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Fish Conservation in the Eastern United States

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    Fish Conservation in the Eastern United States

    Introduction

    Fish Conservation is one of the important strategies made by the US government on protecting the endangered species in the recent years. Fishery resources contribute substantially to the food supply, economy and health of the United States. They also provide recreational opportunities to people. The eastern coast of the United States is rich in fishery resources. In the United States, the states east of the Mississippi River are defined as Eastern United States. The decline in the number of fish species in the Eastern United States has forced the government to concentrate its conservation plan in this region.

    Fishery Resources in the United States

    “It has been estimated that nearly 800 native fish species are found in the freshwater rivers, streams and lakes of the United States and Canada. North America is well-known for the most diverse temperate freshwater fish fauna in the world. Five percent of these fishes are sport or game fishes like trout and bass. Rests of the fishes are non-sport fishes such as darters, shiners and dace” (Helfrich, et. al, 1986). The United States is rich in both the freshwater and sea fishes. Fish trade has been an important part of American economy for years.

    “The Eastern United States has nearly four times fish species found in the Western United States. The Southeastern United States possesses a great diversity of fish. Over 600 native fishes are found in the Southeastern United States. States such as Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia lead the pack with most number of fish species. Tennessee has 307 species, while Kentucky has 242 species. The Virginia state is not lagging far behind and has 217 species of native fishes” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003).

    Non-game fishes are considered very important as they serve the mankind in many ways. It is very necessary to protect these fishes as they play an important role in the ecology. They are part of the food chain that is required for balancing the ecological system. They feed on insects and are consumed by game fishes, birds and other wildlife. They are responsible to improve the water quality and ecosystem health. Killing or disappearance of fishes from a stream can alert people about the possible water pollution.

    In the past few years, a sharp decline in the number of non-game fishes has been noticed. “During the past century, at least 27 species of fishes have become extinct. It is a matter of serious concern that 16 species of fish have become extinct in the United States since 1964. Most of the fishes in the Colorado River are endangered. Out of the 490 Southeastern freshwater fishes, 91 species are in trouble” (Williams, et. al, 1988).

    As the Eastern United States is home to the most number of fish species in the country, the government has decided to focus on the region to stop the decline of native fishes. Fish conservation in the Eastern States has become necessary as certain stocks of fish have declined to such an extent that their survival is threatened. There are other stocks of fish that have been substantially reduced in number.

    The main reasons behind the decline of fish species in the Eastern United States were the inadequate fishery resource conservation and management and control. Commercial and recreation fishing are still a major source of employment in the Eastern United States. They also contribute to the economy of the nation. People in most parts of coastal areas are dependant on fishing and related activities.

    “In the past decades, over-fishing has increased to a large extent. The economy of the coastal people has been badly damaged by the over-fishing of fishing resources. The activities of mass foreign fishing fleets in the waters of coastal areas aggravated the situation further. Over-fishing not only upset the ecological balance, but also it caused the depletion of fish species” (Minckley, et. al, 1991).

    Although, the United States has international fishery agreements in force, they have not been effective in preventing or terminating the over-fishing of fishery resources. The government and environmentalists acknowledged that the fisheries can be conserved and maintained properly to protect the fish species as well as the environment. Their acknowledgement resulted in fish conservation programs in the Eastern United States, which is vulnerable to the decline in fish species.

    Initiatives Taken by the Government

    “The United States has several laws to protect fish and wildlife from being extinct. The Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 ushered a new era for the US fisheries management. According the Act, fisheries resources within 200 miles of all US coasts came under the jurisdiction of the Federal government” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003).

    “The Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act, was amended in 1996 in order to provide more scopes for the conservation and management of the fisheries” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003). It was acknowledged that a national program for the conservation and management of the fishery resources of the United States was necessary to prevent over-fishing and rebuild over-fished stocks. “The amended Act also called for insuring conservation and facilitating long-term protection of essential fish habitats” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003). The main objective of the Act was to prevent the endangered fish species from diminishing beyond the point at which they cease to be a significant functioning element in the ecosystem.

    As the Eastern United States constitutes major part of the fishery resources in the country, more conservation programs were launched in that region to protect the endangered species. “Fisheries in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EFZ) off the Northeastern US are managed under Fishery Management Plans. These plans have been developed by the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils. Fisheries occurring in state waters are managed by the concerned states. They are also managed under Interstate Agreements under the guidelines of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC)” (Williams, et. al, 1988).

    “Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA), highly migratory species (HMS) have been defined as tunas, oceanic sharks, billfishes, sailfishes and swordfishes” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003). Management of highly migrated species is different from other fish species as their extensive migration requires coordinate management. These fishes are caught for sports and commercial purpose within the US Exclusive Economic Zone.

    The concerns about coordination and logistics have forced the government to put the management of the highly migrated species under the control of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) instead of the regional fishery management councils. “The NFMS introduced a set of rule for the implementation of a new coordinated HMS fishery management plan for tuna, sharks and swordfish found in the North Eastern coasts off the United States” (Buck, 1995).

    “The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has the responsibility of coordinating international conservation and management of tuna and swordfish in the Atlantic. The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) looks after the fishery management issues in the Eastern United States” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003). It has established work groups dealing with important issues such as fleet capacity, bycatch and management of fisheries. It has also set quotas for two tuna species, yellowfin and bigeye.

    Conservation of Billfish and Swordfish

    The most commercially used fish in the Eastern United States is swordfish. However, billfish is taken as bycatch in other commercial fisheries. They are targeted and caught by fishermen for commercial activities. These practices have resulted in the decline of billfish population. The commercial catch of billfish occurs mostly in the Eastern states of Florida and Massachusetts. “In August 1999, the Billfish Foundation, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Blue Water Fishermen’s Association and the American Sportfishing Association signed a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to close certain areas of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico to protect swordfish and billfish. The main objective of the MOU was to check the high mortality rate of swordfish and billfish” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003). The MOU was later introduced in the US Congress as legislation.

    “In December 1999, the NMFS proposed a new regulation that differed from the MOU and the introduced bills in the Congress. The new regulation sought to close different areas in the Gulf of Mexico to reduce billfish bycatch. The swordfish imports are closely monitored so that over-fishing of Atlantic swordfish is reduced. The Natural Resources Defense Council had launched a campaign to discourage consumers from eating swordfish and billfish” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003).

    Fish Conservation Programs under Trout Unlimited

    The Eastern United States is densely populated. It faces a lot of environmental challenges such air pollution and water pollution. The decline of fish species in the Eastern United States is a matter of concern for many organizations and environmentalists. Trout Unlimited, a volunteer organization has taken the lead in ensuring conservation programs to protect the endangered fish species. There are different varieties of trout that are on a decline in the recent years. Staff and volunteers at Trout Unlimited are working together to protect and restore wild trout populations.

    Different forms of Trout such as Maine Atlantic and Brook Trout are mostly found in the Eastern United States. States like Georgia, Florida and Virginia are home to Trout species. Trout Unlimited is working to ensure that wild trout and salmon do not become extinct and they are available even within the close distance of the major eastern cities.

    “Trout Unlimited (TU) is building a strong brook trout conservation program in the Eastern United States. The program will cover places from Georgia to Maine. It has launched a program called “Back the Brookie” in the Southeast. TU is working to involve states, federal agencies and conservation groups in developing a comprehensive brook trout management plan” (Trout Unlimited, 2005).

    “Atlantic salmon is largely found in Maine, one of the states in the Eastern United States. TU has committed itself to restore sustainable Atlantic salmon” (Trout Unlimited, 2005). They are developing several plans to restore the species and improve management programs in order to protect these endangered fishes. Their efforts include the initiatives to remove dams and improve fish passage in the Penobscot River and a number of other rivers in Maine.

    Regulation on Fishery Conservation

    “To protect the endangered fish species and prevent other species from falling into the endangered list, an agreement was signed in 1995 under the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, 1982. The agreement became legally binding after ratification by 30 countries” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003). The agreement is related to the management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks.

    The regional fishing organizations have the responsibility of regulating and enforcing sustainable fishing practices. They collect data on catches and verify them. On the basis of a periodic review of the status of fish stocks, they allocate quotas for States fishing in the high seas.

    The Agreement made under the UN Convention aims to make the fishing industry more transparent. Fishermen are required to report through their governments to the FAO and regional fishing organizations about the size of catches and the amount of fish they discard. The Agreement has yielded positive results for the fish conservation in the Eastern United States. “The Agreement urges the governments to use the “precautionary principle” to devise conservation regimes. It also has the provisions for the regional organizations to impose quotas or restrictions on fishing if any stock is in danger of exploitation” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003). The Precautionary principle also empowers the governments to act conservatively if any serious damage is done to the environment.

    The More Fish Campaign

    The More Fish Campaign is a five-year program launched by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). The main objective of the campaign is to restore the country’s native fish populations and their habitat. Some of the major fish species that are on the priority of the campaign are cutthroat trout, red snappers, and small mouth bass and Eastern brook trout. “The More Fish Campaign intends to bring back the native fishes and improve aquatic habitat in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and coasts. The NFWF has focused the campaign in the Eastern United States, which has the largest fishery activities in the country” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003).

    “It has been estimated that over 40 percent of the fish and aquatic species in the United States are in decline. Some of these species are on the verge of extinction. The main reason behind the decline has been attributed to the habitat degradation and loss. The More Fish Campaign is aiming to restore the nation’s native fish and aquatic population by increasing public awareness and access” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003). It also planned to conserve and restore the country’s rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters. To strengthen the capacity of conservation, the More Fish Campaign sought the active cooperation from federal land and water management agencies and game agencies.

    Fish Conservation in Florida

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is primarily responsible for fish conservation in the state. Its main objective is to manage fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being. “The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was established in July 1999. It was created by a Constitutional Amendment approved in 1998. The Constitutional Amendment was implemented with the consultation of all the staff and commissioners of the Marine Fisheries Commission, the employees of the Law Enforcement of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and all the employees of the old Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission” (The FWC, 2005).

    The FWC adopted a new internal structure to address the complex conservation issues of the state. The new structure focuses on programs such as habitat management. The absence of a full-proof habitant management had affected numerous fish species in the past. The FWC realized this and is working towards achieving the goal of ensuring a healthy and diverse fish population for future generations.

    The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission designed projects specifically on the ecosystem or landscape in order to provide greater benefits to the fish species. These projects include aquatic habitat management for marine, estuarine and freshwater systems. Scientific support and assistance for habitat-related issues to every concerned party was provided. “The Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management (DFFM) provides support on freshwater fish populations and other aspects of freshwater fisheries needed for management decisions by the FWC” (The FWC, 2005). It also assesses the impacts of decisions made by others to ensure quality fisheries and fishing in selected lakes, fish management areas and rivers of Florida.

    The DFFM provides information to public on freshwater fisheries management issues and more fishing opportunities. It also provides assistance on fish pond management and other fisheries-related issues. The DFFM delivers aquatic education to anglers so that they are exposed to angler ethics and skills, fisheries management and aquatic ecology. “Freshwater fish production facilities provide adequate supply of the specific quantity and quality of freshwater fish for freshwater fisheries management objectives” (The FWC, 2005).

    “Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management has two sections and a special project group. The two sections are: Regional Freshwater Fisheries Management and Hatchery Operations and Stocking. They are responsible for the protection and enhancement of 3 million acres of lakes, ponds and reservoirs. They also protect 12,000 miles of rivers, streams and canals” (The FWC, 2005).

    Habitat Conservation Program in North Carolina

    Population in the Eastern United States has increased significantly in the past few decades. The growth of population has lead to a significant increase in residential and industrial development. At the same time, it has resulted in a decrease in habitat for fish and wildlife. “Eastern states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana witnessed a sharp decline in the freshwater and forested wetlands” (Minckley, et. al, 1991). Wetlands always provide habitat for fish and wildlife. Wetlands also store floodwater, recharge groundwater and provide carbon to aquatic systems.

    “The Habitat Conservation Program in North Carolina was launched by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to stop the decline of fish and other aquatic fauna. It implements the mandate based upon the Wildlife Resources Commission’s policies and guidelines for conservation of wetlands and aquatic habitats” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003). The main goal of the Habitat Conservation Program is to protect and enhance fisheries resources. It also provides technical guidance to government and private agencies and individuals on habitat conservation.

    The Habitat Conservation Program also aims to restore degraded streams by resolving problems related to poor water quality, unstable stream banks, and loss of aquatic species and depleted fish communities. The program also encourages adequate alleviation for losses of fish species. All the project modifications were designed to minimize adverse environmental impacts.

    Projects related to coastal development activities contributed significantly to the increase in shell-fish harvesting closures. Marine development and small channel dredging were part of the coastal development activities. They increased additional infrastructure such as water treatment facilities and wastewater treatment plant upgrades. The upgrades and expansions of wastewater treatment plans continued to destroy and degrade important fish and wildlife habitat. The Habitat Conservation Program focused on these areas to ensure conservation of fishery resources in the adverse conditions.

    “The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission worked closely with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to develop strategies to prevent the loss of fisheries habitat. Both the organizations identified areas that need to be preserved. Highway projects in the mountain regions often result in high-quality streams or tributaries to be placed in culverts. The NCDOT has agreed for the restoration of degraded streams. The restoration program involves constructing stream banks for fish habitation, installing fish habitat enhancing devices and protecting the areas that have been restored” (Helfrich & Richard, 2003).

    Conclusion

    Fisheries are one of the most important resources in the United States. The Eastern United States, which was once home to the large number of fish species in the world, is now witnessing decline in its fish population. The government and other agencies are well-aware of the gravity of the situation and they are implementing effective conservation programs to restore the fish habitation. Several programs launched in the Eastern United States have one common purpose of preventing the decline and degradation of fishery resources.

    Bibliography:

    Buck, Eugene H. (1995). Summaries of Major Laws Implemented by the

    National Marine Fisheries Service. Retrieved March 24, 2006, http://ncseonline.org/NLE/CRSreports/legislative/leg-11.cfm

    Helfrich, L.A., Weigmann, D.L., Neves, R.J. & P.T. Bromley. (1986). Landowner’s guide to managing streams in the eastern United States. CES, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg.

    Helfrich Louis A. & Richard J. Neves. (2003). Sustaining America’s Aquatic Biodiversity Freshwater Fish Biodiversity and Conservation. Virginia State University.

    Minckley, W.L., G.K. Meffe & D.L. Soltz. (1991). Conservation and management of short-lived fishes: The cyprinodonts. p. 147-282. in W.L. Minckley & J.E. Deacon (eds.), Battle Against Extinction: Native Fish Management in the American West. UAZ Press, Tucson.

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. (2005). About FWC. Retrieved March 24, 2006, http://myfwc.com/aboutus/aboutfwc.html

    TROUT UNLIMITED. (2005). Eastern Conservation. Retrieved March 24, 2006, from http://www.tu.org/site/pp.asp?c=7dJEKTNuFmG&b=275421

    Williams, J.E., D.W. Sada, & C.D. Williams. (1988). American Fisheries Society guidelines for introductions of threatened and endangered fishes. Fisheries, Bethesda, MD.

     

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