About 100,000 bass fingerlings received early release from Arkansas' Cummins Correctional Facility in June, so anglers could stock them in the Arkansas River during the Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza.
As fishermen brought in their bass for hourly weigh-ins at five sites, they were given bags of small fish to take on their return trips for release.
“They’re spreading out and placing the fingerlings in the backwaters and areas they fish,” said Colton Dennis, coordinator of the Black Bass Program for Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC). “It’s going to be more favorable habitat than if we backed up a truck at a ramp and released thousands into an area with less complex habitat, less vegetation and more current to fight.”
The river needs a boost because of decline in spawning and nursery habitat in its backwaters, he added.
The project that began in 2001 is a joint effort of AGFC and the Department of Corrections. During spring, agency biologists collect brood fish from weigh-ins at the Dumas pool of the river. They're then placed in ponds at Cummins, once used for raising catfish.
“Roughly 200 bass are stocked into the ponds,” said JJ Gladden, biologist at the Joe Hogan State Fish Hatchery. “Our goal is to get about 200,000 fingerlings out of that."
After 100,000 fingerlings are removed for stocking throughout the river, the remainder are released into Dumas.
During the past four years, angler volunteers have stocked 373,000 fingerlings.
“Five of the 15 years suffered no measurable production because the river rose into the ponds before we could get the fingerlings out,” Dennis said.
No other activity transports us so completely into the web of life as fishing and hunting. We might no longer fish or hunt to feed our families, but these pastimes takes us closer to what life is all about than anything else I can think of --- except for maybe getting lost in the wilderness or being pursued by a grizzly bear.
And in getting closer to what life is all about, we implicitly recognize our place in it and, as a consequence, are healthier and happier in our everyday existence.
What is life all about? Go fishing and find out.
A new national campaign aims to increase the number of anglers in this country from 46 million in 60 million in 60 months (by 2021).
Dubbed "60-in-60," the project is being jointly sponsored by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). Additionally, it is supported by the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation (CSF) as well as members of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus.
"Because of the current angler demographic between ages 52 and 70, we risk declining participation rates in the next decade," said CSF President Jeff Crane.
"In order to effectively recruit enough anglers to sustain the industry's economic impact in the country, as well as the significant contribution anglers and boaters make to conservation, we need a new approach to get people reconnected with one of the nation's most enduring pastimes - fishing."
The Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, a program first established by Congress in 1950, generates revenue for state natural resource agencies through excise taxes paid by anglers and boaters on fishing tackle, marine electronics and motorboat fuels. Currently, the fund distributes $600 million annually to all 50 states for fisheries management, habitat improvement projects, boating access, and aquatic education.
"Boating and fishing are two of the most popular activities in America, and our industries have a significant economic impact throughout the country," said NMMA President Thom Dammrich.
"'60-in-60' is about recruitment, retention and reactivation. It's about partnerships between the industry, state governments, and anglers to focus on what we can do better to grow the sport and improve the fishing experience."
"This new initiative is focused on what the sportfishing community needs to do to be more customer-focused and develop the next generation of anglers," added ASA Vice President Scott Gudes.
The more waters that scientists investigate, the more intersex bass they find. Latest discovery is in the Des Plaines River, about 125 miles downstream from here.
In dissecting 51 male largemouth bass, researchers from the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) found that 21 had grown oocytes, or female eggs, in their testicular tissue.
“Long-term surveys conducted by the INHS in this region have shown big increases in largemouth bass over the past 40 years since the implementation of the Clean Water Act,” said fisheries biologist Mark Fritts. “It's a dichotomy here because we're seeing a population that has increased dramatically, but we're also seeing this potential problem rising.”
But this part of the river is far from pollution free. Treated sewage from Chicago flows into this area from the Chicago sanitary and Ship Canal. In a 2016 water quality report, the Illinois Protection Agency found 12 out of the 14 segments of the river tested were impaired by contaminants such a fecal bacteria and toxic industrial chemicals.
Pollution seems to be the common thread in other discoveries of intersex bass, both from municipal sewage and agricultural runoff. Specifics are elusive, except for the belief that chemicals acting as "endocrine disruptors" are causing the mutations. They distort functions that regulate hormones and the reproductive system.
"This is an emerging field of research. We're kind of on the tip of the iceberg," Fritts said. "There are still a lot more questions than answers."
Starting in 2003, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found male smallmouth and largemouth bass with immature eggs in several areas of the Potomac River. Then they noted intersex smallmouth and white suckers at 16 sites in the Delaware, Ohio, and Susquehanna Rivers in Pennsylvania. At one site near Hershey, Pa., 100 percent of male bass sampled had eggs.
Of these findings, USGS scientist Vicki Blazer said, "We keep seeing a correlation with the percent of agriculture in the watershed where we conduct a study."
Additionally, studies conducted from 1995 to 2004, revealed intersex bass in the Apalachicola, Savannah, and Pee Dee River basins of the Southeast.
Just last year, meanwhile, two federal agencies found significant numbers of male bass were intersex in waters of or near National Wildlife Refuges in the Northeast. Eighty-five percent of male smallmouths and 27 percent of male largemouths tested positive, according to USGS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.