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Wednesday
Jan162013

Vanishing Paradise Adds Conservation Pro Staff to Help Save Delta

Beefing up efforts to educate anglers and hunters about the importance of the disappearing MississippiRiver Delta, the Vanishing Paradise coalition has assembled a 30-member volunteer promotional staff.

Land Tawney, who manages Vanishing Paradise on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, says the new group of volunteer leaders will be a vital part of the coalition’s efforts.
 

“Almost every outdoors business in America has its own pro staff,” Tawney said. “But this is the first time a conservation group has used this same idea to create a team of advocates for hunting and fishing habitat. Our pro staff members are going to be on the ground, on the airways, and on the internet fighting for the delta.”

The wetlands of the Mississippi River Delta are eroding into the Gulf of Mexico at an average rate of a football field every hour.

Vanishing Paradise is a coalition led by the National Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, and the Louisiana Wildlife Federation that aims to restore the Mississippi River Delta by strategically reintroducing water and sediment from the Mississippi River into the rapidly-eroding wetlands.

These coastal wetlands provide habitat for as much as 70 percent of the waterfowl in the Mississippi and Central Flyways and are important for both inshore and deepwater saltwater fish. The Mississippi River Delta is also a nationally recognized bass fishery.

Members of Vanishing Paradise’s pro staff include the following: 

  • Burton Angelle, Louisiana
  • Colin Anthony, Missouri
  • Curtis Arnold, Texas
  • Chad Bell, Louisiana
  • Karen Brigman, Nevada
  • Joey Buttram, Indiana
  • Joule Charney, California
  • Kyle Doherty, Missouri
  • Charles Faircloth, Alabama
  • Mike Frenette, Louisiana
  • Jeff Giffin, Missouri
  • Joseph Gignac, Arkansas
  • Joseph Hoffmann, Minnesota
  • Michael Kaufmann, Illinois
  • Joel Lucks, New York
  • Howard Malpass, Louisiana
  • Luke McNally, Washington
  • Mike McNett, Illinois
  • Wade Middleton, Texas
  • Matthew Miller, Wisconsin
  • Robert Montgomery, Missouri
  • Philip Nelson, Florida
  • John Pollmann, South Dakota
  • Taylor Schaltenbrand, Illinois
  • Sonny Schindler, Mississippi
  • Paul Strnad, Wisconsin
  • Sean Turner, Louisiana
  • Kirby Verret, Louisiana
  • Travis Weige, Texas
  • Garrett Wishon, North Carolina

Learn more about them here.

Monday
Jan142013

Tropical Fish in South Dakota Highlights Threat Posed by Exotic Species

This tropical fish, the Jack Dempsey, now is established in South Dakota. Photo courtesy of South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks.

What resource managers long have feared would happen because of irresponsible fish hobbyists has become reality: An exotic species has established itself in a waterway far north of where it should be able to survive.

Earlier this summer, biologists confirmed that the Jack Dempsey, a South American cichlid related to the peacock bass, is reproducing in South Dakota’s Fall River.

How it that possible?

“The hot springs in the river makes it perfect for cichlids,” said Mike Smith, aquatic nuisance species coordinator for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “We first found a Jack Dempsey there in 2009. Then, two weeks ago, we found multiple-year classes.

“And there’s no way that the fish could have gotten there except aquarium release.”

Water nearest the springs stays at about 70 degrees year around, which allows the exotic fish to survive brutal South Dakota winters.

In this case, the Jack Dempsey’s impact on native species likely will be minimal. Few other predators live in the shallow water, and forage species gobbled up by the aggressive cichlid can be replenished from populations outside the range of the hot spring’s influence.

But the discovery is significant because it confirms that exotics can use thermal refuges provided by springs or warm-water releases from power plants to survive in cold climates.

Jack Dempsey and another popular aquarium species, the red-rimmed melania snail, now live in the hot springs of South Dakota's Fall River because of irresponsible aquarium owners. Photo courtesy of South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks.

Could the piranha be the next exotic fish to become established? Or its much larger cousin, the pacu? Every summer, media across the country report catches of both fish in ponds, lakes, and reservoirs. For example, a pacu was caught in Illinois’ Lake Lou Yaeger in June. And at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, piranha captures have been reported several times since 2007.

Fish hobbyists also have contributed to troublesome infestations of plants such as Brazilian elodea, parrot feather, yellow floating heart, and even hydrilla.

“At a lot of our lakes, people just dump their aquariums to get rid of whatever they don’t want anymore,” said Tim Banek, invasive species coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Bill Frazier, conservation director for the North Carolina B.A.S.S. Federation Nation, also has seen evidence of aquarium dumping while serving as monitor of water quality for the city of High Point. He thinks the time is long past for directing blame primarily at anglers, especially bass fishermen.

Much of the problem, he insists, lies squarely with aquarium hobbyists and the pet industry that supplies them, as well as with nurseries that sell exotic aquatic plants.

“I haven’t seen a single trace of any invasive (plant) at the ramps, transferred by boat in 28 years,” he said.

“I know the overall perception is that weeds can be spread by anyone with a watercraft. I am not denying this pathway,” Frazier continued. “I just do not believe it as significant as everyone would have you believe.”

The North Carolina water expert has found parrot feather upstream of a submerged roadbed, where boats can’t go. He has discovered water hyacinth just downstream from a farmer’s market that featured the exotic in a water fountain. And he has seen a discarded aquarium underneath a parrot feather infestation, where the shoreline borders a large apartment complex.

“Some time later, a bank fisherman caught a skillet-sized pacu there,” he added.

And while anglers and the fishing industry pay license fees and excise taxes to finance management of aquatic resources degraded by aquatic invaders, these special interests are allowed to escape responsibility for the damage they do.

“This is what we need to be attacking and taxing,” he said.

The North Carolina conservation director added that waterfowl, wading birds, and even mammals can spread plants as well.

“I have seen beavers moving this stuff from decorative ponds to natural lakes,” Frazier said. “I watched a momma beaver taking parrot feather by the truckload from a decorative pond to a stream below --- and her den.”

Water quality expert Bill Frazier found invasive water hyacinth at this farmers market, just a short distance from a river. Photo by Bill Frazier.

Yes, anglers do contribute, transporting plant fragments and --- more likely --- mussels on boats, trailers, and tow vehicles, as do owners of jet skis, cabin cruisers, and pontoon pleasure boats. Resource managers are combating this threat with both mandatory and voluntary boat inspections at put-in and take-out sites, as well as check points at state borders.

“This year alone, nearly 80 infested boats have been stopped on the borders of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, most coming from Lake Mead,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

In those western states, mussels are considered the primary danger, because they can impede water flow by blocking intakes at major reservoirs.

For much of the country, though, Asian carp are the major concern. They are spreading up the Missouri and Mississippi and east and south in the Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee River systems, well as threatening to enter the Great Lakes.

“Asian carp are the No. 1 threat for us,” said Missouri’s Banek. “The floods of 2011 made it worse, and they have the potential to be more detrimental than zebra mussels.”

South Dakota’s Smith echoes that sentiment. “We’re seeing exponential growth in their numbers,” he said.

And while floods have helped bighead and silver carp move into new areas, anglers also might have contributed.

“Most people don’t know how to identify fish,” Banek explained. “In collecting bait below dams, they could be getting juvenile Asian carp as well as shad.”

Uneducated anglers might even unknowingly move adult Asian carp from one fishery to another, as a South Dakota creel survey clerk learned on Lewis and Clark Reservoir.

He approached two young anglers who said that they had fished all day and caught “only one walleye and one salmon.”

That “salmon” turned out to be a bighead carp that the two had caught in the river below the dam, before they moved their boat up into the lake in the afternoon.

The clerk reported that the anglers never had heard of Asian carp.

“This is what we are up against in trying to stop the spread of these fish,” said South Dakota biologist Sam Stukel. “It’s going to take a miracle.”

Bait fishermen also are unknowingly spreading invasive crawfish species. About half of U.S. states and Canadian provinces have restricted use, sale, and transport of crawfish, or are considering doing so because the threat that these invaders pose to native crawfish and the fisheries that they inhabit.

In considering regulations to prohibit the import and sale of crawfish, the Missouri Department of Conservation discovered 25 invasions in its streams. It also learned that 40 percent of anglers surveyed release live bait that they don’t use, more than 50 percent of bait shops sell species not native to regions where they are sold, and 97 percent of bait shop owners admitted or showed that they didn’t know what species they were selling.

“It is important for anglers to understand that any crawfish species moved from its natural range to new water bodies has the potential to become invasive in those new waters and to adversely affect fisheries,” said Missouri biologist Bob DiStefano.

Not surprisingly, the aquaculture industry and Farm Bureau oppose Missouri’s proposed regulations, citing economic hardship for those who import, grow, and/or sell crawfish. In the Mid-South years ago, fish farmers made the same argument in convincing resource managers to allow them to import and sell bighead and silver carp.

 Combating the Invasion

 TexasInvasives.org  provides tips to boaters, anglers, pet owners, gardeners, and others to prevent spread of invasive aquatic species. It also contains helpful information on identifying invasives.

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

Friday
Jan112013

Fed Joins Assault on Bass in Northwest

No evidence exists that big smallmouths like this have contributed to the decline of salmon in the Northwest. But anti-bass bias persists.

That haze you see above the White House is from the smoking gun of anti-angling bias.

Most alarmingly, this time the shot was fired at bass fishing.

That’s right. No longer are saltwater anglers the only ones under assault from an administration just beginning its second term. Now the danger has moved inland, and “plausible deniability” is going to be far less convincing with this latest assault.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is encouraging the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to remove size and bag limits for bass in the Columbia and Snake Rivers and their tributaries. Additionally, it says that an alternate proposal to remove daily limits but limit harvest to three fish over 15 inches “would imply a desire by WDFW to maintain a healthy population of large, non-native predators.”

And, no, we must not have that. Never mind that the Columbia River arguably is one of the top two or three smallmouth bass fisheries in the United States.

And never mind that 25 to 30 percent of anglers in the Northwest now fish for non-native warmwater species, including walleye and channel catfish, as well as bass.

“What we’ve seen the last 20 to 30 years is a noticeable shift in anglers who prefer warmwater fish,” says Jeff Dillon of Idaho Fish and Game. “It was 10 percent.  Now, on a statewide basis, it’s more than 20 percent and, in some regions (southwestern) it’s closer to a third.”

And never mind that anglers who fish for bass recreationally and competitively support Northwest economies by spending millions of dollars annually on tackle, boats, tow vehicles, and travel.

No, no, we must eliminate these non-native fish, even though they have been established in the rivers for decades and even though no evidence exists that they harm native salmon and trout populations through predation. NMFS Regional Administrator William Stelle Jr. says as much in his letter:

“While it is difficult to quantify the magnitude of predation by these species on salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act, predation by these species was noted as an increasing threat in NMFS’ recent 5-year ESA status reviews.”

 He also admits that the outcome from waging war on popular warmwater species is questionable:

“The extent to which a regulation change will affect the harvest of these species and thereby reduce predation rates on at-risk salmon and steelhead population is uncertain . . .”

But, hey, let’s do it anyway, even though stomach surveys of bass show that salmon smolts “don’t even make the top 10” among prey species, according to Mark Byrne, conservation director for the Washington B.A.S.S. Nation.

In truth, dams, development, and agriculture have caused the decline of coldwater fisheries by destroying habitat, degrading water quality, altering flows, and blocking migrations. But bass and bass anglers are high profile and easy targets.

No, no bias here.

Just as there is not in the National Ocean Policy, which would “zone” uses of our oceans and Great Lakes, telling us where we can and can’t fish. Just as there is not in heavy-handed enforcement of the Magnuson-Stevens Marine Fishery and Conservation Act, which has devastated coastal fishing communities. Just as there is not in Catch Shares, a scheme to privatize a public resource and, inevitably, limit access.

In truth, none of these are directly anti-fishing. Neither is the NMFS letter. But what all of them reveal is a disregard for the popularity and importance of recreational fishing and a willingness for sportfishing to be collateral damage in the imposition of a preservationist ideology.

President Obama, meanwhile, told Keep America Fishing:

“My administration is committed to maintaining fishing opportunities for America’s fishermen.”

But that does not seem to be the case for the National Park Service, which has limited angler access at Cape Hatteras National Seashore and now is attempting to do the same at Florida’s Biscayne National Park.

And it certainly does not seem to be the case for the National Marine Fisheries Service, which would like to obliterate one of the nation’s best bass fisheries.

Someone probably should tell the President that.

(A variation of this opinion piece appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Thursday
Jan102013

Best Bass Lakes in Texas

TPWD photo by Larry D. Hodge

The following is provided by Texas Parks & Wildlife:

In reservoirs scattered throughout Texas, under the black skies of cool, fall nights, loud generators drone and bright lights beam from strange-looking boats built to transmit electrical current into the water to catch fish. Crews from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries district offices use these electrofishing boats to collect information on fish populations, including Texas’ most popular fish—largemouth bass.

Bass anglers are always searching for hot lakes, for bass populations that are primed for great fishing opportunities. With this in mind, TPWD’s Spencer Dumont used electrofishing information collected from over 4,800 adult bass (8 inches and longer) in 78 hours of electrofishing effort at 935 different shoreline sites from 62 reservoirs in Fall 2012 to rank the top ten bass populations in terms of small bass, keeper bass and quality bass.

What he found may simply confirm what you already knew. But more likely it will surprise you.

Top Lakes for Small Bass

Small bass were defined as those from eight to 13 inches long. Sprawling Sam Rayburn Reservoir was ranked No. 1 for small bass at 161 bass collected per hour of electrofishing effort. Rounding out the top ten were:

Sweetwater (143/hour)

Proctor (120/hour)

Toledo Bend (90/hour)

Walter E. Long (86/hour)

Eagle Mountain (84.6/hour)

Ray Hubbard (81.5/hour)

Leon (77/hour)

Lake o’ the Pines and Lake Raven (75/hour)

The average number of small bass caught per reservoir in 2012 was 44/hour.

Top Lakes for Keeper Bass

Keeper bass were defined as those from 14 to 17 inches long. Lake Raven took the top spot for keeper bass with a whopping 75 bass collected per hour of electrofishing. The rest of the top ten were:

Bastrop (64/hour)

Walter E. Long (62/hour)

Sam Rayburn (35.5/hour)

Amistad (29.5/hour)

Sweetwater (26/hour)

Amon Carter (25/hour)

Coleman, Gibbons Creek and Toledo Bend (21/hour).

The average number of keeper bass caught per reservoir in 2012 was 13 bass per hour of electrofishing.

Top Lakes for Quality Bass

Quality bass were defined as those 18 inches or longer. Walter E. Long had the most quality bass with an impressive 18 bass collected per hour. The remainder of the top ten were:

Bastrop and Raven (10/hour)

Jacksonville, Houston County, Ray Hubbard, Sam Rayburn and Sweetwater (7/hour)

Mackenzie, Murvaul, Proctor and Stamford (6/hour)

The average catch of quality bass per reservoir in 2012 was 3 bass per hour of electrofishing.

Top Ten Overall

The best overall reservoir, based on a combination of small, keeper and quality bass caught during electrofishing samples in 2012, was a tie between Walter E. Long and Sam Rayburn. Raven was No. 3, followed by Sweetwater (No. 4), Bastrop (No. 5), Ray Hubbard (No. 6), Toledo Bend (No. 7), Lone Star (No. 8), Houston County (No. 9) and Amistad (No. 10).

Dumont cautioned that anglers should not expect to catch bass in the same numbers as the electrofishing boats. “Electrofishing gives an indication of how abundant bass of different sizes are in a reservoir,” he said. “Also, electrofishing does not generally collect very large fish. There may well be larger fish in a reservoir than show up in electrofishing surveys. Falcon would be a good example. We know that lake has lots of big bass, but it’s very hard to collect them with electrofishing.”

If your favorite lake is missing from the lists above, it may be due to the fact that not every reservoir is sampled every year. And, Dumont noted, electrofishing is not an exact science. “Lake Fork did not show up on any of the lists, but sometimes you don’t get a good sample. That happens with electrofishing.”

Dumont also pointed out that reservoirs are not all the same. “Electrofishing rates are not always directly comparable from lake to lake, so we typically monitor trends in the same lake from year to year.”

Lake Dunlap: A Quality Bass Fishery

Lake Dunlap is a good example of a fishery that might surprise anglers with the quality of its bass fishing. (Toyota ShareLunker No. 539, a 13.34-pounder, was caught from the lake December 30.)

The lake was impounded in 1928 and encompasses 410 acres of the Guadalupe River near New Braunfels. Little more than a wide spot on the river, it is a popular destination for recreational boating and fishing. Boat access is limited to one two-lane boat ramp (under Interstate 35), and bank fishing is limited to the bridge easement.

The Inland Fisheries Division of TPWD has been managing the reservoir for many decades. Since the early 2000s, electrofishing surveys have been conducted every other year to monitor black bass populations and prey assemblages. Largemouth bass are the predominant black bass species in the reservoir, but smallmouth, spotted and Guadalupe bass are present.

Since 2001, largemouth bass catch rates have averaged 92 fish per hour of electrofishing, and bass exceeding 20 inches have been collected in almost all of the surveys. On the angling side, Lake Dunlap’s largemouth bass have been in the limelight over the past few years as fishing reports and pictures of double-digit bass have flooded the Internet angling forums. A tournament held in Spring 2012 showcased the potential of Lake Dunlap’s bass fishery when a five-fish limit topped the scales at 35-plus pounds. Lake Dunlap has become a destination for club-level tournaments.

The foundation of this quality fishery is genetic potential, abundant forage and diverse habitat. Florida largemouth bass genes are prevalent in the population despite just two stockings (1978 and 1988). The presence of Florida bass genetics allows for better growth potential and opportunity for production of trophy-size fish. Forage species, primarily sunfish and shad, are readily abundant and provide largemouth bass with the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Largemouth bass relative weight indices (measure of plumpness) are above average, especially for the larger individuals.

Lake Dunlap’s habitat is diverse. The upper third is comprised of shallow, fast-flowing water with lots of large boulders, gravel bars and large, fallen timber. The reservoir begins to deepen in the middle third. The river flow slows and large boulders are traded for drop-offs, ledges and gravel shoals. Rooted stands of aquatic vegetation are scattered along the shoreline and piers and boat docks provide shade and habitat for larger fish. In the lower third, the reservoir continues to deepen, becomes wider and flows slow to a near halt. Drop-offs and ledges are generally limited to the river and creek channels; sand/mud flats replace the gravel shoals; and colonies of rooted aquatic vegetation are large and robust. Unlike other Guadalupe River lakes, Lake Dunlap has a large flooded timber field located in this lower section.

Preservation and enhancements of these important fish habitats has been a recent focus of TPWD’s fisheries management activities, in collaboration with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and local anglers.

The combination of a healthy, robust largemouth bass population and high prevalence of Florida largemouth bass genetics coupled with abundant forage and diverse habitat has been the recipe for success in creating a quality bass fishery in this relatively small water body.

Electrofishing collections and other management activities in Texas’ public waters are made possible by funds provided by the Sport Fish Restoration Program through purchase of fishing licenses and fishing equipment and motorboat fuels.

The aforementioned reservoirs are only a drop in a bucket of fishing opportunities Texas has to offer. More than 1,000 reservoirs are sprinkled throughout Texas and 191,000 miles of rivers and streams snake their way to the coast. For information on a particular body of water, contact the biologist in charge; contact information is here.

 

Thursday
Jan102013

Recreational Fishing: Its Power and Popularity

Photo by Robert Montgomery

There are approximately 60 million anglers in the U.S. of which 46 million are estimated to fish in a given year.

One of every four anglers fishes in saltwater.

Fishing tackle sales grew more than 16 percent in the past five years.

Since 2006, angler numbers grew 11 percent

More Americans fish than play golf (21 million) and tennis (13 million) combined.

If fishing were a company, the amount spent by anglers to support fishing-related retail sales would rank number 51 on the Fortune 500 list.

Fishing generated more revenue ($48 billion) than Lockheed Martin ($47 billion), Intel ($44 billion), Chrysler ($42 billion) or Google ($38 billion).

The economic activity generated by sportfishing is greater than the economy, measured in Gross State Product, of 17 states.

At more than 46 million anglers, more than twice the number of people fished in 2011 than attended every NFL game combined.

These statistics come from Sportfishing in America: An Economic Force for Conservation. It is a report produced by Southwick Associates for the American Sportfishing Association.