for promoting the campaign and educating the public about the coastal crisis, he added.

The 2011 RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act allocates a portion of the funds equally to the five Gulf Coast states for ecological and economic recovery, and establishes the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to develop and fund a plan for recovery. It also establishes an endowment that includes funding for fisheries stock assessments and ecosystem monitoring.

“Since then, we’ve been focusing on restoration,” Bender continued. “We’ve been asked to expand our scope (from the Delta) into the Gulf.

“Louisiana already had a master plan. And now that other states are receiving dollars, we are working on getting that money spent on coastal recovery and economic restoration. We have policy specialists in those states, and we’re going to expand angler and hunter outreach.”

Ground Zero for protection and restoration work, however, remains the Delta at the mouth of the Mississippi River on Louisiana’s coast. This vast wetlands area is critical as spawning and nursery grounds for fish and overwintering habitat for much of the nation’s waterfowl. And since the 1930s, an estimated 1,880 square miles of habitat has been lost.

“Given the importance of so many of south Louisiana’s natural assets --- its waterways, natural resources, and unique culture, and wetlands --- this land loss crisis is nothing short of a national emergency, one that takes a daily toll on the lives of coastal residents,” said the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which developed the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.

In Louisiana, what it all boils down to is trying to stop the destruction and implement a system that mimics, as much as possible,  the natural process interrupted by development --- a system that will restore wetlands and marshes for fish and wildlife, while providing protection for coastal communities from saltwater intrusion.

Why is this needed? The reasons are many, according to VP, but one of the most significant is that the Mississippi River “has been straitjacketed with huge levees as part of a national program to ‘control’ the river and protect communities and economic infrastructure from flooding.”

But wetlands were built and sustained by sediment delivered by the river, and cutting them off with levees stopped new growth, allowing for saltwater intrusion that kills them.

“Without land-building deposits from the river, the Delta is doomed to continue sinking beneath the water, endangering the people, wildlife, and jobs that depend on these healthy resources,” VP said.

According to the master plan, restoration and protection projects will focus on sediment diversion, marsh creation, bank stabilization, structural and shoreline protection, and hydrologic, barrier island, and ridge restoration. Unfortunately,  proposed diversions have generated opposition from some, who otherwise support the plan. That’s because sediment-carrying sediment, which will rebuild marshes, also will move saltwater species back toward the Gulf.

It’s easy to understand their point of view: They don’t want to surrender any of their fishing grounds, including those created by man’s interference with a natural system. But such a view is short-sighted, since the continued health of both freshwater and saltwater fisheries is dependent on freshwater and sediment. If saltwater continues to encroach, nearly all nursery habitat will be lost and redfish and trout will decline, along with bass and catfish.

“The problem in Louisiana is we’re addicted to salt because that salt brings tremendous benefits in fisheries,” explained Robert Twilley, a coastal scientist at Louisiana State University.

Every year, he cautioned, that artificial fishery moves closer to the river than nature ever intended.

Along the Mississippi at Buras, a stark contrast highlights the importance of using freshwater diversions, explained Ryan Lambert, a VP supporter and owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures. On the west side, which receives little to no freshwater, only open water and dead marsh grass remains. On the east side, where freshwater flows, the wetlands are alive and thriving.

In that area, he added, “bass fishermen and redfish fishermen go to the same place to catch fish. From Buras down to the mouth of the Mississippi is the best fishing in North America.

“You can’t just pump in sediment,” he said. “You have to have freshwater too (for sustained fisheries).”

Lambert pointed out that the Davis Pond Diversion, where Kevin VanDam won the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, is no longer a viable fishery because diversion flow has been reduced. “Saltwater has come in and killed the grass,” he said. “There are no bass, no brim, no crappie, no catfish, and no duck habitat. And it’s all because they want to grow oysters there.”

As work goes forward, Bender emphasized that the master plan is not just about diversion and VP wants to work with all stakeholders, including those who oppose that aspect. “We want to limit the impacts on folks who might be hurt,” he said. “We need to find a way to work together.

“But we also feel strongly that you have to let the river do what it does naturally.

“Gov. (Bobby) Jindal has been very supportive of restoration, and we’re hoping that the new governor coming in will be the same,” Bender said. “We have more partnerships on the horizon and a new campaign coming up in Louisiana soon.”

(This article appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer.)