Fishing conservation organizations and trade associations recently released recommendations that they hope the incoming Administration and Congress will follow to improve access to saltwater recreational fishing, create economic growth, and enhance the conservation of marine fish stocks.
"While our highly successful model of inland recreational fisheries management is often envied by countries around the world, in many cases federal management of our marine recreational fisheries continues to struggle in meeting the needs of the angling public," said Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation.
"The Vision document provides recommendations that will bring federal fisheries management into the 21st Century, enhancing both the conservation and economic contributions of America's anglers."
A Vision for Marine Fisheries Management in the 21st Century: Priorities for a New Administration recommends a shift away from using the same tools to manage commercial fishing and recreational fishing at the federal level. New approaches should reflect the reality of demand for recreational access to our marine fishery resources, the current economic activity associated with that access, and the scientific data of the light footprint recreational access has on our fishery resources.
“While progress has been made in recent years to improve saltwater recreational fisheries management, many important opportunities and challenges remain,” said ASA President and CEO Mike Nussman.
“We look forward to working with the next Administration to fully develop our outdoor economy including embracing the important role that saltwater recreational fishing plays in creating jobs and promoting sustainable enjoyment of our nation’s fisheries resources.”
The report points out antiquated federal policies that have inhibited a vital source of economic growth and a proud American tradition. It highlights the economic value of recreational fishing in coastal waters. Today, 11 million American anglers fish for recreation in saltwater. From license sales to retail sales, the recreational saltwater fishing industry contributes more than $70 billion annually in economic activity and generates 455,000 jobs.
However, outdated federal management policies threaten to stem this positive economic trend.
“Fishing is a treasured pastime and tradition for millions of Americans and needs to be treated as such,” said Jeff Anglers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation.
“The new Administration and Congress should take steps to keep this tradition alive – for the benefit of all those who enjoy fishing, for the hundreds of thousands employed in the recreational fishing industry, and for future generations of anglers who will fall in love with the sea.”
As Lake Okeechobee continues to rank as one of nation's best bass fisheries, discharges of its nutrient-rich waters to the east and west are feeding toxic algae blooms that devastate ecosystems on both Florida coasts. And the same time, the Everglades to the south slowly is dying of thirst.
With this year arguably the worst ever for algae blooms, many are demanding quick and decisive action. One of those is new Florida state Senate President Joe Negron, who recently promised to push for a solution that is opposed by Gov. Rick Scott and the sugar industry.
Negron wants to buy 60,000 acres used to grow sugar cane to build a $2.4 billion reservoir to hold Okeechobee water that now is discharged via man-made diversions to both coasts. From the reservoir, it would be released into the Everglades, after pollutants settled to the bottom.
"We must buy land south," he said. "That's what I believe is the next step forward."
Before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers led the way in building dikes and replumbing to allow for development and minimize flooding decades ago, that's where water flowed naturally. As the Everglades was replenished, it served as a filter for the water on its way to Florida Bay.
In response to Negron's announcement, the Everglades Foundation said, "This project is vital to re-connecting Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Keys. By storing, cleaning and sending Lake Okeechobee water south, the project significantly reduces the amount of polluted water being dumped east and west."
The environmental organization also called Negron "an Everglades champion." And it added, "He has placed his political capital on the table in an effort to not only bring relief to his constituency along the east coast, but to begin a project that will provide significant benefits to America's Everglades."
Scott, meanwhile, favors using property the state already owns to finally finish other Everglades restoration reservoirs and water treatment areas.
"We are reviewing his (Negron's) proposal and will continue to review all options that will help with water quality in our state," the governor's office said in a statement released as a response to the new Senate president. "We look forward to working with the legislature as session approaches."
At a glance, what's there not to like about milder winters and warmer waters for northern waters?
"Smallmouth bass, a popular recreational species, are expanding their range northward with climate change," said the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in reporting on findings that it compiled from reviewing 31 studies across the U.S. and Canada that document fish responses to climate change.
But, it cautioned, "one of the takeaway messages is that climate change effects on fish are rarely straightforward, and they affect warmwater and coldwater fish differently."
For example, an expanding smallmouth population will result in new species interactions and altered predator-prey dynamics. That will complicate life even more for coldwater fish species already stressed by milder conditions. Thus, managers will be tasked with both accommodating the desires of anglers who want to catch bass and maintaining native species.
That means managing not only the fish but "the expectations of the stakeholders for fisheries changing with climate change," said USGS.
Fish most at risk are those living in arid environments and coldwater species, including walleye and trout, as well as prey species that these larger fish depend on for food. "Climate change can cause suboptimal habitat for some fish," the agency said. "Warmer water, for example, can stress coldwater fish. When stressed, fish tend to eat less and grow less."
Other climate change consequences:
- Increased frequency and severity of droughts, especially in arid areas, will exacerbate the impacts of regulations on water flow and use for fish and aquatic systems, as well as people.
- Altered migration times for some coldwater species will allow species that never spawned together before to hybridize. Native westslope cutthroat trout in the Rocky Mountains already are hybridizing with rainbow trout, a non-native species.
- Abundance and growth of some coldwater species will be reduced. Changes in range, abundance, migration, growth, and reproduction already are occurring for sockeye salmon.
“Even though climate change can seem overwhelming, fisheries managers have the tools to develop adaptation strategies to conserve and maintain fish populations,” said Craig Paukert, a lead author and fisheries scientist at the USGS Missouri Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Missouri.
“Thanks to this synthesis, we can see the effects of climate change on inland fish are no longer just future speculation, but today’s facts, with real economic, social, and ecological impacts,” added Doug Austen, Executive Director of the American Fisheries Society.
“Now that trends are being revealed, we can start to tease apart the various stressors on inland fish and invest in conservation and research where these programs will really make a difference in both the short and long term.”
The Texas state record largemouth bass was caught by accident.
Chances are that you don't know the amazing story of that fish, which weighed 18.18 pounds and was caught in 1992.
I do. I talked to the angler who caught it and included his tale in my book, Better Bass Fishing, in a chapter about catching big bass with small baits.
St. Clair had been bass fishing on Lake Fork with two friends. They decided to stop and catch a few crappie for the table. St. Clair didn’t have light tackle with him, so he simply put 12-inches of 8-pound leader and a 1/0 gold Aberdeen hook onto his bass rod and reel, which was loaded with 14-pound line.
The strength of that line and the backbone of the rod played no small part in the battle that was about to occur.
“At first, I didn’t know what I had,” St. Clair told me. “But I never panicked. That’s what helped me get the fish in.
“I put pressure on it, and it started to move. Right away, I thought it might be a big catfish. But it didn’t act like a catfish.”
The fish ran three times, but stayed deep. “I took the time to wear her out,” St. Clair said. “Then I eased her toward the surface.
“When she came up, it was like an exploding buoy coming out of the water. We all were stunned. Then I screamed ‘Get the net!’ at my buddies.”
Once he had her in, St. Clair noted that the big bass “filled the bottom of the boat,” and he saw that the delicate wire hook was bent nearly into a circle. “Once more run and she would have been gone,” he said.
Since that memorable day, St. Clair has learned that his experience was not unique.
Secret: In other words, big bass will eat little baits, just as elephants will munch peanuts.
“I’ve run across numerous examples of others who were doing the same thing (crappie fishing) when they hooked something big,” he said. “A few got them in, and the fish were in the 13-pound range. Others couldn’t do it. I was lucky that I had tackle stout enough to handle the fish.”
Here’s another example of a big bass dining at the hors d’oeuvre tray instead of the buffet table: In April 2006, Randy Beaty Jr. used a 1/8-ounce Blakemore Roadrunner to catch a 15.68-pound bass at Florida’s Bienville Plantation.
And my personal favorite: I caught a 12-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass on a 3/8-ounce Cordell Spot, while fishing in Mexico’s Lake Guerrero. In case you’re not familiar with it, that lipless crankbait is a mere 3 inches long, seemingly hardly an appetizer for a big bass.
Why do big bass sometimes eat little baits?
Find the answer in Better Bass Fishing. The book has been out for a few years, but most of the information does not go out of date because it's about bass behavior and intelligence, seasonal patterns, weather, etc. In other words, it's about the "big picture" of bass fishing.