Recreational fishermen, be like Roosevelt and put conservation first

Recreational fishermen, be like Roosevelt and put conservation first
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Ask an average American what they remember about Theodore Roosevelt, and they’d probably say, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Outdoorsmen and hunters in America better remember him as “one of us.”

Theodore Roosevelt was the architect of U.S. conservation, and as president, he put stewardship into action. His legacy is in the hundreds of millions of acres of public lands, national forests, national monuments and cathedral-like national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite. Roosevelt believed in long-term conservation to ensure access for all folks, or, as he said, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”

That legacy is why I’m so concerned about some of the latest actions being done in his name.

Fifteen years ago, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership was formed to promote Roosevelt’s spirit of conservation. The partnership works to “help create federal policy and funding solutions by uniting our partners and amplifying the voices of American sportsmen and women in service of Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy.”

To date, their accomplishments are exemplary. They support the Land and Water Conservation Fund, protect sage grouse, tackle water issues and ensure sportsmen have a voice. Recently, they entered the marine fisheries arena, and are advocating for good management of important forage fish like menhaden.

Thus it is surprising to see partnership testify for weakening or removing resource protections in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the federal law governing marine fisheries. Their position is fundamentally at odds with Roosevelt’s dedication to ensuring access for our children’s children.

Like most policy arenas, the management process for fish isn’t perfect. On the positive side, overfishing is reduced — indeed, the act helped save Striped Bass from collapse — but we are decades from fully rebuilt fisheries. The populations of most “sporting” species remain threatened — and it’s only through the act’s mandated restrictions that they survive.

Sadly, various recreational industry groups are lobbying to fundamentally undermine the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is helping. Once staunchly conservationist organizations have flip-flopped and are now calling for “increased access.”

Let’s be clear: that’s code for “we want more fish.” They assume stocks are rebuilt because some anglers find localized abundance. But when scientists average these strongholds across leagues of otherwise empty ocean, the results show recovery has just begun.

The recreational lobby also believes catch quotas are unfair to their anglers. And there’s some truth to this — historically, fisheries policy focused on commercial interests because there once was a vibrant industry along our coasts. But those big fleets disappeared along with declining fish stocks.

Now, those licensees who survive are held accountable by monitors and mandated reporting. By comparison, private recreational anglers are sparsely monitored, and only volunteer reports to a federal statistics program. In effect, they are unaccountable by the prevailing industry standard. As fish are hard to count accurately without good data, the recreational quotas are set conservatively to account for uncertainty. Our beleaguered coastal communities would benefit more from better science and reduced uncertainty before we contemplate taking even more fish.

So, what would Roosevelt do? Would he invest in our coastal communities for the long term by making sure we leave abundant resources for everyone? Would he strengthen the Magnuson-Stevens Act framework that has brought a measure of stability and the prospect of viability to fish populations that were on the brink of collapse only decades ago? Would he invest in improving the science around recreational fishing? The answers are yes.

Now is the time to advocate for a strengthened Magnuson-Stevens Act, with more data, better science and balanced management. Now is not the time to “increase access” to take more fish, now is the time to build on what works and help increase the fisheries for all. Now is the time for recreational anglers to give back and support conservation — again. Abundance across entire ecosystems should be our goal, not taking ever-larger quotas from shrinking concentrations of smaller fish.

As Roosevelt once said “The most practical kind of politics is the politics of decency.” Now, just as Roosevelt did when president, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the “recreational community” have an opportunity to give — not take — and be on the right side of history.

Mark Eustis is a private recreational angler and an expert in applied geospatial solutions — computerized mapping and location intelligence. His environmental experience includes wetlands mapping, terrain assessments, forest stand analysis, coastal ecology and marine robotics. He is working with historical fisheries data to map the shifting baselines that have impacted our coastal communities.