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Nets Once Again Threaten Florida's Fisheries

Good news: The net ban is being enforced, at least for now. Learn more here.

By the mid 1980s, gill netting had nearly destroyed Florida’s inshore fisheries. Mullet and other forage species had been obliterated, with game fish also decimated. In addition, the predator fish that weren't netted were starving to death, as were fish-eating birds.

A ban on inshore netting brought back the bait, the birds, and the game fish. Today, Florida’s inshore fisheries are bountiful and, via sport fishing, provide a rich economic engine for the state’s coastal communities.

But now all of that is threatened, and your help is needed to save Florida’s inshore fisheries from once again being devastated by netting.

A judge in Leon County has ordered the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to stop enforcing the 18-year-old ban.

Go here to sign a petition to restore the ban and here to support the Coastal Conservation Assocation in its opposition to the ruling.

Florida Today says this:

In November 1994, 72 percent of the voters said “yes” to the gill net ban, which also limits nets to a maximum size of 500 square feet.

But after years of legal wrangling, Fulford ordered FWC to stop enforcing the ban. The same day, the Attorney General’s office filed a notice of appeal of (Judge Jackie) Fulford’s decision to the Florida First District Court of Appeal. That would automatically reinstate the ban until the matter could be resolved in court. But last week, Fulford granted a request by the plaintiffs’ attorneys that she lift the automatic stay of her order.

The plaintiffs are Wakulla Commercial Fisherman’s Association, Inc., and three individuals from the Panacea area, a longtime commercial fishing town south of Tallahassee.

Fulford said she thought it unlikely that stopping enforcement while legal action continues would cause “irreparable harm,” according to a report in the Tallahassee Democrat, or that FWC would prevail on appeal.

Sport fishermen who fought for the ban disagree.

“She’s created an absolute nightmare for the resource and a gold mine for the gill netters,” said Ted Forsgren, a spokesman for the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, a group of 9,000 recreational anglers.

“What she has in fact done is open up gill nets in all state waters at the worst possible time,” Forsgren added. “Every day that goes by commercial fisherman are stocking up on spawning mullet.”


You Just Never Know

I knew that I couldn’t stop the fish, no matter how skillfully I played it. I waded out into the water as far as I dared, knowing as I did so that it was a pointless gesture.

But then the miraculous occurred, just as I looked down at my reel to see all of the line gone except for the knot.

(Excerpt from essay in my new book, Why We Fish.)



CSC Seeks to Regain Fisheries Funds Stolen by Feds in Sequestration

Senate leadership of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) is pushing for restoration of $50 million for fish and wildlife management by the states. In a stunning act of bureaucratic malfeasance, the money was withheld last spring as part of federal sequestration.

But as I pointed out then, “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.”

Now, Senate CSC leaders have sent a letter to the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), requesting that money be released for use by the states.

“We salute the bipartisan leadership of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus for once again standing up in support of hunters and anglers,” said Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.

“These dedicated trust funds form the financial backbone of the most successful conservation story in history, and to release them to the state wildlife agencies where they belong is simply the right thing to do.”

The funds are the foundation of the unique American System of Conservation Funding, a “user pays-public benefits” program that has enhanced fish and wildlife populations, improved habitat, and boosted public access to lands and waters.

In the letter, CSC leadership noted that in implementing sequestration, OMB is required to follow rules outlined in the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985. The act provides that budgetary resources sequestered in trust fund accounts in a fiscal year "shall be available in subsequent years to the extent otherwise provided in law."

In March, CSF, along with 44 organizations representing millions of hunters, anglers and other conservationists, asked House and Senate leadership assistance in exempting the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Safety Trust Funds from the Budget Sequestration Act of 2011. But no relief was forthcoming.

Go here and click the “clean air and water” tab to see how much money for fisheries and wildlife management that your state lost because of this idiotic and unnecessary damage to the nation’s natural resources.


Fish Talk . . . Really!

Who knew?

Fish talk. And often they talk about sex.

Of course, they don’t “speak” in words because they don’t have vocal cords.

Rather, they are “soniferous,” meaning they make sounds. They use their teeth, bladders, and other means to grunt, croak, click, drum, and squeak, saying things like “Swim over here, fishy, fishy” and “Get outta here, you fat flounder. This is my nest.”

Up to 1,000 species of fish are believed to be chatty and, yes, the sunfish family, which includes bass, is in the conversation. In fact, hydrophones were used to study bluegill courtships sounds more than 40 years ago.

“Some centrarchids do make noise,” said Gene Wilde, professor of fish ecology at Texas Tech. “But it seems to be only during breeding season, and we’re not sure how they do it. Possibly by rubbing mouth parts together.

“Some species make sounds year around,” he added. “But most fish sounds are associated with breeding. For example, drum attract mates that way.”

The gizzard shad, an important forage fish, is one species that makes sounds year around, and what a Texas Tech graduate student recently discovered about those sounds when the fish are exposed to environmental stressors is significant.

“Gizzard shad are widespread, in about 2/3 of the country,” said Matt Gruntorad. “They produce calls when stressed, and these calls could be an early warning system when there’s a  (water quality) problem. They could help protect valuable game fish and water supplies.”

The Texas Tech researcher exposed the shad to various levels of salinity, pH, and toxicity (ammonia hydroxide). As levels increased, the fish became louder--- up to a point. At the highest levels, they were quieter. “There could be a threshold when they are too stressed to make sounds,” Gruntorad said.

Sounds made by fish of 2 inches or so were too soft to analyze. But 12-inch shad yielded strong signals for the hydrophones.

Even so, though, their calls would be difficult, if not impossible, for the human ear to detect.

“They don’t croak,” the graduate student said. “Their calls are very simple, very quiet. They release gas through the anal duct. It’s like a fish fart.”

Compared to saltwater, much work remains to be done to recognize and understand sounds made by fish in freshwater, Gruntorad said.

Wilde agreed, adding that drum make their unique sound by playing muscles against their swim bladders, while catfish create their characteristic “grunts” by rubbing the pectoral spine against the pectoral girdle. “Smaller fish click their teeth together,” he said.

The fish behavior expert also said that any fish sounds that an angler hears above the water is not the same as what would be heard under.

“It’s tough for people to hear fish noises (in the water),” he explained. “For schooling fish, like herring, sound is a close-range thing to keep the integrity of the school.”

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Wilde assured animal rights activists that fish do not scream when hooked. “We put a hydrophone in a phone where we catch a lot of bass,” he said. “And that did not happen.”

 Fish Sounds

 One of the reasons that the learning curve regarding soniferous fish has improved in recent years is that researchers have modified their diving gear. For years, they were unaware of conversations because sounds of bubbles released by SCUBA gear masked them, as well as frightened the fish.

Now researchers use self-contained breathing systems so no gas bubbles are released.

“Increasingly scientists are discovering unusual mechanisms by which fish make and hear secret whispers, grunts, and thumps to attract mates and ward of the enemy,” said

“In just one bizarre instance, seahorses create clicks by tossing their heads. They snap the rear edge of their skulls against their star-shaped bony crests.”

Meanwhile, the swim bladder, also used to control buoyancy, is one of the most common instruments for fish sounds. A muscle attached to the swim bladder contracts and relaxes in rapid sequence, causing the organ to produce a low-pitched drumming sound.

Some species use stridulation, pushing teeth and/or bones together. And still others use body movements to make sounds by altering water flow.

 Fish Hearing

 Yes, fish have ears --- of a sort. Actually they possess ear bones known as “otoliths.” Also used to age fish, they vary in shape and size according to species, just as human ears vary from individual to individual.

Only fish otoliths can’t be seen eternally.

Sound travels through water as waves or vibrations, and, because a fish’s body is of similar density, the waves pass through it. But they cause the ear bones to vibrate.

Additionally, a fish can sense vibrations and movement with its lateral line, which is a sensory organ consisting of fluid-filled sacs with hairlike cells, open through a series of pores along the side. And the swim bladder works in a similar fashion, according to Robert Castenada, founder of Livingston Lures, which mimic distress sounds from shad.

“A fish has three ways to pick up sounds, but only one way to see and smell,” he added. “That’s why, in my opinion, sound plays the biggest role in bass locating prey.”

But because sound travels farther and 4.4 times faster in water than in air, a fish can struggle to hear through the “clutter” of outboard engines and recreational activity, according to Hydrowave, which makes a sound device designed to attract bass and other game fish by imitating the sound of baitfish and predatory fish feeding on them.

“This speed, combined with the poor visibility characteristics of water is the reason that a fish is so dependent on vibration and water displacement . . . for location of prey,” the company said.

“The source of sound clutter is always present. This forms the basis of how fish have developed keen senses that allow them to specifically identify clutter from prey and feeding activities of other fish.”

Four-time Classic winner Kevin VanDam said that the Hydrowave works in two ways. “It excites the fish because they hear the sound of other bass eating,” he explained. “And it excites the bait. It draws it up.”

On the other hand, Castenada’s topwaters, jerkbaits, wakebaits, and crankbaits replicate the distress sounds that shad make when they are assaulted by bass. For years, anglers have used rattling baits. But the lure designer said those just make noise, while his make “an actual biological noise.” 

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


SRR Once Again Beats Back Threat to Florida's Rodman Reservoir

Guide Sean Rush with a Rodman largemouth.

Once more Save Rodman Reservoir, Inc. (SRR) has thwarted an attempt to destroy one of Florida’s most popular and productive bass fisheries.

This time around, environmental groups, led by Florida Defenders of the Environment and Putnam County Environmental Council, tried to convince the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to destroy the dam on the Ocklawaha River reservoir.

“The Corps is getting ready to dredge the St. Johns River in the Jacksonville area and the environmental groups wanted it to use some of that money to take out Rodman,” said Ed Taylor, SRR president.

The groups also took Corps personnel on a tour of Rodman to help make their argument. Fortunately, an SRR member saw the event, asked about it, and notified Taylor.

“I’m usually told about these things, if I’m not invited,” he laughed. “But not this time.”

In phone calls and e-mails, Taylor quickly voiced SRR’s objections to removal of the dam.

“I find it very disturbing that there was a tour of Rodman Reservoir, consisting of several government officials together with environmental groups and that we were not invited,” he wrote. “I am sure that they only gave their side of the story (which is full of false statements). Now I will give our response.”

Among them:

  • In 1991, Congress turned over all of the lands and structures pertaining to Lake Ocklawaha (Rodman) to the state of Florida.
  • Rodman is a future potable water source.
  • The reservoir has more visitors annually than all but 12 Florida state parks.
  • It prevents 50 to 60 percent of nutrients from reaching the St. Johns River. 

Additionally, guide Sean Rush said this in a letter to the Corps:

“Sometimes either by design or folly man creates something wonderful and this is clearly one of those instances.

“In spite of what you may hear, 95 percent of the people in this area want this lake retained.”

In short order, Taylor received a call from the Corps’ Eric Bush, assuring him that his agency was not going to take any action on Rodman.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” Taylor said. “The environmentalists have lost every battle. When are they going to learn?”

Rodman was built during the late 1960s, as part of the ill-advised Cross Florida Barge Canal from Yankeetown to Palatka. The project finally was deauthorized in 1990, but work had been stopped long before because of environmental concerns. Rodman, however, evolved into a thriving ecosystem of its own, becoming home to many species of birds and wildlife, as well as a world-class bass fishery and popular tourist destination.

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