Thursday, September 25, 2008

Landmark Fish Habitat Bill Introduced in U.S. Senate

Yesterday, Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Christopher Bond (R-MO), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), and George Voinovich (R-OH) introduced the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act of 2008, a comprehensive strategy to allocate conservation dollars for effective restoration of our national waterways.

“The National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, which I introduced along with Senators Bond, Clinton, and Voinovich, will revolutionize how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approaches fish habitat conservation. With 40 percent of our fish populations in decline and half of our waters impaired, the current fragmented approach to fish habitat protection and preservation has clearly not worked." said Lieberman. "This bill encourages collaborative regional conservation efforts that bring together federal government agencies, state and local governments, conservation groups, fishing industry groups, and businesses. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to enact this critical legislation to help restore fishstocks across the country.”

The legislation was spearheaded by numerous leading environmental organizations including the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, the American Sportfishing Association, The Nature Conservancy, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, and Trout Unlimited, all of which share a common interest in the success of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan.

Currently, our nation’s efforts to address threats to fish species are fragmented, and not comprehensive enough to reverse this downward trend. Earlier this month, the American Fisheries Society's Endangered Species Committee (ESC), a U.S. Geological Survey-led team of scientists, conducted a detailed evaluation of the health of our nation’s freshwater fishes. In examining the status of continental freshwater and diadromous (migrating between rivers and oceans) fish, the ESC determined that nearly 40 percent of fish species in North American streams, rivers and lakes are now imperiled. This dramatic increase in the number of imperiled fish since the last report 20 years ago calls for the urgent action provided in the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act of 2008.

Under this legislation, federal and state governments, the recreational and commercial fishing industries, the conservation community, and businesses will work together to collectively to conserve and protect aquatic habitats using science-based conservation approaches. The National Fish Habitat Conservation Act directs critical new resources toward the nation’s fish and aquatic communities through partnerships that foster fish habitat conservation and improve the quality of life for the American people. This legislation leverages federal, state, and private funds to build regional partnerships aimed at addressing the nation’s biggest fisheries problems.

To date, the National Fish Habitat Action Plan’s progress has included:
• Establishment of six fish habitat partnerships including:o Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnershipo Eastern Brook Trout Joint Ventureo Western Native Trout Initiativeo Midwest Driftless Area Restoration Effort o Matanuska-Susitna Basin Salmon Habitat Partnershipo Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat Partnership
• Allocated approximately $11 Million towards:o On the ground restoration projects through fish habitat partnershipso A National Fish Habitat Assessment – due in 2010
This legislation is expected to improve not only important fish habitat, but also the overall health of vital waterways throughout the United States.

“I would first like to express my sincere gratitude to the sponsors of the bill and their commitment to improving the quality of life in this country,” said Kelly Hepler, of the Alaska Fish and Game Department and Chairman of the National Fish Habitat Board. “The waterways in our country are the true lifeblood of our nation and the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act will not only provide additional fishing opportunities and public access to these waterways but will also improve the health of the water and therefore the health of our families.”

“This is a landmark bill that, if passed, would show our country is moving in the right direction to protect freshwater and aquatic ecosystems,” said Mark Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “With recent studies showing that fish species are in serious decline, we are in dire need of implementing a nationwide, comprehensive program to protect fish habitat. We need to act swiftly on this important legislation.”

“The National Fish Habitat Conservation Act will provide new money for fish habitat conservation in this country,” said American Sportfishing Association Vice President, Gordon Robertson. “It represents a ground-up approach to fishery conservation and is complimentary to the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund Act. By improving the nation’s fishery resources, the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act will also provide more recreational fishing opportunities for America’s 40 million anglers.”

The National Fish Habitat Action Plan board and staff appreciate the leadership and commitment of Senators Lieberman, Bond, Clinton and Voinovich along with their many colleagues who we hope will support this unprecedented legislation.

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