The Blog Aquatic » TJ Marshall News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Mon, 18 Aug 2014 20:20:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Government Casts a New Line on Fishery Data Collection Tue, 04 Jun 2013 15:36:19 +0000 TJ Marshall Credit: Our Enchanted Garden via Flickr

Credit: Our Enchanted Garden via Flickr

As an avid recreational fisherman, it was a welcomed surprise last week to learn that seven days would be added to one of my favorite times of year: red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico. Historically, red snapper have been severely overfished in the Gulf but are now on their way back. As the fishery and the fishing improve, so is the technology to monitor catches — a critical component to ensure the health of this iconic species.

Way back in the golden era of recreational fishing, shortly after World War II, American prosperity grew and with it came dramatic technological advances in small outboard engines, fiberglass boats, fishing rods and reels.   A new era of fishermen was born and the technology for counting catches needed to…well, catch up.

The freedom to fish alone or with a few friends at anytime during a set season and anywhere you can launch a boat or cast from shore is one of the timeless pleasures of recreational fishing. There’s nothing like getting outdoors and catching a few fish.  With more fishermen taking more fish out of the water than ever before, we need to make sure fisheries are healthy and have the numbers to support themselves. Individually, sometimes it seems our catch is not equating to too much, yet collectively the numbers really add up. Each one of those days an individual fisherman puts a hook in the water adds up to millions of fishing trips per year. In fact, there were more than 23 million fishing trips last year in the Gulf!

With so many angler trips, the only way to collect fish data that is cost effective and unobtrusive is through a survey. These surveys look at things such as the kinds and numbers of fish caught, and are used to help determine the health of fish populations and what may be changing in the fishery. Estimates of the amount of fish caught by fishermen contribute to assessments that tell us the amount of fish that can be safely caught without harming the fishery.

Much like weather forecasting and political polling in elections, these estimates can change once all the information is in. As surveys continue to improve and we better understand ecologically, culturally and economically important aspects of fisheries, the estimates will improve too. This is exactly why there is now seven extra days to fish for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico this season.  (The most recent red snapper health assessment is under review and we may see further increases to the 2013 fishing season. More on this after the fishery managers meet to discuss results in June.)

Even with limited federal funding, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), driven by a National Research Council report from 2006, was able to develop the promising Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP). It took years of pilot projects and reviews before MRIP became operational in 2013. NMFS continues to evolve MRIP with continuous improvements and innovative projects.

Again, while it’s a welcome surprise that I have an additional seven days to hit Gulf waters to try my luck at catching red snapper (which has been phenomenal if I say so myself), I’d be remiss not to note that we need to expect to take the good and the bad.  Improvements in the system don’t necessarily mean seasons will always get longer. Some may in fact have to shorten do to the greater precision of surveys.  And, just as important, we must always keep in mind that recreational fishing is a growth sport and the advancement of models, surveys and estimates from past years of fishing don’t necessarily make an exact prediction for a coming year.  In the end, we simply need to be conservation minded and cautiously approach fishing limits to keep the balance between the freedom to fish and sustainable fisheries.

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A Quick Update on Red Snapper Policy (And Why it Matters) Mon, 20 May 2013 17:30:53 +0000 TJ Marshall

Recently the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) denied emergency changes to management of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, explaining that the requested new rules could result in “unfair and inequitable management.”  Fisheries management on the regional level is a very complicated process, but here is an explanation for what is happening:

The proposed emergency rules didn’t have good controls to prevent overfishing, which is a requirement of the nation’s law that governs fisheries (the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act passed in 2006).

Critical to the issue is a previous emergency rule the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council had passed in February 2013, which NMFS approved.  Several Gulf states opted to set fishing seasons in their territorial waters (between 3-9 miles from shore depending on the state) that were different than what they had collectively approved at the Gulf Council for the rest of the Gulf’s federal waters.

That February emergency rule had the intent of creating fairness across the Gulf.  States who matched the federal Gulf Council season in their state waters got a longer season in the federal waters off their states, rather than being penalized for overfishing that might occur in states allowing a longer season in their territorial waters. More importantly, that February emergency rule was needed to ensure there was a mechanism in place for managers to prevent overfishing and to continue rebuilding the overfished red snapper population.

However, at a meeting in April, the Gulf Council attempted to reverse course and passed a motion requesting NMFS to rescind the February emergency rule.  NMFS has now denied that request because  the Gulf Council had offered no provisions to account for overfishing in states that would have longer seasons and more fishing effort.

There is still an open door to resolve the needs of states to have different seasons than the current one-season-fits-all design.  The Gulf Council is working on developing the concept of regional management of red snapper through a robust stakeholder process known as a fishery management plan amendment.  The stated goal of the regional management amendment is to continue to stay the course on the red snapper rebuilding plan and ensure healthy fish populations, as well as delegate authority to develop seasons and management alternatives for a portion of the Annual Catch Limit to the states.

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Casting a Wider Net for Fisheries Data: Ocean Solutions from Anglers Fri, 22 Feb 2013 16:09:21 +0000 TJ Marshall

A friend emailed me a link the other day to an article in the Hispanic Business News entitled “App for Anglers also Helps Fisheries Management”. He asked me, “is this legit?” Yes, it is!

The article describes this cool new smart phone app, called iAngler. IAngler is a smart phone app developed through collaboration between research scientists and anglers. At its heart, iAngler is an effort to engage fishermen into fisheries management. The creation of iAngler was largely driven by the Snook and Gamefish Foundation (SGF), who partnered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for scientific guidance. SGF has developed a fast and easy way for fishermen to make their catch and their fishing experience count. The partnership is already paying off. Information from the program has already been used in FWC’s recent assessment of snook.

As Rick Roberts, Executive Director of SGF says, “we want to promote anglers to keep score of their catch on the water, much like a golfer on the course.” Whether anglers accomplish this via an app for iPhone and android phones or use a simple data card and log the information online from their desktop after a recent fishing trip, the information counts by providing data on angler habits, as well as their catch (or lack thereof), to researchers evaluating stock assessments of a fish.

“We call it the Angler Action Program,” says Roberts. “For too long anglers have felt detached from fisheries management decisions and it hasn’t been good. We wanted to create something that shows anglers count in the management process.”

It’s working. Managers at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have noticed their effort and are beginning to incorporate the Angler Action Program into the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) — a critical data collection system for the catch of recreational anglers across the nation that’s used in NMFS stock assessments.

As an angler and conservationist, I’ve long believed in science based management of our fisheries. I’m glad to see the Snook and Gamefish Foundation taking a proactive role to move anglers toward greater participation in the science and management of fisheries.

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Innovation at the Miami Boat Show Mon, 18 Feb 2013 16:10:41 +0000 TJ Marshall  

Being a waterman who has owned boats ranging from catamarans to skiffs throughout my life, I always look forward to the Miami Boat Show — a premier event each year for those of us who love the salt life.   Thanks to the generosity of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), Ocean Conservancy was granted a complimentary booth at the show to share our GoodMate “Charting a Course to Clean Water” program made possible by the Brunswick Foundation.

It was inspiring to see the advancements and mindset of the boating and salt life community toward conservation  on display throughout the show.

I particularly enjoyed meeting Al Baurley, President of Arid Dry Bilge Systems, and a native of my old haunt of Pompano Beach.  Al has created an ingenious system that filters engine fluids from a boat’s bilge water,  reducing hydrocarbon traces to 1 part per million(ppm), well below the 15ppm government standard.

Cutting edge technologies were on display as well and NMMA deserves credit with their “Innovation Awards” competition.  Torqeedo of Starnbeerg Germany was the 2013 winner with their new “Deep Blue” high powered, all-electric outboard engine.   As a fisherman who has to power almost 20 miles offshore to reach fishing grounds, the idea of saving fuel appeals to me.  As a conservationist, it’s inspiring to see a vessel that doesn’t have the same footprint as a traditional gas-powered boat on the  delicate resources of the marine environment.

Just as impressive was Lehrs propane powered outboard motor and the recycled plastic Global Dock.  Lehr received the EPA Clean Air Excellence Award for their technology and I’m glad to see the trend toward alternative fuels that are safer for the marine environment in case of accidental spillage.  Global Dock is another positive trend — complete marina designs utilizing floating dock made entirely of recycled material.

It was a ton of fun to tour the show, greet Ocean Conservancy members, cross paths with Alberto Ruiz the  International Coastal Clean Up Coordinator from Puerto Rico, get thumbs up and waves from folks concerned for our oceans and the sincere thanks many gave for what the Ocean Conservancy team does for the big blue.


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What The Fiscal Cliff Means for Conservation in America Tue, 11 Dec 2012 13:30:48 +0000 TJ Marshall

Credit: Odette Rickert

The fiscal cliff is downright scary for the future of conservation in America. We have to get America’s budget in order, but agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Interior have already had to make painful cuts, and another round of across the board cuts to conservation programs will do more harm than good.

For instance, NOAA oversees the scientific collection and analysis of information for offshore fisheries that generate tremendous revenue for the Nation—from the multi-billion dollar recreational fishery in the Gulf of Mexico to the prized commercial fisheries of the North Pacific.

Across-the-board cuts will not only diminish the ability to prevent overfishing and depletion of national fishery resources that are at risk, they create a bottleneck to expand fishing opportunities and grow coastal economies where hard work has been done to rebuild once-depleted fisheries.

Nowhere is the folly of across-the-board cuts to solve the fiscal cliff crisis more apparent than in the U.S. Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Sport Fish Restoration Program.

The Sport Fish Restoration Program evolved from anglers and industry voluntarily agreeing to a special excise tax on various fishing equipment and fuel for small engines like boats. Through a phenomenally successful grant program, the USFWS has sent billions of dollars collected from the tax over the years to every state funding fresh and saltwater fishery conservation work.

One would think that an excise tax, which will still be collected even if cuts are made, would be immune from the fiscal cliff, but the Sport Fish Restoration Program could be cut by $34 million if a fiscal cliff deal that protects important programs like this one isn’t put in place.

When I tell folks my conservation ethic was born when I caught my first fish in a mall in Chicago, they scratch their heads and say “what kind of fishermen, let alone conservationist are you?” I reply, “I learned that catching fish is fun and you can’t experience that unless you protect and conserve the species and habitats that make fishing great in America”.

Thoughtfully addressing the fiscal cliff is the answer. America is a great country because we’ve made smart choices. Preserving voluntary tax programs for conservation, like the Sport Fish Restoration Program, sets a precedent rewarding those willing to pay a little extra to protect our natural resources. Maintaining full funding for programs that support America’s fisheries isn’t only the right thing to do, it’s just plain smart; like the creative guy who hooked me on fishing in that mall long, long ago.

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Hooked a Friend on Conservation Yesterday Wed, 15 Aug 2012 13:25:18 +0000 TJ Marshall

Fishing from a Stand Up Paddleboard. Photo by TJ Marshall

As a die-hard surfer I’ve picked up just about every kind of board to surf with and one of my favorites is a Stand Up Paddle board (SUP). Recently, my long time “surf brah” Kevin swung over from Orlando wanting to enjoy some small wave fun here in Cocoa Beach but the tide came up and, well, the surf didn’t look to good.

No problem! I grabbed the fishing poles, threw the boards on the truck and we headed over to the Banana River. Kev had been going on flat water crusies every since I gave him a “bro rate” on my old SUP when I stepped up to a new one. Yet he’d never wet a line from one — it was time to change that.

We headed over to my local park that had two boat ramps and a dedicated kayak/SUP ramp, specifically made with a fabric liner so not to damage the numerous yaks and SUPs dropping in the water these days like a concrete boat ramp will do. There were 6 other people launching so we waited our turn to head out into the 1000 Island chain – a great spot for catching redfish, snook, speckled trout and when you’re lucky a fun, fighting tarpon.

Like most folks, Kev was completely unaware that it was likely tax dollars from fishing licenses, gear and boat fuel sales that paid for the park boat ramps and the state biologists to study the fisheries we were fishing. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers an industry supported Sportfish Restoration Program where a surcharge is added to items related to fishing and the money goes back to the states to ensure we have both abundant fish and wildlife as well as access to sustainably enjoy them.

And enjoy them we did. We paddled over 5.5 miles twisting and winding through islands often fishing the mangrove banks with the wind at our backs. We saw ospreys, manatees, redfish and mullet galore. We had a grand time messing with some poor man’s tarpon – a school of ladyfish busting all over some bait fish.

Kev kept telling me, “My wife is going to be missing me now that I’ve learned to fish from this SUP.” Which isn’t a bad thing – each time he buys a little piece of gear, some bait to take with him, or renews his fishing license, a piece of that purchase will circle back toward the management and use of a priceless resource.

If you’re interested in getting out and trying some fishing, the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s has everything you need to know on where and how to go fishing near you. Fresh water, salt water, back bay, heck even ice fishing! Don’t forget that fishing license, think of it as the best conservation tool in your tackle box.

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