Conserving Areas Where We Boat and Fish

My wife has a saying that has become one of my favorites. Presentation without demonstration is merely conversation. Someone may have said that before, but I heard it from her first, and she’s right. That statement gets to the point. Organizations like the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and Trout Unlimited among others are tireless champions of encouraging folks to get out and boat and fish, to purchase their fishing licenses, and to register their boats.. Sometimes it seems like the money that is spent on fishing licenses and boat registrations just disappears. I know I’m guilty of scratching my head from time to time, and so I dug in to see where some of the money is going. Good news, the monies go back into the natural places you love through fisheries management, habitat improvement, boat ramps, aquatic education and many others. Here are three of the thousands of projects taking place across the country. The efforts made by these people and these groups gives me hope.

The 200 year old Great Works Dam has been blocking more than 1,000 miles of river on Maine’s Penobscot River. In its early days, the dam sought to contain flood water and to protect the villages downstream. Dams also generated power for our emerging nation, and at the time they provided essential services. Times have changed, and thanks to Trout Unlimited, the river will return to natural flow, as the dam is set to be removed. The removal will be a boon to the endangered Atlantic salmon as well as 10 other anadromous fish.

According to Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited’s President and CEO, “This unprecedented collaboration among a wide range of stakeholders will result in a healthier river, more fish and as a result, better angling opportunities in the years to come.”

The project took more than a decade of negotiation and after the Great Works Dam project is completed, the Veazie Dam will also be removed. A bypass will be constructed around a third dam and will open the river to migrating salmon, sturgeon, striped bass, shad and other fish for the first time in generations. “The restoration of the Penobscot River is one of the largest projects of its kind in the country,” said Elizabeth Maclin, TU’s vice president of Eastern conservation. “And it is the last, best chance for the recovery of wild Atlantic salmon in the United States.”

The Penobscot River drains roughly 9,000 square miles in Maine, or about one-third of the state. Maine is home to the last remaining wild Atlantic salmon in the nation, and the Penobscot holds the state’s largest population of Atlantic salmon, with annual salmon runs estimated at 50,000-70,000 prior to 1830. Last year, approximately 2,000 salmon returned to the Penobscot, which represents more than 90 percent of the total population that returned to Maine’s rivers.

Similarly, at the other end of the Eastern seaboard, a restoration project at the MacDill Air Force Base outside of Tampa Bay, Florida is taking place. Mangroves that provide essential structure were steadily declining along the eastern coastline causing significant erosion along the shoreline. The Air Force along with help from other volunteers, a series of intertidal oyster reefs have been added to break the wave energy. In 2007 and 2008 alone almost 3,000 oyster domes were installed. Erosion as well as sedimentation were reduced, and oysters and mussels began to thrive. Shellfish filter water, and with the improvement in water quality came resurrected fish populations.

Another conservation project took place on Michigan’s legendary North Branch of the Au Sable River. Road crossings as well as the devastation caused by storm water runoff caused sediment to fill the river and degrade the otherwise world-class trout population. A series of projects were spearheaded by Huron Pines, a non-profit conservation group in conjunction with other governmental and conservation groups. In the past decade, thousands of trees were placed in the river to restore in-stream habitat. These trees were placed in and along a 30-mile stretch of river banks during a five year effort that began with funding from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Additional habitat improvement projects include stream bank stabilization and road crossing improvement projects to focus on eliminating sources of sediment pollution, which has been identified as one of the most severe threat to the North Branch of the Au Sable River.

These projects remind me of an old Elvis Presley song, “A little less conversation a little more action.” Congratulations to all involved, and thank you for improving the places where we fish and boat.

Learn more about RBFF and its mission and keep up-to-date on projects taking place around the country.

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at