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Saturday
Feb132016

Saturday
Feb132016

More Natural Flow Needed to Protect Florida Saltwater Fisheries

High water pouring out of Lake Okeechobee through manmade diversions is devastating ecosystems and fisheries on both coasts of Florida. Meanwhile, Florida Bay to the south suffers because so little freshwater reaches it through the Everglades to reduce the salinity. It's time to correct this man-caused disaster.

This statement is from the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust:

Healthy recreational fisheries require healthy habitats. Healthy habitats require healthy, natural freshwater flows. It's that simple.

Current water management practices in Florida are gravely threatening Florida's recreational fisheries. At the center of this crisis are the Florida Everglades, where natural freshwater flows have been severely disrupted.

Polluted freshwater discharge flowing over a spillway on Taylor Creek in Fort Pierce, FL. Photo: Dr. Zack Jud - Florida Oceanographic Society

Research long ago established that changes to freshwater flows into estuaries causes significant negative impacts to the ecosystem. These changes can kill seagrasses, oysters, fishes, and other organisms that are important to the estuary ecosystem. From an angler's perspective, these changes negatively impact gamefish - there are fewer prey items, less habitat, and the poor water quality can impact fish health. The way that water flows in the Florida Everglades are currently managed is causing damaging changes to freshwater flows into estuaries and wreaking havoc on the ecosystems.

At present, many billions of gallons of polluted freshwater are being discharged every day from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie River and Estuary. These areas are unfishable. Algal blooms are widespread.

In contrast, so little freshwater is reaching Florida Bay that the waters of Florida Bay are hypersaline (too salty), which has resulted in a large-scale die-off of seagrass, an extensive algae bloom, and numerous fish kills.

The Indian River Lagoon, into which the St. Lucie River drains, is experiencing a massive brown tide. The St. Lucie Estuary recently posted health warnings to avoid contact with the water.

These recreational fisheries and habitats are in crisis.

The recreational fisheries of Florida are extremely economically important. Estimates of statewide economic impact of the fishery range from $5 billion to $8 billion annually. The flats fishery of the Florida Keys has an annual economic impact of $465 million. The annual economic impact of the recreational fishery of the Everglades region is nearly $1 billion. The economic impact of the tarpon fisheries of the Indian River Lagoon and Charlotte Harbor exceed $19 million and $110 million, respectively.

Before the Everglades were modified, natural freshwater sent the right amount of freshwater to Florida Bay via sheet flow, and much less water to the east and west coasts, which supported healthy habitats and healthy fisheries. Now altered flows and water management send insufficient freshwater to Florida Bay and too much water is released to the northern estuaries. These changes in freshwater flow result in the algae blooms, seagrass die-offs, fish kills, and otehr environmental impacts that are currently ongoing.



The last time water alterations were this severe, in the early 1990s, Florida Bay suffered catastrophic algae blooms and seagrass die-off, which had severe negative impacts on the recreational fishery that are still felt today. Now, we fear a repeat of the catastrophe of the 1990s is under way. Florida Bay is the "Canary in the Coal Mine" for Florida's recreational fisheries, and rings alarms bells for the entire region, from the Caloosahatchee River and Charlotte Harbor to the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

Freshwater flows need to be restored

  • The plans to make this happen are in place - known as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project or CERP - they just haven't been adequately funded or implemented as promised. This plan needs to be funded and implemented immediately. This will supply Florida Bay with sufficient freshwater and stop the drastic discharges of water into other areas.
  • The Central Everglades Planning Project needs to be fast-tracked.
  • The state needs to purchase the land already identified for creating reservoirs to store and help clean the freshwater.
  • The state needs to implement strategies to reduce the amount of nutrients in freshwater entering the estuaries.
  • It's not going to be an easy or short-term effort, but if action isn't taken now, the future of these habitats and fisheries is not bright.

You need to ACT now

What You Can Do:

  • If you live in the Florida Keys, attend the March 23 Monroe County Commission Meeting, where this item will be a top focus.
  • If you don't live in the Florida Keys, request that this issue is placed on the next Commission meeting agenda for your county and show up at the meeting in force
  • Demand that freshwater flows into Florida Bay are increased, especially during the dry season, and oppose any actions that would reduce this flow
  • Demand that freshwater flows into the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie River are greatly reduced
  • Demand that water storage south of Lake Okeechobee is created now, not delayed until 2022
  • Demand that the freshwater flows into Indian River Lagoon are returned to more natural patterns
  • Demand that the freshwater flowing into the estuaries is clean
  • Contact your local, state, and federal elected representatives and tell them to fast-track CERP, purchase the land to create reservoirs to store and clean freshwater, and implement strategies to reduce nutrients and contaminants in the freshwater entering the estuaries.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (FL)

https://www.billnelson.senate.gov/contact-bill 

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (FL)

http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-senator-rubio?p=Contact

Find and contact your U.S. House of Representatives

http://www.house.gov/representatives/#state_fl

Find and contact your state Senators and Representatives:

https://www.flsenate.gov/senators/find 

http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/myrepresentative.aspx 

South Florida Water Management, Governing Board

Daniel O'Keefe, Chair

(561) 682-6262

dokeefe@sfwmd.gov

Represents: Glades, Highlands, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola and Polk counties

Kevin Powers, Vice Chair

(561) 682-6262

kpowers@sfwmd.gov

Represents: St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties

Contact the Monroe County Board of Commissioners

Tuesday
Feb092016

Research Shows Catch-and-Release Does Help Sustain Fisheries

Releasing a bass makes us feel good. But does catch-and-release really help sustain fisheries?

Based on results from a tagging study at Texas’ Amon Carter, a 1,539 acre fishery north of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Sixty-three percent of 786 tagged bass were taken. In other words, fishermen caught nearly 500 of those fish.

 Forty-three percent were weighed in by tournament anglers. Another 16.3 percent was caught and released by recreational fishermen, with just 3.7 percent harvested.

There’s plenty more evidence too.

Nearly 75 percent of tagged fish were caught at Florida’s Lake Santa Fe.

“Another study we did on Rodman years ago was 40 percent caught by anglers,” said Mike Allen, professor of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Florida.

On Tennessee’s Norris Reservoir, meanwhile, the “adjusted annual angler catch rate” for tagged largemouth bass was 47 percent in 1996 and 34 percent in 1997.

And Jacob Westhoff encountered some powerful anecdotal evidence while doing a smallmouth telemetry study on the Jacks Fork River for the Missouri Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit. Eighteen of the 33 bronzebacks with transmitters were caught by anglers.

“Also of note, is that eight of our fish were caught by a single angler in one day during the winter at the confluence of Alley Spring and the Jacks Fork River,” he said.

Clearly, the evidence is there to support the wisdom of catch-and-release--- and more.

“Those findings highlight the importance of proper fish care,” said Randy Myers, a fisheries biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife. But he is quick to add that not all bass fisheries reveal such dramatic findings. For example, just 38 percent of more than 6,000 tagged fish were caught on Sam Rayburn, a lake more than 70 times the size of Carter.

Allen added that the statewide estimate for Florida lakes is about 20 percent.

“It obviously varies widely among water bodies and probably among regions,” he added. “In Florida, we have so many lakes. It’s probably higher in states without as many fishing sites.”

Allen’s point is important. The percentage of a bass population caught ties directly to angling pressure. At Amon Carter, tournament and recreational effort was a combined 14 hours per acre, while it was 5.2 at Rayburn. And in Florida, drought had reduced accessible areas at other fisheries, likely forcing more anglers than normal to fish Santa Fe.

Other factors can influence how great a percentage is caught as well.

“Rayburn has better habitat than Carter,” Myers said. “Overall, it’s a better lake for bass production.”

Still, angling pressure is a top consideration for resource managers in maintaining healthy bass fisheries. That’s why Myers is hopeful that removal of a protective slot at Ray Roberts will attract tournaments away from Carter.

“At Carter, more than half of the effort was from tournament anglers,” he said. “Because they are so popular, we have to think long and hard about restrictions that would limit tournaments. But if 50 percent of tournament-retained fish die (at Carter) it would have some impact on the fishery.”

Consequently, how fish are cared for before they are released also is a concern for Myers and other fisheries managers.

“If a fish is gilling, lots of experienced anglers still assume that it will live,” Myers said. “But that’s not always true. Some of those fish do die.”

The Texas biologist pointed to statistics gathered as part of a fizzing study during five tournaments at Lake Amistad in 2009.

On days when the water temperature was in the 50s and 60s, mortality, both immediate and delayed, was less than 10 percent. On a day when the temperature was 79 to 80, total mortality was 23 percent and delayed 18.3. And, most sobering, when the temperature was 83, total mortality was 50.8 percent and delayed 42.1.

“What we saw at Amistad is that 75 degrees is the critical temperature for bass health in a livewell,” he said. “That high mortality was strictly related to water temperature.”

Hot Days and Heavy Limits

Research like that at Amistad prompted Texas biologists Randy Myers and James Driscoll to recommend an oxygen injection system for livewells, particularly when an angler has a hefty limit as often happens at Texas reservoirs.

“Oxygen injection has long been used by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department hatcheries to maintain the health of fish being stocked into reservoirs,” they said.

“Fisheries staff regularly transport or hold fish in ratios equal to or greater than one pound of fish to a gallon of water. However, boat manufactures do not offer oxygen injection system options, and very few tournament anglers have installed oxygen equipment on their boats.”

Proper installation and operation of such a system, they added, “will ensure oxygen levels remain above the preferred level of 7 milligrams per liter, even when livewells contain heavy limits.”

More information is available in a Power Point presentation.

Monday
Feb082016

This Time, Anglers Are Attacked

Anglers who caught a huge tiger shark off the coast of Australia have been attacked with the same indignant outrage as that heaped on the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the lion.

Never mind that the two incidents are vastly different. That doesn't matter to the name-calling know-nothings whose comments highlight their colossal ignorance regarding wildlife and nature. What matters to these "animal lovers" is that they want to heap abuse on those who fish and hunt.

And in doing so, the implication should be clear to all of us who hunt or fish and occasionally keep what we catch: They don't want us doing it either, and, if they have their way, one day we won't be able to. They've already scored victories on this front in western Europe, where catch-and-release isn't allowed in some countries because its "cruel" and in others where live bait can't be used because it's equally offensive.

How ignorant are these people? Here's one comment on Facebook, where the photo of the  nearly 1,400-pound shark and the anglers originally was posted:

"WTF is wrong with these people leave the Sharks alone without them out ocean would be a lot more polluted." (Comment is reprinted just as it was written.)

And here's an excerpt from another:

". . . you went into another's place of residence and fought an unfair battle, you were armed with a weapon that has placed this creature in an unfair situation. To me you are cowards . . . "

That's called anthropomorphizing, and that's what these people do. In other words, they attribute human qualities, needs, emotions, etc. to animals. In fact, a primary objective of the most radical is achieve legal "personhood" for animals.

The same types of comments and attacks surfaced on social media against hunters and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in the wake of last fall's bear hunt, which the agency deemed an appropriate management tool to help control the state's exploding bear population.

With the shark, meanwhile, we know little about the circumstances of the catch and why the anglers decided to keep the fish instead of release it. What we do know, though, is that their catch was legal.

And we know that they were using light line (15 kg-pound test, or the equivalent of about 30-pound). What that suggests is that they probably were not targeting sharks, and that a long fight was required to bring it to the boat.  And the longer the battle, the more likely that the shark was too exhausted to survive afterward. That sometimes happens when large fish are caught on light line.

Of course, that's of absolutely no importance to the know-nothings who say things like this:

"You are just as bad as poachers in Africa."

They are relentless too, and not in the least bit troubled by their ignorance, as they are fueled entirely by emotion.

And as we become an increasingly urbanized society, where more and more people spend little time outdoors and have no clue as to how nature works, this is only going to get worse for those of us who fish and hunt.

Friday
Feb052016

Catch-and-Release Fishing During Spawn Doesn't Hurt Population, Florida Study Reveals

Ongoing research by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), suggests that fishing  beds for the Florida strain of largemouth bass has little, if any, impact on populations--- if those fish are not harvested.

Results "indicated that fish captured during the spawning period contributed significantly to fall recruitment, despite being removed from their nests," reported Nick Trippel and other biologists who participated in two projects.

They added, "Genetic analysis of over 3,249 Florida bass fall recruits collected over two years provided evidence that nest fishing may not significantly impact the number of adults contributing to reproduction or the average number of recruits produced per adult."

In this study, researchers set up hatchery ponds, each stocked with 10 pairs of mature Florida bass. For two years, half of the ponds were fished and the other half were not. If caught, fish were held for one hour and then released. Biologists snorkeled the ponds every other day to document the number of nests made and confirm that the nests in the fished ponds were being pressured.

After the spawn, the ponds were left alone until October, when they were drained and the number of young produced in each was counted. Using fin clips to obtain DNA, biologists determined the parental contribution from each pond.

Genetic results  revealed that fish that were caught off nests still contributed as many juveniles to the recruited year class as did fish that were not caught, they reported. "These results reveal that fishing for nesting Florida Bass likely does not have any negative population level impacts."

In the other study, conducted  on three lakes during the spring of 2012 and again in 2015, they observed nests that were randomly placed in three test groups: never fished, catch-and-immediate release, and catch and hold for one hour, before being released 1,000 meters down the shoreline.

"There were no statistical differences in nest success rates between the three treatment groups: 32 percent for controls, 27 percent for catch-and-release, and 27 percent for catch and hold," the biologists said. "Lake, male size, and brood stage were better predictors for nest success rates than angling treatments were. Nest success was higher for smaller males than larger males."

The length of the spawning season likely helps explain why fishing for bedding bass has little if any negative impact.  Mike Allen, a fisheries expert at the University of Florida, reported graduate student Stephanie Shaw found the average male raises at least two broods a year.

"The long spawning season in the southern states makes this feasible," he said. "It's less likely that males can successfully raise more than one brood in the northern states, where total spawning duration may be only a period of two to three weeks."

Allen added that bass are not "total spawners," as are trout and salmon. Rather, they are "batch spawners," which means their eggs are spread over multiple spawning events yearly. "Genetic studies have confirmed that female bass spawn with multiple males across a given spawning season," he said.

Still, all of this is not to say that bed fishing could not have an negative impact on bass populations in some cases. "Bed fishing that involves a high harvest component may display results significantly different than this experiment (test ponds)," the FWC biologists said.

"However, we feel that results are applicable to bass fisheries around Florida, as the majority of bass being caught, 70 to 99 percent, are voluntarily released and harvest rates are less than 10 percent."

Additionally, they cautioned, the pond study was not designed to measure "deleterious impacts" that might be associated with fishing specifically for trophy bass. 

"However, this study was designed to simulate a worst case scenario in which every nest created throughout the entire spawning season was vulnerable to angling. This is likely not the case in larger public waterbodies with higher habitat complexities."

And finally, here's a revelation that will not surprise many anglers who have been frustrated in their attempts to entice bedding bass: "We also saw that catch rates of Florida bass while on nests were lower than expected, suggesting that Florida bass are less vulnerable to angling than previously thought," the biologists said.