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Rodent Invader Adds to Decline of Delta Wetlands

Photo from Greg Lasley Nature Photography

Most anglers know that Asian carp are harming this nation’s fisheries, from the Upper Midwest down to the Gulf Coast and eastward through the Ohio River watershed.

What many do not realize, however, is that another exotic also is doing severe damage. It doesn’t receive as much publicity because its range is more limited.

But down in Louisiana, the nutria, a large rodent, is devouring the wetlands, destroying spawning and nursery habitat for a multitude of important sport fisheries. In fact, the state estimates that damage at any given time is about 46,000 acres, as about 5 million of the web-footed animals with large, orange teeth feed on the roots and stalks of aquatic plants.

The good news is that damage has been lessened since Louisiana implemented a nutria control plan in 2002.

Still, this is one more blow to the Mississippi Delta, which already is under siege from decades of habitat degradation and mismanagement, most of it originating from development and water diversions. As a result, erosion and saltwater intrusion are crumbling away the equivalent of a football field every hour.

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its aftermath added to the peril of an ecosystem that is critical for sustaining the food web of the Gulf of Mexico.

Fortunately, the spill also provided impetus for passage of the RESTORE Act, which provides a rare opportunity to restore and enhance the Delta and its wetlands. Guiding that restoration is a multi-state, multi-agency group known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

And a coalition known as Vanishing Paradise is working to make sure that Council members remember the importance of habitat restoration, which can drive and support economic recovery.

“The people, business, communities, and economy of this region are undeniably reliant upon a healthy and productive Gulf, and ecosystem restoration should be the top priority in drafting and finagling the Council’s comprehensive restoration plan,” said spokesman Ben Weber.

To learn more about Vanishing Paradise and its efforts, go here.

And to learn more about the nutria in Louisiana, go here.


Catch-and-Release Helps Sustain Potomac River Bass Fishery

Steve Chaconas, owner of National Bass Guide Service, caught this 7-pounder in the Potomac River on a Punisher jig. Click on the photo to go to his website.

On the Potomac River --- one of the most heavily pressured bass fisheries in the nation --- mortality from angling does not pose a threat to population abundance.

“If bass were handled differently, it might,” said Joe Love, tidal bass manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). “But now, thanks to B.A.S.S. and the catch-and-release ethic, things have changed and that has helped.

“We do deal with some aspects of delayed mortality. It does happen,” he continued. “But abundance is more influenced by recruitment. Delayed mortality is not nearly what it could be or was in the past.”

Love and his associates used hypothetical levels of recruitment and population modeling to determine at what point angler-related mortality might harm the bass population. They found that recruitment would have to be as low as 10 per female for it to have a negative impact on the bass fishery.

“That’s really low, and then fishing mortality can be significant,” the tidal bass manager said. “But I don’t think that we’re operating at that level in the river.”

About 30 percent of females need to spawn annually to maintain the population in the river, he added.

In ponds, meanwhile, researchers found recruitment as high as 150 per female and as low as 30, Love said.

In the river, preliminary research showed about 20 recruits per female. “But I don’t think we’re measuring very well,” said the biologist, who added that more research is planned.

“Also, you’ve got a lot of things going in on a river that’s not happening in a pond,” he said. “You’ve got angling, predation, and stream discharges. We want to get a better idea of what’s going on.”

Love added that a growing snakehead population likely impacts bass abundance. “Other species, even sunfish, feed on bass fry too,” he said. “The difference is that, as young bass grow, they don’t outgrow predation by snakeheads.

“We’re trying to get a better understanding of how snakeheads impact bass,” Love continued. “We recognize that the (snakehead) population hasn’t reached an equilibrium yet. It is still growing and colonizing new areas. We’ve had reports that snakeheads are chasing bass off nests, and they could be competing for nesting habitat.”

The best way to ensure an abundant bass fishery for the future is to provide more of that nesting habitat, which will boost both bass reproduction and recruitment, the biologist explained. On the negative side, pollution and sediment runoff kill grass and hurt reproduction.

“We work with an environmental review team to review permits for land development,” the biologist said. “But all we can do is make recommendations and solicit public support.

“It’s easy to kill snakeheads. But when you have lots of stakeholders, it’s a more difficult battle to fight.”

But MDNR can do habitat work that biologists hope will enhance reproduction. This year, they’ll drop long pipes, cut in half, into two coves. One of them has vegetation so dense that adult bass avoid it, and the other is barren.

“We’re hoping that the pipe will diversity habitat in the cove with grass and, in the one with no grass, act as structure for bass to prop their nests against,” Love said. “Then we’ll survey this year and the next couple of years. If it works, we’ll continue the effort elsewhere.”

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


Cut the Line!


Photo of hammerhead attacking tarpon from Sportsman's Habitat

For those of you who’ve never fished for tarpon, one of the most important things you need to know is that you must be ready to act if/when a shark attacks your catch.

Continuing to pull the fish toward the boat, while your buddies laugh and the shark tears the fish to shreds, is not the right thing to do, nor is it sportsmanlike or ethical.

Rather, you cut the line immediately, giving the tarpon at least a minimal chance of surviving.

Here’s a video that’s attracting lots of viewers showing the wrong thing to do.

And here’s one showing the right thing.  This tarpon didn’t survive either, but at least the angler and his friends acted responsibly.


Tell Congress That You Support Access Act for Fishing, Hunting

We’re losing our waters. Both development and government regulations--- pushing by anti-fishing groups--- are taking them away. In fact, one in five anglers has lost access to a favorite fishing spot during the past year, according to surveys.

That means federal properties --- lands and waters owned by all of us--- are more important than ever for recreational fishing.

In early 2013, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) introduced the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act (S. 170, H.R. 1825) into both chambers of Congress. This bill would facilitate the use of, and access to, federal public lands and waters for recreational fishing, hunting and shooting. 

Keep America Fishing says, “To help ensure that current and future generations are able to access and fish in our nation's federal lands and waters, please send a message to your legislators today urging them to co-sponsor this important legislation.”

Go here to take action through Keep America Fishing.


Largemouth Bass No Longer a 'Surprise' Catch for Lake Erie Anglers

For years, largemouth bass were a “surprise” catch for those pursuing smallmouths on Lake Erie, according to biologist Kevin Kayle.

Not anymore.

In 2012, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources discovered that angler effort for largemouths, for the first time, surpassed that for bronzebacks in the Western Basin and nearly matched it among Ohio’s “open water” fishermen.

Kayle added that biologists knew that angling pressure for largemouth bass was increasing in harbors and river mouths, such as Sandusky Bay. But the largemouth’s increased popularity overall was an unexpected finding.

As recently as 2004, angler effort for largemouths didn’t even show up on a graph with 50,000 hours as the minimal number on the chart. By contrast, effort for smallmouths was more than 200,000 hours that year.

Five years later, effort for largemouth bass finally reached the 50,000 hours level, while effort for brown bass fell to just under 100,000.

In 2012, open-water effort for the two fisheries nearly intersected at 50,000, while largemouths moved past smallmouths in the Western Basin.

The reasons for this? Kayle explained that biologists are investigating. “This has just gotten on our radar,” he said.

But he has some ideas. For example, more nutrients have combined with increased clarity to boost plant growth. “Juveniles get protected by the vegetation,” Kayle said.

A reduction in silt and sediment washing down the rivers also has contributed to this habitat enhancement. “We’ve seen improved land-management in the watersheds, things like buffer strips and reducing CSOs (combined sewer overflows) from municipalities,” the biologist said.

And finally, protective regulations implemented to protect bass during the spring spawn might have directed angler effort away from smallmouths and toward largemouths. 

“The largemouth fishery always has been a catch-and-release fishery,” Kayle said. “Not many ever have been harvested.”

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)