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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a Partner in Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership Established to Protect Fish and Their Habitats


November 22, 2004

Doug Fruge,
Kyla Hastie,


Southeast aquatic resources protection has taken a positive step forward with formal establishment of the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP). The SARP is a coalition of state, federal, and other conservation agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that are committed to working together for the benefit of aquatic resources. Initiated in 2001, SARP has been meeting twice per year since that time. However, the partnership was formalized this summer through signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the 21 partners. No other such comprehensive partnership for aquatic resources currently exists in the country.

The partnership’s mission is: “With partners, to protect, conserve, and restore aquatic resources including habitats throughout the Southeast, for the continuing benefit, use, and enjoyment of the American people.”

The SARP’s challenges are great:

  • 34 percent of North America’s imperiled fish species and 90 percent of imperiled native mussels are found in the Southeast.
  • 200 foreign aquatic nuisance species, such as the zebra mussel and Asian eel, have been introduced into the United States, and about half of these are in the Southeast.
  • 74 of 87 watersheds nationwide considered to be “freshwater hot spots” (areas of concern) are in the Southeast, according to a 1998 Nature Conservancy report.

Against the backdrop of these statistics, the Southeast continues to be one of the fastest growing regions of the country with demands for a quality environment and water-related recreation, such as fishing, expected to increase along with the growth. Population growth and development will also put new pressures on southeastern aquatic systems that are already stressed. The SARP was formed to help stem the tide of such changes, and because the managers of the participating agencies realized they could not manage these serious large-scale, multi-state problems on their own, but they could by acting in partnership across the region.

The SARP is currently comprised of representatives from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (Marine Resources Division and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division); Arkansas Game and Fish Commission; Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council; Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission; Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources; Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; Mississippi Department of Marine Resources; Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks; Missouri Department of Conservation; National Marine Fisheries Service; North Carolina Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources; North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission; Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation; South Atlantic Fishery Management Council; South Carolina Department of Natural Resources; Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency; Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). In addition, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission also has recently decided to sign the SARP MOU.

The SARP is focusing its efforts in six key aquatic resource issue areas of greatest concern in the Southeast:

  • public use;
  • mitigation of fishery losses due to dams;
  • imperiled fish and aquatic species recovery;
  • interjurisdictional fisheries;
  • aquatic habitat conservation;
  • aquatic nuisance species.

A key strategy of the SARP will be to initiate joint ventures for aquatic resources, patterned after the very successful joint ventures that have been instrumental in helping to reverse the serious declines in the continent’s migratory bird populations. A major benefit of SARP includes a greater voice in seeking support from other partners and stakeholders, including Congressional support for funding initiatives.

In 2003, the SARP was awarded a Multistate Conservation Grant from the FWS through the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA). The 3-year grant of $232,500 has enabled the SARP to hire Ms. Marilyn Barrett-O’Leary as a full-time Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Coordinator. Employment of the ANS Coordinator will enable the SARP to successfully implement one of the key projects identified in the ANS Action Agenda, specifically, to develop ANS plans and strategies for each of the 13 SARP states.

In March 2004 the SARP obtained a $75,000 matching grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to begin development of an Aquatic Habitat Plan for the Southeast to address concerns about declining populations of fish and other aquatic organisms. This project will focus on four specific watersheds: the Altamaha River in Georgia; the Duck River in Tennessee; the Pascagoula River in Mississippi, and the Roanoke River in North Carolina and Virginia.

The SARP is also seeking additional funding to expand this pilot effort into development of a comprehensive Aquatic Habitat Plan for the entire Southeast. A Southeast Aquatic Habitat Plan could be a model for a National Fish Habitat Plan that has been proposed by FWS, the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council, and IAFWA.


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