Short Strikes No. 4

This week, Short Strikes visits the Everglades and the waters of coastal Louisiana where angling communities are being challenged by industry. And we explore the good and bad of a blockbuster $60 million deal that the boating industry has made with the federal government.

Good Zinke, Bad Zinke

The boating industry is celebrating a $60 million co-op agreement announced this week by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Zinke is the industry’s favorite love-hate relationship partner who frequently finds himself lauded by one sport fishing-related association and condemned by another in the same week. The move will partner the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and is unquestionably a victory for RBFF, which works tirelessly to increase the number of boaters and anglers on the water. The co-op agreement also includes $14 million in infrastructure grants to improve boating facilities.

For anglers and boaters, that funding is great news.

The strike: The move is a head-scratching moment from Washington. Officially, USFWS says the administration is continuing to support fish and wildlife habitat as well as outdoor recreation. However, the proposed 2019 federal budget would cut USFWS overall funding from $1.6 billion to $1.2 billion and slice funds for wetland conservation and restoration by 11-percent. Washington is simultaneously proposing up to $18 billion for infrastructure repairs on USFWS property funded by federal leasing of energy generated on public lands. Additionally, nearly 1/12th of the 2019 USFWS budget—about $99 million—would be earmarked to “facilitate planning and consultation that will support energy and infrastructure development.”

Energy is a business that the USFWS website acknowledges as a challenge to the core of its mission: “Oil and gas extraction activities may adversely affect fish and wildlife and their habitats by exposure to containment ponds or spills.”

The fossil fuel industry is already being blamed for the loss of some of America’s finest fishing grounds. So the question is “What good is fishing access if you’ve got nowhere to fish? And how do you recruit future anglers if they can’t catch anything?”

Now or Neverglades

The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust (BTT) published a blog this week calling for more treatment of Lake Okeechobee runoff, saying that the Florida Bay fishery is near “irreversible collapse.” Both state and federal governments approved Everglades restoration plans in 1988 and again in 2000 to fight ecosystem-destroying high salinity caused by runoff from the Big O.

The strike: The plans were never fully acted upon. The BTT blames political pressure from the sugar industry, bureaucracy and “soft political leadership” for failing to properly enact restoration plans. The Now or Neverglades movement is gaining momentum after the Florida state legislature approved construction of a retention reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee in 2017, but the South Florida Water Management District plan for said reservoir does not create sufficient capacity to store or filter enough water to meet restoration goals.

The BTT trust puts that onus on Governor Rick Scott, who is opposed to enlarging the reservoir’s 6,500-acre planned footprint. In addition to the BTT, Captains for Clean Water has endorsed the Now or Neverglades movement. More info here.

“Left to Louisiana Tides, a Village Fights for Time”

The sport fishing community is no stranger to the tiny town of Lafitte, Louisiana, or its neighbor, Venice. Together, the collection of fishing communities in the Louisiana wetlands watch over the final reaches of the Mississippi River and the first vestiges of North American soil colliding at the Gulf of Mexico.

Late last week, this fisherman’s paradise was featured in a New York Times spotlight on wetland loss.

The Louisiana coast harbors over 35-percent of the estuarine marshland in the contiguous United States in addition to the largest commercial fishery in the Lower 48. Fisherman have been calling foul on wetland loss for decades, and rare is a trip to the bayou without a weary guide lamenting the shrinking profile of his or her homeland.

One expert from Tulane University called the situation the worst ecological disaster since the Dust Bowl. Proposed solutions involve re-routing sediment from the Mississippi River into the marshland—to the tune of $1.4 billion.

The strike: According to the report, the New Orleans levee system has sued 97 oil companies, placing wetland loss squarely on the shoulders of the companies who have dredged ever-widening canals to build more than 57,000 oil and gas rigs along the coast in the last century. Polls show the majority of Times-Picayune readers want oil companies to pay to restore wetlands, but the state government has already acknowledged that wetland loss has outpaced man’s ability to keep up.

The situation Down South, in the home of gators, redfish, specks and shrimp, seems dire.