Friday, April 27, 2018

Fishing License Sales and Public Trust Thinking, by Don Orth

There was a time that fishing was fun and about “washing the soul” (Hoover 1963).  Serious anglers were also serious conservationist and devoted to cleaning up and eliminating pollution from our waters.  Can you think of cost of services that have not increased in past ten years? No? Me neither.  Why is it that fishing licenses do not increase with cost of living?  Why is it that some state legislators are so reluctant to raise the price of a fishing license?  Most states face a pressing dilemma on how to continue to fund the mission of the state fish and wildlife agency.  

In 2018, legislators in Louisiana and Pennsylvania rejected calls for license fee increases (basic fishing license would increase from$9.50 to $13.50 for 709,000 licensed fishermen in Louisiana).  The Pennsylvania proposal would have raised the license fee $6.50 after 12 years at $21 (2.6%/year).   Meanwhile, Colorado’s Senate approved an increase in fishing license prices that have not increased since 2005 (2.46% per year) and forwarded legislation to the House. 

Photo by Tyler Willmon. Creative Commons Source. 
If you fish, you should be aware of these four facts from (AFWA 2018):

  1. Most state fish and wildlife agencies receive only modest or no appropriations from the state treasury and must seek legislative approval for increasing license prices. (Schaeffer et al. 2018). 
  2. Number of sport anglers increased only 8% between 2011 and 2016. This rate of increase is not enough to keep up with rising costs of fish conservation.
  3. Almost 83% of current adult participants were introduced to the sport of fishing during childhood. After the age of 12, it is much less likely for a person to try fishing.
  4. More than 45% of angling participants are approaching 50 years of age. During the next 25 years, these anglers will begin to age out of the sport.  

One response to shrinking revenues is to Recruit, Retain, and Reactivate license buying anglers, or R3 for short. Organizations, such as the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, the American Sportfishing Association, the sportfishing industry, and fishing equipment manufacturers are partnering with federal agencies and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to achieve the ambitious national goal of 60 million anglers in 60 months. In 2016 there were 35.75 million anglers so the goal represents a 4.85% increase in anglers (USDOI 2016).  
The typical US citizen does not fish and that may be due to access, awareness, skills, or motivation.  Globally, participation in recreational fishing is ~10.5% of the populace and diminishing interest is expected without marketing and dedicated management after industrialization (Arlinghaus et al. 2015).   In Ontario, participation rates decrease in dense urban centers and increase in areas with higher fish densities but there are other influences on participation (Hunt et al. 2005).
Participation in recreational fishing related to population density and fish density in Ontario (Hunt et al. 2017).
Is Angler R3 the answer? Can you make me have fun?   Some agencies have begun to implement the Angler R3 tools but it’s too early to tell if R3 will be sufficient.  Others have been slow to begin because the average cost for already strapped agency may be about ~$250,000 in typical state agencies.  But without aggressive management intervention, the participation rates will stagnate or continue to decline.  And every time a license rate is increased dramatically after years of being fixed, angling participation declines more. Getting more kids to fish before age 12 will prove to be a daunting challenge over the next 2 decades as current anglers over 50 years of age begin to leave the sport.  Children are less connected to nature in our modern society.  Richard Louv (2008) coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to explain that a child separated from nature is a child deprived of health and happiness. Children in our modern society increasingly suffer from a variety of syndromes, such as asthma, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, and obesity.  These and other threats to our children' well-being may interfere with their fishing.

What is the right approach to raising revenues for fish conservation and management?    Will it be more anglers paying the same or more citizens paying less?   In my opinion fishing should be fun, not complicated and not part of non-stop marketing.  Years of stagnated budgets concern directors of fish and wildlife agencies.  Fish and wildlife are public trust resources and the states are trustees.  Even though the entire public benefits from the work of fish and wildlife conservation, the “pay to play” model has dominated the US approach to conservation funding.  But the world is changing and our fish and wildlife agencies need to adapt.

Public trust thinking is about making certain that benefits provided by ecosystems are available to everyone, including future generations to explore their interests. The public trust doctrine is based on English common law. In numerous challenges, the public trust doctrine has been firmly established in the US and establishes the responsibility of government, both state and federal, to conserve and manage fish and wildlife for public benefit (Sax 1970; Batcheller et al. 2018). The state agency is the trust manager, applying collective technical expertise to inform and implement policy.   States are to manage the fish and wildlife so that the populations are sustained for the current and future citizens, who are beneficiaries of the trust (Schaeffer et al. 2018).  State fish and wildlife agencies are “front lines of conservation” and control both the technical expertise and capital resources to manage fish for public trust purposes (Trushenski et al. 2018).  As such they manage fish, wildlife, and habitats in the public trust and use fiscal resources provided for law enforcement, research, monitoring, hatcheries, and other management programs.   But agency effectiveness has been constrained by reliance on the “pay to play” funding model. 

Public trust thinking is based on four principles (Hare and Bossey 2014): 
  1. Human well-being is dependent on the benefits provided by ecosystems. 
  2. Certain resources are not suitable for exclusive private ownership
  3. All beneficiaries are equal.
  4. Trustees are bound by fiduciary obligations and are publicly accountable

The vision of the modern fish and wildlife agencies embrace public trust thinking.  For example, the vision of Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) is “Leading wildlife conservation and inspiring people to value the outdoors and their role in nature.”  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is “managing fish and wildlife resources for their long-term wellbeing and the benefit of people.”   The mission of the VDGIF   reflects public trust thinking {even if the name “Game and Inland Fisheries” does not.}  The mission of VDGIF is to:
               Conserve and manage wildlife populations and habitat for the benefit of present and future generations.
               Connect people to Virginia’s outdoors through boating, education, fishing, hunting, trapping, wildlife viewing, and other wildlife-related activities.
               Protect people and property by promoting safe outdoor experiences and managing human-wildlife conflicts.

The FY Budget for VDGIF is $62,833,365 and most is allocated to wildlife and freshwater fisheries management ($45,686,094) while the remainder supports administration and support ($9,051,353) and boating safety and regulation ($8,095,918).  These funds come from license revenues ($46,431,590) and federal trust ($16,278,143) and support 496 positions.  Expansion of the agency programs is dependent on growth in participation.  Expanded funding is needed to deal with permitting energy development, law enforcement of motorboat and ATVs’, watershed restoration, endangered species consultation and litigation, and capital improvements.

Federal aid is derived from the sale of fishing, hunting, and trapping licenses, along with federal funding via the Sport Fish Restoration and Pittman–Robertson Wildlife Restoration programs, derived from the sale of firearms and ammunition and fishing equipment and boat motor fuels.  These federal user-pay programs began with Pittman Robertson in 1937 and Dingell Johnson Act in 1950.   The user pay/user benefit model relies on a narrow perception of the beneficiaries of the public trust.  Consequently, it is natural that the trustees align themselves closely to those paying the bills. Here is where the implementation may run counter to the principles of public trust thinking. These long-standing practices and programs privilege consumptive uses over nonconsumptive uses of fish and wildlife (Feldpausch-Parker et al. 2017).

The old model appears inadequate and will not provide the needs for fish and wildlife conservation in the 21st century. Jacobson et al. (2010) and others maintain that this is fundamentally flawed and does not provide broad-based funding and benefits to all citizens.    For example, the Dingell-Johnson funds are only eligible for use on sport fish species that have value for sport or recreation (Schaeffer et al 2018).  With the rise of alternative types of fishing for ‘rough’ fish, small and diverse fish (microfishing), bowfishing, fish watching, and native fish aquarium hobbyists, the need for technical support for management is expanding.  These new aquatic sports are slow to develop when traditional sport fishing dominates the agenda.  Only a few state agencies have secured a dedicated share of state sales tax to address these broader conservation needs.  The search for new revenues and broader support for fish conservation will continue.
Photo by Tommy Lyngmo. Creative Commons Source
The State Wildlife Grants program (Wildlife Conservation and Restoration) directs funds for species of greatest conservation needs and develop wildlife diversity programs.  The original state wildlife action plans identified 12,800 species of greatest conservation need, and admittedly many states had inadequate coverage of groups, such as dragonflies and damselflies (Mawdsley et al. 2017). Conserving and managing these poorly studied and threatened species adds tremendous challenges to agencies, without proving sufficient revenues. 

What can be done now?  First, take kids fishing early and often.  Second, buy your fishing license! Finally,  the proposed Recovering America's Wildlife Act has the potential to influence funding for future conservation.  Ask your U.S. congressional representative to support this effort.  Information on the bill can be found here.  

Arlinghaus, R., R. Tillner, R., and M. Bork. 2015. Explaining participation rates in recreational fishing across industrialised countries. Fisheries Management and Ecology 22:45–55.
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.  2018.  Recommendations from the president’s task force on angler recruitment, retention, and reactivation.   22 pp.  Available from
Batcheller, G.R., T.A. Decker, and R.P. Lanka. 2018.  Public trust doctrine and the legal basis for state wildlife management.    Pages 24-38 in T.J. Ryder, editor.  State Wildlife Management and Conservation, Johns Hopkins University Press.
Feldpausch-Parker, A.M., I.D. Parker, and E.S. Vidon. 2017.  Privileging consumptive use: A critique of ideology, power, and discourse in the North American model of wildlife conservation.  Conservation and Society 15:33-40.
Hare, D., and B. Bossey. 2014. Principles of public trust thinking.  Human Dimensions of Wildlife 19:397-406.
Hoover, H. 1963. Fishing for fun – and to wash your soul.  Random House.  86 pp.
Hunt, L.M., WA. E. Bannister, D.A. Drake, S.A. Fera, and T.B. Johnson. 2017. Do fish drive recreational fishing license sales?  North American Journal of Fisheries Management 37:122-132.
Jacobson, C. A., J. F. Organ, D. J. Decker, G. R. Batcheller, and L. Carpenter. 2010. A conservation institution for the 21st century: Implications for state wildlife agencies. Journal of Wildlife Management 74:203–209.
Louv, R. 2008.  Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.
Mawdsley, J., D. Palmeri, and M. Humpert. 2017. Aquatic biodiversity in the U.S. state wildlife action plans.  Fisheries 42(6):332-334.
Sax, J. L. 1970. The public trust doctrine in natural resource law: Effective judicial intervention. Michigan Law Review 68:471–566.
Schaeffer, J.M., M.C. Bambery, P. Gilbert, and G.J. Taylor. 2018.  State Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Conservation: A Special Relationship.    Pages 39- in T.J. Ryder, editor.  State Wildlife Management and Conservation, Johns Hopkins University Press.
Trushenski, J.T., G.E. Whelan, and J.D. Bowker. 2018.  Why keep hatcheries? Weighing the economic cost and value of fish production for public use and public trust purposes.  Fisheries 42

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau. 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Morphological and Behavioral Characteristics of the Giant Oarfish, by Hunter Greenway

Across the tropical and temperate coasts of the world, you can find monstrous oarfish (Regalecidae) that may appear to be water serpents. These animals have long silvery bodies that can reach over 50 feet (longest bony fish in the world).  A crimson red dorsal fin spans the entire length of the fish with a long occipital crest is on the head. What I’m describing might sound like something of a legend or fairy tale, but these creatures have been observed for hundreds if not thousands of years and can still be found today. Giant Oarfish (Regalecus glesne) reside at depths of 105-3,000 feet in epipelagic and mesopelagic waters (Benfield et al. 2013) between 55 degrees north and south of the equator. Although occasionally currents or storms can push oarfish close to shore where they’re disoriented and in an unfamiliar environment, they aren’t evolutionary equipped to deal with and beach themselves in the ordeal (Roberts, 2012). It’s when we start looking closely at the morphological and behavioral characteristics of giant oafish when they’re beached or swimming in the open ocean that we find traits truly fascinating.
Illustration of a sea serpent found in Bermuda, 1869.  (Ellis 1994)
Morphologically, the oarfish is an oddity. The Giant Oarfish has a long, slim silvery body with no scales.  The lateral line dips from above the eye to down along the abdomen (Psomadakis et al, 2008). The dorsal fin is the main means of locomotion and uses counter propagating waves to maintain its position in the water. The oarfish can grow up to 56 feet in length, but is typically less because of its tendency for self-automization of the tail section. In fact this ability to self-automize in fish can only be found in the Regalecus genus. Furthermore the Giant Oarfish has only one very long pelvic ray on each fin (to which they get their name) with a large adornment at the end which has no clear function. Another curiosity about giant oarfish is that they produce the largest eggs of any pelagic fish found in the Yucatan peninsula area (Leyva-Cruz et al. 2016). Adding onto this their mouth is small and is usually described to be toothless although some have been found with small conical teeth (Psomadakis et al., 2008).

The Giant Oarfish is a filter feeder that strains zooplankton and krill out of the water. In support of this (Psomadakis et al. 2008) found that the gill rakers were “long with minute spines projecting on the inner and outer margins” which would hint towards it being a filter feeder. (Psomadakis et al. 2008) also stated that the stomach contents of the two oarfish he dissected contained only Mediterranean krill which hints at its diet. Additionally it’s been stated that oarfish can consume juvenile squid and small fish (Kuris et al. 2015), but if so it’d likely be the fault of said prey species for getting too close to the oarfishes mouth. In order to feed efficiently it must situate itself vertically and gulp water over its gills (Paig-Tran, 2014). 
Underwater photograph of two oarfish. (Benfield et al. 2013)

You might think that hovering vertical in the water column only using undulations of the dorsal fin to move might make them slow and vulnerable to predation, but in fact they have several creative anti-predation strategies.  The first of which is that they have the ability to swim away like an eel, which was observed in 2011 when one escaped from an ROV by rapidly swimming away (Benfield et al. 2013). Additionally they are capable of self-autonomy in the same way as many lizards are, although this is debated on whether it’s meant for predator avoidance or a way to minimize body metabolism requirements (Roberts, 2010). It should also be noted that ribbon fish (Regalecus russelii), a closely related cousin of the Giant Oarfish, are believed to have the ability to produce electrical shocks for potentially warding off predators and/or communication. Also people that have tried to eat them find that their meat is gelatinous and distasteful (Helfman, 2015). In fact according to Helfman, 2015 he’s observed no animal attacking or wanting to scavenge upon oarfish except for cookie cutter sharks. This is contradicted though by the fact that oarfish have been observed in the stomach contents of sharks off the coast of Florida (Hutton, 1961). Also the act of staying vertical in the water might be a strategy to reduce their silhouette to predators beneath them. In addition to this oarfish have vibrant blue bands going across their side which appears to be a method of counter-illumination or disruptive camouflage so that the Giant Oarfish might appear to be the same color as the water above them when viewed from below. Watch a video of an oarfish swimming.
Giant Oarfish are truly fascinating for many reasons. One of which is that they can reach monstrous proportions and are alien looking compared to most other fish, also they’re so difficult to find that more people have probably stepped foot on the moon than have touched one in its natural habitat even though they occur pretty much everywhere except for in polar regions. They’re also interesting in terms of its array of adaptations for avoiding predation which likely includes counter-illumination, maintaining a vertical stance, and repulsive tasting meat. The Giant Oarfish is a charismatic fish that should be studied more in order to understand the mechanics of its morphology and behavior.

Benfield, M. C., S. Cook, S. Sharuga, and M. M. Valentine. 2013. Five in situ observations of live oarfish Regalecus glesne (Regalecidae) by remotely operated vehicles in the oceanic waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Fish Biology 83:28–38.
Ellis, R. 1994. Monsters of the sea. Knopf, New York.
Helfman, G. S. 2015. Secrets of a sea serpent revealed. Environmental Biology of Fishes 98:1723–1726.
Hutton, R. F. (1961). A pleurocercoid (Cestoda: Tetraphyllidae) from the oarfish, Regalecus glesne (Ascanius), with notes on the biology of the oarfish. Bulletin of Marine Sciences of the Gulf and Caribbean 11, 309–317.
Kuris, A. M., A. G. Jaramillo, J. P. Mclaughlin, S. B. Weinstein, A. E. Garcia-Vedrenne, G. O. Poinar, M. Pickering, M. L. Steinauer, M. Espinoza, J. E. Ashford, and G. L. P. Dunn. 2015. Monsters of the Sea Serpent: Parasites of an Oarfish, Regalecus russellii. Journal of Parasitology 101:41–44.
Leyva-Cruz, E., L. Vásquez-Yeomans, L. Carrillo, and M. Valdez-Moreno. 2016. Identifying pelagic fish eggs in the southeast Yucatan Peninsula using DNA barcodes. Genome 59:1117–1129.
Paig-Tran, M. SciFri. 2014. YouTube. Accessed 1 Apr 2018.
Psomadakis, P. N., Bottaro, M., Doria, G., Garibaldi, F., Giustino, S. & Vacchi, M. (2008). Notes on the Regalecus glesne occurring in the Gulf of Genova and in LiguroProvencal waters (NW Mediterranean) (Pisces, Lampridiformes, Regalecidae). Annali del Museo civico di Storia naturale “G. Doria” 99, 549–571.
Roberts, T. R. (2012). Systematics, biology, and distribution of the species of the oceanic oarfish genus Regalecus (Teleostei, Lampridiformes, Regalecidae). Mémoires du Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle 202, 1–266.