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New York Permits Retail Sale of Bass, Encourages Black Market

Hickling's Fish Farm photo of hatchery-raised bass

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has approved a regulation that will allow the retail sale of hatchery-raised largemouth bass.

The move had been opposed by sport fishing advocates who argued that the rule change will create a black market that will damage the state’s recreational fisheries. That’s because hatcheries are not required to mark the fish to confirm their origin.

“It’s rather disheartening to see the state’s absolute unwillingness to impose a regulation that would have required individualized tagging (serial numbers),” said Mike Cusano, former president of the New York B.A.S.S. Nation (NYBN) and chairman of the Onondaga County Fisheries Advisory Board.

“This regulation is going to impact bass populations across the state as market owners realize that wild-caught black bass are a much cheaper alternative than the hatchery-raised fish,” he continued.

And as more and more anglers realize that they can make $50 or $60 for selling a limit of bass at the back door of a fish market. 

“The sad part is that the New York DEC will have no ability to meet these changes in demand, no funding, and no hatchery,” Cusano explained.

Right now, New York’s bass fishery is totally self-sustaining and worth about $250 million annually, he added.

On the positive side, Barb Elliott, NYBN conservation director, did manage a small victory for anglers and protection of a public resource. The original regulation was written to allow sale of “black bass,” which would have included smallmouths. She convinced state officials to change the wording to “largemouth bass.”

“The hatcheries were not interested in growing smallmouths for sale and I wanted as many bass off the table as possible,” she said.

One argument that she used was that if any smallmouth bass showed up in markets then law enforcement would have proof that poaching is occurring.

In announcing the new regulation for largemouth bass only, DEC Commission Joe Martens said, “The regulations will make it easier for aquaculturists and fish markets within and outside the state to sell hatchery-reared largemouth bass for food, while continuing to protect wild bass populations that are the foundation of our popular and economically important bass fisheries.”

But all that’s required is “labeling largemouth bass containers used for transportation, retaining purchase and sales records by distributors, and requiring that largemouth bass being sold live in retail markets must be killed before being transferred to retail customers.”

As Cusano and other critics point out, documentation easily can be manipulated. For example, the owner of a fish market can buy bass from a hatchery, providing him with the necessary paperwork. He can sell those bass, destroy the sales receipts, and buy black-market bass at a cheaper price. He then can allege that he bought those fish from a hatchery, with no way to prove otherwise.

“It’s very disheartening that over 300,000 New York State bass anglers, who spend upwards of $250 to $500 million each year in New York State alone in pursuit of their favorite game fish, could have such little impact on influencing this regulation change,” Cusano said.

Here is an argument against the regulation by the Onondaga County Fisheries Advisory Board.

Here’s is a newspaper article about the change. Be sure to read the comments.

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


Fisheries Are Collateral Damage in Sequestration

The wisdom and/or stupidity of sequestration as a means of cutting federal spending won’t be analyzed here. But here’s something related to sequestration that will make your blood boil:

Fisheries and wildlife management will be collateral damage to the tune of more than $46 million.

 This is not money that would come from the general budget. This is money already collected as excise taxes on fishing and hunting gear and motorboat fuel by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And this is money reserved, by law, to be used only for fisheries and wildlife management under the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.

But because of poorly written legislation, 5.1 percent of it can be withheld from the states as part of the sequestration process.

What sense does that make? None, of course.  But that’s par for the course in Washington, D.C. these days.

Go here and click the “clean air and water” tab to see how much money for fisheries and wildlife management that your state will lose unless politicians regain their senses and fix this idiotic and unnecessary damage to the nation’s natural resources.

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.


Ike Speaks Out for Clean Water

During the Bassmaster Classic, Bass pro Mike Iaconelli talks about importance of clean water.

Check it out on YouTube.


Drought Threatens Future for Fishermen, Fisheries

A water crisis is looming, with sport fisheries and anglers as the likely losers, according to Jim Martin, conservation director for the Berkley Conservation Institute.

“It’s a problem that no one wants to talk about,” he said, pointing out that have of the continental U.S. now is under drought conditions.

“We have to start talking about it.”

Martin gave that message at a freshwater summit sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership during the recent Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa, Okla.

The country needs a plan to prioritize the use of water and to manage development, he said. And the sooner the discussion begins, the more influence that outdoor enthusiasts will have.

Once the crisis hits and recreational use of water is competing against agriculture, manufacturing and urban populations, the fishing industry won't have the votes to compete.

 "A hundred million sportsmen are going to be lost in the shuffle," he said.

Read more in Tulsa World


Anglers Paying for Consequences of Invasive Species 

Photo from Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

Anglers aren’t responsible for introducing aquatic nuisance species to our waters, even though they are going to be the ones who pay the highest price in terms of cost, inconvenience, and diminished access.

Certainly some have spread mussels and plants inadvertently via their trailers and boats. Even a few have moved illegally moved plants in ill-advised attempts to improve fisheries.

But the aquarium and plant nursery industries brought milfoil, water hyacinth, and other troublesome aquatic plants to our waters, while commercial ships introduced mussels in their ballast water, via the Great Lakes.

Still, fishermen, especially B.A.S.S. members, are showing that they can be the adults in the room for this battle.

“As anglers, we know about invasive species; others are not as educated,” says Ken Snow, conservation director for the Wisconsin B.A.S.S. Nation. “That’s why our members spend days at the ramps to help educate.”

New Mexico’s Earl Conway adds, “We have several members that volunteer to do boat inspections, and we are very close to being able to do our own inspections at club and state level tournaments. The state officers know that bass boats are clean and that we are educated and cooperating with them.”

In West Virginia, Jerod Harman has been training anglers to clean livewells and boats for two years. “We do this training at meetings and on our website,” he explains. 

He’s also working with the state to create segments about aquatic nuisance species for the television program “West Virginia Outdoors.”

In Oregon, Lonnie Johnson has recommended that clubs hold their own inspections during tournaments, while Washington’s Mark Byrne says, “We’ve been talking about this for a long time.”

Anglers, he adds, are not complaining about doing what they can to help prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species.

What can they do. What can you do?

“Clean, drain, dry.”

If you’re a bass angler, this phrase should become as familiar to you as “catch and release.”

It’s included in the new voluntary guidelines being developed for recreational activity by the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force (ANSTF), an intergovernmental organization chaired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The ANSTF also has recommendations for motor boaters (nonanglers), non-motorized boaters, scuba divers and snorkelers, and seaplane operators.

The hope is that this advice will help prevent the spread of problematic invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil, Asian carp, golden alga, and didymo (also called “rock snot”).

Of course, many states , counties, and municipalities aren’t content with voluntary guidelines. Economies, water supplies, and recreational activities all could be devastated by these invaders. As a consequence, inspections, sticker programs, and other strategies designed to minimize risk are being initiated, with collateral damage taking shape as increased fees and more limited access.

For example, Colorado has implemented a mandatory boat inspections program, with funding provided by a hike in registration fees. In California, registration cost could go up as much as $10 in 2014 to finance a mussel monitoring, inspection, and eradication program. Concern is understandable, as Lake Tahoe could sustain economic losses of as much as $20 million annually if mussels are introduced, according to officials.

Attentions these days mostly are focused on the West, Great Plains, and Upper Midwest. Mussels and Asian carp are expanding north, threatening inland waters, while the shellfish have crossed the Continental Divide. But even southern waters are at risk, as evidenced by Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission making “permanent” last fall an emergency order for some of the state’s waters, after zebra mussels were found in Lake Ray Roberts. The order requires boaters leaving any of the listed waters to drain their boats completely.

“We see tougher inspection programs coming up more and more,” cautions Susan Shingledecker, director of environmental programs for the BoatUS Foundation. 

She helped develop the ANSTF’s new proposed guidelines, and urges anglers and boaters to follow them, showing that “we are doing all we can.”

Concurrently, she hopes that states will bring consistency to their programs to reduce confusion and  anxiety among anglers and other boaters.  “State by state would be preferred to lake by lake,” she adds.

Here are the angler recommendations in more detail:

Inspect and clean off plants, animals, and mud from gear and equipment including waders, footwear, ropes, anchors, bait traps, dip nets, downrigger cables, fishing lines, and field gear before leaving water access. Scrub any visible material on footwear with a stiff brush. 

Drain water from boat, motor, bilge, bladder tanks, livewell, and portable bait containers away from ramp.

Dry everything at least five days, unless otherwise required by local or state laws, when moving between waters to kill small species not easily seen OR wipe with a towel before reuse.

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