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Fisheries Damage From Coal Ash Spill Investigated

Coal ash on a canoe paddle. Photo by Associated Press

Three weeks following a catastrophic coal ash spill at a Duke Energy facility, biologists are looking into how fish have fared in the Dan River along the North Carolina-Virginia border. They’ve captured samples that will be examined in a lab for contamination from pollutants such as arsenic, mercury, chromium, selenium, magnesium, lead, copper, and zinc.

Signs at the Milton boating access, meanwhile, warn people not to eat fish from the river or to touch the water without washing with soap immediately afterward.

And a researcher says that the spill will cause at least $70 million in damage to fish, wildlife, and other economic values associated with the river.  “It will almost certainly go up, perhaps way up, from there by a factor of 5 to 10,” Dennis Lemly said.

Those who collected fish said the river looked relatively normal with the number and species that they would expect to see this time of year, according to the News & Record.

Not far away, the fallout continues from a chemical spill in West Virginia’s Elk River during early January.

The West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Downstream Strategies have identified 63 potential pollution threats in a new report. They include 40 commercial, 17 industrial, and 5 municipal facilities, including everything from above-ground storage tanks to wells producing natural gas.

The spill at Freedom Industries forced 300,000 people to turn off their taps and use bottled water for 5 to 10 days.

Long-term effects to the river and its aquatic life still are being assessed. Shortly after the spill, investigators said that impact on fish appeared minimal, according to Metro News.


Providing Quality Fisheries Is Complicated Challenge

Photo by Robert Montgomery

Fisheries management often is an enigma wrapped inside a riddle, and the more we learn, the more we realize how much we don’t know. That’s why I respect fisheries biologists.

To provide us with quality fisheries, they must “manage” not only the fish, but the fishermen. Plus, they must factor in the effects of development, pollution, water degradation, introduction of exotic species, and many other variables.

Up in Minnesota, anglers and biologists have compiled some impressive statistics regarding the fragility of a fishery.

On a 160-acre private lake this winter, 97 northern pike have been caught and released 431 times. Additionally, 24 measured 30 inches or longer and had been caught an average of 6.83 times each.

“Now think about how long it takes a fish to grow,” said Dallas Hudson, one of the anglers who initiated the idea of not spearing or keeping northern pike caught on hook and line. “A northern in our lake will take six years to reach 24 inches and nine years to reach 30 inches and weigh 7 or 8 pounds.

“So it becomes pretty obvious what happens if people keep not only the bigger fish, but the medium-sized fish, say 24 to 30-inch northern. You end up with what we have in many Minnesota lakes: stunted fish.”

Fisheries supervisor Doug Kingsley added, “Dallas’ work shows us pretty clearly how vulnerable northerns, in particular, are to being caught. When you can catch the same fish 15 times over, and sometimes two times in the same day, it seems clear that in many lakes we need to limit the harvest of larger fish if we want bigger northern pike in our lakes.’’

For example, the work by Hudson and his associates clearly suggests that--- at least on smaller lakes--- larger northern pike can be overharvested. Still, many Minnesota anglers likely would oppose reducing the current harvest regulation, which allows three northern daily, with one longer than 30 inches. Plus, spear fishermen convinced the legislature to pass a law in 2011 that limits the establishment of length-based harvest regulations on 100 state lakes.

Arizona Game and Fish photo

Out in Arizona, fisheries managers are trying to figure out how to reign in an exploding population on non-native gizzard shad that threatens the health of bass and crappie fisheries at Apache and other Salt River impoundments.

In Lake Havasu, however, the combination of two introduced species seems to have ignited a premiere fishery for redear sunfish, also known as “shellcracker.”  Just recently, Hector Brito caught a 5.8-pound lunker, which likely will be declared a world record. In 2011, Bob Lawler caught the previous record --- 5.55 pounds--- also at Lake Havasu.

In the Northwest, meanwhile, champions of native species have been blaming bass for decades for the decline of salmon fisheries. In truth, dams destroyed salmon habitat and blocked habitat, while creating impoundments where bass have thrived.

Still, nature is resilient. That’s why this year’s projected spawning run of fall-run Chinook (king) salmon on the Columbia could be the largest since 1938. That was the year after the Bonneville Dam was completed, blocking their migration route and enabling the fish to be counted.

Fisheries managers suspect that the healthy run is attributable to good ocean conditions for the salmon while they are out at sea, as well as a mandated  water releases from spill gates at dams on the Columbia and Snake River dams, allowing small salmon to move downstream.


Discriminating Anglers Read Why We Fish

If Blake Muhlenbruck of Naked Bait Co. reads Why We Fish. Shouldn't you?


Tonight and Tomorrow

First, Jesse, my 13-year-old Little Brother, and I built a crackling little fire, with warmth that was welcome on this unusually cool evening. The hot dogs charred quickly. We used buns to pull them off the sticks and then slathered them with mustard. They had just the right amount of wood-smoke flavor. Ursa the Devil Dog stayed close in the firelight, in hopes of finding a fallen crumb.

Then we loaded the boat with fishing tackle and paddled out into the starry but, as yet, moonless night. We left a lantern on shore to light our way back and to assure Ursa that we would return. She wouldn’t hear of it.

About  20 feet out, we heard a “kersplash!”  I shined a flashlight beam on two glowing doggie eyes, as Ursa paddled determinedly toward us. I had taken her for rides on other days, and she inferred that we somehow must have forgotten her this time. She circled the boat, whining, until we lifted her aboard.

She did the doggie shake, giving us a Saturday-night shower in lieu of a bath. Our laughter carried out over the quiet water. Now we smelled of wood smoke and wet dog.

Farther away from my property, darkness thickened and I turned on a small electric lantern. Tiny yellow mayflies flocked to it--- and bats followed. They swooped and dived all around us, occasionally lightly touching our lines with a wing. A typical boy, Jesse thought that was pretty neat. Ursa checked under the seats for a pith helmet.

Jesse caught the first bass, and I quickly followed with another, as we glided past the small dam.

And then we saw them. All along the woody shoreline in front of us, fireflies blinked in the shoreline grasses, hoping to attract others of their kind for a little Saturday night frolic. Except for the dam, they circled the lake with delicate green fire, and we followed their beacons as we fished. It was wondrous.

The fishing was good too. During the next hour or so, Jesse pulled in one bass after another on his red plastic worm--- until he cast it into the sticky branches of a tree. A hard jerk broke the line.

“Just put on another,” I said.

“I didn’t bring any,” said Jesse. “They’re all back at the dock.”

Secret: Never, ever, go fishing with just one of any bait, but especially soft plastics. If you do, a corollary of Murphy’s Law dictates that you will lose it in a tree. I knew that, but Jesse was just a beginner. My fault for not teaching him such wisdom.

And the red worm was Jesse’s “confidence” bait. He didn’t want to try anything from my tackle box.

“That’s okay,” he said. “I think that I’m ready to go in. Are there any hot dogs left?”

With the remaining hot dogs consumed, we spread out our sleeping bags and relaxed, ready to watch the meteor showers that were predicted for after midnight.

We talked about bass fishing and building fires and other “guy things” until the first fiery arrow streaked across the sky. The wattage of the moon probably stole much of the light show from us. But we counted a dozen or so before Ursa cuddled up to Jesse. He put his head next to hers and both slept the sleep of the innocent.

As I watched for more of nature’s fireworks, I thought about another child, decades before, and how lucky he was to know generous adults who made the time to take him fishing.

My father didn’t fish, but a co-worker of his did, and he took me frequently to a farm pond. One fall day, a 3-pound bass exploded under my Hula Popper, a moment frozen in time that still causes my heart to pound when I recall it.

And there were others: A neighbor took me fishing in a boat for the first time. A family friend invited me along on an overnight camping and fishing trip. I’ve been fishing thousands of times since then, but those generous acts still are as vivid in my mind as the day they happened. I feel the sun as it warms the orange lifejacket that I wore. I look down and see the purple worm with the propeller harness tied to the line on my Johnson spincast reel. I smell the coffee brewed over a fire and see the mist at sunrise on the tailwaters of Bagnell Dam.

I hope that Jesse will have the same type of memories of our trips when he is an adult. And, when he comes of age, I hope that he will share the sport that we both love with someone new.

(This is an excerpt from my first book, Better Bass Fishing. But it is the exception to the rule for that book. Most of it is about how to catch more and bigger bass. This piece  is more like the content of my latest book, Why We Fish, which is about the many reasons that we keep returning to the water.)


Berkley Honors New York, Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nations

The Berkley Conservation Institute (BCI) announced the award of the 2013 Berkley Conservation Award to the New York B.A.S.S. Nation. The award, worth $2,000 in cash, will be presented at the B.A.S.S. Conservation Awards banquet February 22nd in Birmingham during the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.

"The New York B.A.S.S. Nation is a role-model for other organizations to follow," said Jim Martin, BCI Conservation Director.

"Their members are making a difference. They have a great plan, are organized and dedicated. The Ramp Monkeys concept is something that every state B.A.S.S. Nation should emulate. Getting youth involved in conservation efforts is vital to the future of our aquatic resources. I salute the New York B.A.S.S. Nation for their commitment to the principles that the Berkley Conservation Institute holds dear."

In winning the Conservation Award, the New York B.A.S.S. Nation took a multi-pronged approach to battling invasive species in the Empire state. State Conservation Director Barb Elliott worked with NYBN youth clubs to form "Ramp Monkeys." These groups attend area bass tournaments and first remove plant debris from launch areas, then as anglers pull their rigs out, the Ramp Monkeys use kid-power to "Clean, Drain and Dry" each boat and trailer. The operation is an opportunity for outreach to anglers and boaters and an educational experience for the youth members.

The NYBN members also continued to battle invasive water chestnuts by physically removing the plants from lakes, canals and rivers and worked with state agencies, lake associations, universities and watershed alliances to distribute educational/outreach materials to increase awareness of invasive species.

"The New York B.A.S.S. Nation is honored to receive this award," said Fred Blom, NYBN President. "I am proud of the accomplishments of the whole organization. We are all working hard to make a difference."

*         *         *

The Berkley Conservation Institute (BCI) announced the award of the 2013 Berkley Angler Recruitment/Retention Award to the Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation. The award, worth $1,500 in fishing tackle, will be presented at the B.A.S.S. Conservation Awards banquet February 22nd in Birmingham during the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.

"The Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation is to be commended for utilizing an approach that highlights the many activities in which their members are involved," said Jim Martin, BCI Conservation Director.

"All 26 clubs exhibit a willingness to get involved in activities that benefit youth, their communities and the aquatic resources that our sport depends on. We at the Berkley Conservation Institute are proud to honor the Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation with our Berkley Angler Recruitment/Retention Award. In winning the award, the Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation increased awareness of their organization and increased membership by utilizing a multi-media approach at outdoor shows and other public events.

A poster using the image of Uncle Sam was created with the slogan "The CBN Wants You" to attract attention to their booth. A large state map was displayed to help potential members locate clubs near their homes. Brochures were distributed which contained information about the CBN, contact information for joining, and examples of the CBN at work. A continuous-looping PowerPoint presentation was shown to provide a visual representation of CBN activities and projects such as Toys for Tots, The Bryan Kerchal Memorial Fund, The Robert S. Malloy Scholarship Fund, Riverfront Recapture’s Sporting Chance for Youth Day, CastingKids, Wounded Warriors Foundation, Youth Tournaments, the 26-Angels Event, as well as the CBN Tournament Trail.

"The Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation would like to thank the Berkley Conservation Institute and B.A.S.S. for this honor and we want to recognize our members who worked hard on this project," said Bob Nelson, CBN Vice President.

Silvia Morris, CBN President added, "We feel that this was beneficial not only because it increased membership in 2013 but if gives up a plan to follow and we are confident it will pay dividends in the future."

BCI is a division of the Pure Fishing Company, the world’s largest tackle company headquartered in Columbia, SC. The brand names of Pure Fishing include Abu Garcia, All Star Rods, Berkley, Fenwick, Mitchell, Penn, Pflueger, Shakespeare, Spiderwire and Stren.