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Spring Seasons Don't Harm New York Bass Fisheries

Do spring catch-and-release or limited harvest seasons hurt bass populations in northern waters?

For New York fisheries, the answer is no.

“We found no impact to production,” said Randy Jackson, a biologist with the Cornell Biological Field Station on Oneida Lake.

Jackson and his associates compared survey data both before and after the spring seasons were implemented for New York’s portion of Lake Erie, as well as the inland waters of Oneida and Canadarago.

In New York, the season begins on the third Saturday in June and extends until Nov. 30. Traditionally, it then remained closed until the following June. That was because many resource managers believe bass populations in northern waters are more fragile than those in southern due to a shorter spawning time and growing season, as well as less fertile water. Consequently, the general wisdom goes, bass on the beds need protection from anglers.

But in 1994, New York decided to try a spring season on Lake Erie, allowing harvest of one 15-inch fish (size limit now is 20 inches). Then in 2007, it went with a spring catch-and-release season in most of its inland waters.

On Erie, researchers found a year class index of 3.0 for smallmouth bass (aged 2) in gill net surveys conducted for 15 years before the spring season. For 17 years afterward, the index was 6.0.

At Oneida, young-of-the-year smallmouth average catch per trawl haul for six years before a spring season was 0.4, but 1.8 afterward.

“Both of those are statistically significant,” Jacksons said. “What we found at Canadarago was not.”

At the latter, young-of-the-year largemouth per hour increased from 15.6 to 27.8 in electrofishing surveys after the season was implemented. Smallmouth declined slightly from 1.2 to 0.6.

In other words, bass production was not harmed in any of the three fisheries. Most interesting, though, it actually improved, a change that hardly can be credited to allowing anglers to fish during the spawn.

Jackson attributes that to more hospitable conditions for New York bass in general, with these three fisheries providing a reflection of those changes.

“The water has been warming for the 47 years that we’ve been keeping data here (at Oneida),” he explained. “No one can argue that the lake is much warmer than it used to be.”

Additionally, filter feeding by zebra and quagga mussels has cleared the water at Oneida, Erie, and other fisheries. “That favors bass, which are visual feeders,” he said, adding that young bass are better protected from predation because of more vegetation in the clearer water.  

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


'Why We Fish' Coming Soon

My second book, Why We Fish, will be out soon. Below is a preview of the cover wrap. I'll notify Activist Angler followers immediately when book is available from Norlights Press.


More Coastal Habitat Means More Fish

Photo by Robert Montgomery

No great surprise in the findings of a report entitled “More Habitat Means More Fish.”

Still, it lends strong evidence to the argument that investing in our nation’s coastal areas and estuaries leads to healthy habitat and robust fisheries, which positively impact local communities and economies dependent on recreational and commercial fishing.

Released by Restore America’s Estuaries and the American Sportfishing Association, the report includes the following: 

  • More than 75 percent of our nation’s catch of commercial fish and 80-90 percent of the catch of recreational fish depend on key estuary habitat at some point in their lifecycle.
  • Fish populations can respond quickly to habitat improvement and the impact will endure. Rebounds in fish populations can occur within months and persist for years.
  • In San Francisco Bay, restored salt marshes have improved 41 fish species including steelhead trout, Pacific herring, green sturgeon and Chinook salmon.
  • Since 2000, in Massachusetts and New York, herring, shad and sturgeon have doubled and tripled in population due to habitat restoration projects. Just two years after a single culvert was repaired, connecting Bride Brook to Long Island Sound, the herring population more than tripled from 75,000 to 287,000.
  • An oyster reef restoration project in Alabama increased populations of several economically important species, including blue crab, red drum, spotted seatrout, and flounder. 

“Investing in coastal and estuarine habitat restoration is essential not only for the long-term future of our fisheries but also because it helps support economies and communities through the recreational and commercial fishing industries,” said Jeff Benoit, president and CEO of Restore America’s Estuaries. “In order to have fish, we have to have healthy habitat. If we want more fish, we need healthier habitat.”

American Sportfishing Association President and CEO Mike Nussman noted, “As an industry, we are keenly aware of the impact that sportfishing has on our nation’s habitat restoration efforts. In many ways, America’s anglers are the nation’s most powerful force for conserving our nation’s fisheries and waters, investing more than $1 billion dollars each year in fisheries management and conservation through taxes on fishing equipment and state fishing license sales.”

Go here to see the full report.


Live Fish Found in Tsunami Debris on West Coast

You knew that it was going to happen, and it finally has. On the West Coast, scientists have found live fish in debris from what they believe was the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Previously, they had found only invertebrates.

The fish has been identified as a striped beakfish, also known as a barred knifejaw. Five of them were found in a half-flooded boat of Japanese registration, with one kept alive at Oregon’s Seaside Aquarium and four euthanized for study. The live specimen is about 5 inches long.

"The reproductive status and age will help us figure out if they rode the entire way from Japan starting over two years ago, or most likely they came from Hawaii," said Allen Pleus, aquatic invasive species coordinator at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Even from Hawaii, the fish would have survived a journey of nearly 3,000 miles.

It's unlikely that any fish that escaped the boat will survive in the cool waters off the Washington and Oregon coastlines, Pleus said. Had the boat landed further south, it's possible the fish could have established themselves.

Go here to learn more.



Discovery of New Black Bass Species Revealed by FWC

Scientists collected this Choctaw bass from Florida's Holmes Creek in February 2012.

Those interested in the “big picture” regarding fisheries will be excited to learn that Florida scientists have discovered what they believe is a new species of black bass. It’s very close in appearance to the spotted bass, which probably it never was recognized before.

Recognition of this new species won't make much, if any, difference for recreational fishing, but it does suggest that we still have much to learn below the surface, not only in far-away and exotic places such as the Amazon, but right here at home.

“We didn’t set out to find a new species,” said Mike Tringali, who heads the genetics laboratory at the Florida fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. “It found us.”

Scientists have proposed naming the new species the “Choctaw bass” and recommended the scientific name of Micropterus haiaka. The American Fisheries Society must approve the proposed scientific name for it to take effect.

The discovery was made when researchers noted a DNA profile that did not belong to any recognized species while testing a bass specimen from the Chipola River in 2007, as part of a broader genetic study of bass.

They then searched for the DNA profile in bass caught in nearby rivers to determine the species’ range. They found that the Choctaw bass inhabits coastal river systems in Alabama and along the western Florida panhandle, including the Choctawhatchee River.

“We chose the name ‘Choctaw bass’ because the species’ range overlaps the historic range of the Choctaw Indians,” said Tringali. “As for our recommended scientific name, Micropterus haiaka, ‘haiaka’ is a Choctaw word that means ‘revealed.’”

For more information, go here.