Why It Matters: For the last handful of years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has conducted an effort known as the Hunt Fish Rule, which has largely been a positive effort to expand access for sportsmen and women. However, in recent years, the number of acres expanded for hunting and fishing opportunities under the Hunt Fish Rule have declined significantly. Additionally, the Hunt Fish Rule now finalizes a change that will reduce access for sportsmen and women through the restriction of lead ammo and tackle across 8 refuges units.
- Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced the finalization of the 2023 – 2024 Hunt Fish Rule.
- While the finalized Hunt Fish Rule does expand access for hunting and fishing, the rule codifies the effort to phase out the use of traditional ammunition and tackle within 8 refuges to be effective in 2026.
- The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation appreciates efforts by the FWS to expand access in terms of opening up new hunting opportunities, but CSF is concerned that this expansion is negated by the decision to phase out lead ammunition and fishing tackle, an important and available method of take, across certain refuge units.
On Friday, October 27, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized the 2023 – 2024 Hunt Fish Rule, which is a mix of good and bad for sportsmen across the country.
The Hunt Fish Rule will expand access through 48 new hunting opportunities on approximately 3,000 acres within the National Wildlife Refuge System. Specifically, the rule will expand hunting opportunities within the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Alabama, Everglades Headwaters NWR in Florida, and Minnesota Valley NWR in Minnesota.
While the Hunt Fish Rule does indeed expand access across three NWRs, the acres expanded for access under the Hunt Fish Rule have precipitously declined for the last three years. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) maintains that there are many opportunities in existence that FWS could include in a Hunt Fish Rule that would have meaningful benefits for sportsmen and women, including Sunday hunting opportunities. While many states have rolled back Sunday hunting prohibitions in recent years, the Service has largely not followed suit. Based on current law in states mostly along the Eastern Seaboard, the Service could allow Sunday hunting on 43 refuges in nine states which would provide seven-day hunting access on 990,434 acres. Instead, the Service prohibited Sunday hunting on two NWRs in Virginia (15,155 acres) in this most recent Rule.
Additionally, CSF is disappointed to see the codification of the lead ammunition and tackle phase out for 8 refuges to be effective in 2026, including the following NWRs; Eastern Neck, Erie, Chincoteague, Blackwater, Rachel Carson, Great Thicket, Patuxent Research, and Wallops Island. Lead ammunition and fishing tackle is the most available, cost-effective, and often the most popular method of take of take for sportsmen and women. Efforts to restrict lead ammunition and tackle should be rooted in science. To date, CSF and partners have not received clear, definitive science that warrants restrictions within the eight identified refuges. If substantiated scientific data determines a causational relationship between the use of traditional ammunition or fishing tackle and local fish and wildlife population health, states already have the inherent ability and resources necessary to quickly implement regulations on the use of method of take.
CSF will continue to work with FWS to expand access for sportsmen and women and will continue to fight restrictions on the use of lead ammo and tackle unless science determines that a surgical restriction is necessary.