Most of U.S. coastal waters already are Marine Protected Areas.
That startling reality was among the eye-opening information imparted by some of the nation’s top experts in fisheries science, management and politics at this year’s annual TRCP Saltwater Media Summit.
TRCP, by the way, stands for the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. True to its namesake, the organization’s mission hopes “to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.” With regard to the saltwater recreational-angling community specifically, the TRCP provides a voice in policy efforts and decision-making in D.C.
And in this era of growing concern for access to our coastal waters in coming years, that’s a good thing.
Here, briefly, are some of the many interesting or surprising revelations from presentations and panel discussions at the summit.
Most U.S. coastal waters already are Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
Mike Nussman, president of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), offered the exact verbiage of Executive Order 13158, which defines MPAs, and explained what it really says: An MPA is an area with specified geographic boundaries and with specific regulations that apply to that area. So by that definition, most U.S. waters already are MPAs.
About 41 percent of all U.S. waters are specifically labeled as some form of MPA; however, 86 percent of those are multiple-use waters, and less than 8 percent are no-take areas (where no fishing is permitted).
Many waters are limited no-take areas; Roy Crabtree, the Southeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries, pointed out that, for example, federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico are a no-take MPA for redfish, since reds may be kept only in state waters.
Nussman noted that many environmental groups favor more no-take areas. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), for example, has for some time expressed its commitment to making 20 percent of all U.S. waters no-take.
Fishery management councils should allow anglers alternatives to venting.
This applies particularly to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GFMC) which still requires Gulf anglers to carry venting tools as the only legal means to facilitate release of deep-water fish. Mike Leonard, the ASA’s ocean resources policy director, said that’s one of recommendations of FishSmart, a collaborative program to reduce the mortality of fish released by anglers. Leonard noted that the ASA’s had awarded its best-new-product prize in the FishSmart Category at this year’s tackle trade show to the ingenious Seaqualizer, a device allowing anglers to conveniently lower deepwater fish suffering from barotrauma to a depth where they can recompress enough to dart back down to bottom (rather than float helplessly at the surface).
Fishing takes a back seat to stand-up paddle-boarding among new participants
That stat, from I Ling Thompson of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), came as a shock to most summit participants.
Yet that’s what an OIA report shows. On the other hand, fishing is the second most popular of all outdoor activities, edged out only by running/jogging. Thompson’s main point was that economically, “outdoor recreation is huge.” With more than 141 million Americans participating in outdoor recreation in 2011, that industry employs more people than the finance/insurance or transportation industries and three times as many people as the oil-and-gas industry.
Saltwater fishing is a state activity
“[Saltwater] recreational fishing is predominantly a state activity,” declared Bob Hayes, longtime counsel to the Coastal Conservation Association and heavily involved in D.C. lobbying on behalf of recreational-fishing interests. Ken Haddad, formerly director of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and now a consultant to the ASA, added that one of the big issues looming is the idea of more regionalized (cooperative state) management of coastal fisheries — noting a big push for just that among some Gulf states. Perhaps Hayes’ biggest concern was that the recreational-fishing community “has no unified vision” of exactly what we want. No less than Eric Schwaab, U.S. acting assistant secretary of commerce for conservation and management, agreed with Hayes, that recreational-fishing interests need to speak with a unified voice and have unified goals.
Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota is a very cool place
Mote hosted the TRCP summit at its complex on the northern tip of Lido Key. Mote’s been a leading marine-research institute for 60 years, and it is conducting some fascinating research. For example, a current study is investigating possibilities of a shark’s immune function for treating cancer in humans, with encouraging results. Another effort involves what scientists call a bycatch-friendly fishing buoy.
An ongoing three-year study, with U.S. Department of Defense funding, looks at discovering new substances to fight infection in humans by studying the protective mucus on stingrays, which heal quickly and cleanly.
Mote’s sustainable aquaculture program also is remarkable. It’s had tremendous success in growing Siberian sturgeon and producing caviar, enough that today it’s one of the largest producers of caviar in the United States. The lab’s scientists also are working to perfect raising snook and Florida pompano.