Sport fishing is culturally and economically important to families and communities all across Idaho. According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, more than 35 million Americans participated in fish-related activities. These recreationists spent over $46 billion pursuing these activities, contributing to millions of jobs in industries and businesses that support fish-related recreation. Idaho ranks above the national average in fishing participation among its residents. Protecting, maintaining and improving fish habitats is crucial for jobs, recreation and sustainably healthy fish populations.
Bipartisan legislation I introduced would codify the existing relationships between local and regional habitat conservation stakeholders and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and empower locally-based groups to support conservation efforts specifically benefiting fish and fish habitats. I introduced S. 754, the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act (NFHCA), with Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) to leverage public-private partnerships and authorize annual funds for fish habitat restoration and protection projects supported by regional Fish Habitat Partnerships.
The National Fish Habitat Conservation Act would improve the availability of financial and technical resources to support local fish habitat conservation efforts by creating a National Fish Habitat Board to facilitate regional partnerships with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. NFHCA would also provide for the better coordination of local efforts that will result in the greatest improvements to fish habitat across regional watersheds.
The bill would authorize funds over Fiscal Years 2020-2023 for the U.S. Department of the Interior to fund projects to conserve fish habitats, cover certain planning and administrative expenses, and provide technical and scientific assistance to the Board, Fish Habitat Partnerships and conservation project participants. It would not impose costs on state, local or tribal governments.
The waters of North America are home to more than 700 species of fish, which are critical for maintaining the ecological health and balance of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems alike. They play a key role in the food chain to a wide variety of bird, reptile and mammal species, including iconic American species like Bald Eagles, Grizzly Bears, Great Blue Herons and Alligators. The greatest threat to native fish species are the ecological impacts of habitat loss and habitat degradation.
This legislation would make progress in sustaining fish habitat and complements other related actions. For example, I welcomed the National Marine Fisheries Service approval of Idaho’s Fishery Evaluation and Management Plan and associated incidental take permit that authorizes Idaho’s plan for management of steelhead fisheries.
Enactment of this legislation will further efforts to encourage and support locally-based conservation efforts benefitting fish and fish habitats, and I will continue to work for its passage.