Why It Matters: Conservation has been a cornerstone of the recreational fishing and hunting community for more than 100 years. When the global “30 by 30” initiative to protect 30% of a nation’s lands and waters began to build steam in the United States, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) led an effort to organize sportsmen and women under the HuntFish3030 coalition to help guide the initiative towards meaningful conservation efforts that build upon our past successes. One area already under intense management for biodiversity and sustainability is U.S. marine waters under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act that is administered through the regional fishery management council process. Similar to the recent recommendations of members of the HuntFish3030 coalition, all eight regional councils urged the Administration to include all their existing efforts, from essential fish habitats (EFH’s) to specific fisheries management measures, around our coasts that distinguishes the U.S. as a global leader in marine conservation.
Last week, a report titled Evaluation of Conservation Areas in the U.S. EEZ by the Council Coordinating Committee (CCC), which represents all eight regional fishery management councils (RFMC’s), was presented to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council at their June meeting. The report provided a comprehensive evaluation of all management activities that contribute towards marine conservation and biodiversity that should be included or considered as part of the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas (Atlas), which will serve as the baseline for what lands and waters are already considered “conserved” in the United States as part of the “America the Beautiful” initiative.
Similarly, in March of this year, members of the CSF led HuntFish3030 coalition submitted a suite of recommendations on both terrestrial and aquatic conservation measures that should be included in the Atlas. Among those recommendations was a section on marine waters where the coalition members urged the Administration to evaluate federal and state marine waters based on their contributions to fisheries and aquatic habitat conservation outcomes rather than the level of restricted use or activities within a given area. There are numerous examples of management measures that achieve improved conservation outcomes that benefit the health of marine fisheries and habitats, such as gear-based restrictions like the seasonal and permanent closed pelagic longline zones in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico and habitat-based measures such as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC’s) found in all eight regional council jurisdictions.
The CCC report provided more detailed recommendations that quantified the council conservation efforts through a synthesis of all area-based conservation measures under their jurisdiction, but also noted that they have a tremendously diverse range of effective and innovative management tools, in addition to area-based measures, that support biological productivity and biodiversity, ecosystem function and services.
In their summary conclusion, the report demonstrated that the United States is already a leader in marine resource conservation. “The CCC ABM Subcommittee identified 615 conservation areas which cover greater than >54 percent of the total U.S. EEZ. In addition, at least 57.3 percent of the EEZ have prohibitions on all mobile bottom tending gears, and additional areas are conserved under differing levels of prohibitions and restrictions on fishing activity and other management measures. This means a large portion of the U.S. EEZ is conserved relative to environmentally adverse fishing activities.”
CSF and members of the HuntFish3030 coalition will continue to advocate for science-based management of our marine fisheries resources while ensuring the American public can enjoy those resources through sustainable activities like recreational fishing.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?