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Darden Restaurant Chain Disrespects Recreational Anglers

If you’re a recreational angler, you might want to reconsider that next family trip to Red Lobster or the Olive Garden. In spending your money at one of these Darden restaurants, you are supporting a restaurant chain that does not support you.

In fact, it’s not unreasonable to say that Darden is no friend to fishermen. As the recreational angling industry argues for a greater share of red snapper, the chain has come down squarely on the side of commercial fishing.

In fact, a recent article in the Orlando Sentinel says this:

“Even Darden Restaurants — which has seafood on the menu of all of its 1,900 restaurants — supports the quotas. In a letter last June to the Gulf Management Council, the company called for a continuation of the quota, though it said commercial fishers should be allotted more and recreational anglers less.”

Now before I told you about this situation, I wanted to make absolutely sure of the facts. To do that, I had to track down the letter. You’ll find it here.

After reading it, though, I still wasn’t certain of Darden’s position. That’s why I asked Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy Director for the American Sportfishing Association, to take a look at it.

Here is what he said:

“I too am a little fuzzy on some of the specifics in that letter, but it is clear to me that they’re calling for a review of the red snapper allocation, and imply that more of the quota should be given to the commercial sector.

“Not surprising that a seafood company would want a greater supply of red snapper, just like it’s not surprising that anglers want more fish made available for them to catch!

“The difference is that we have an increasing body of data that demonstrate the significantly greater economic value (some showing an order of magnitude or more) that these fish hold when caught recreationally vs. commercially.”

In other words, more and more evidence reveals that recreational fishing for red snapper (and other “mixed fishery” species) is more beneficial to the economy than commercial fishing. Now add in the fact that recreational fishing for marine species accounts for only about 2 percent of harvest.

Check out Comparing NOAA’s Recreational and Commercial Fishing Economic Data to learn more.

And how about this from a background document on the grouper fishery provided me by Leonard:

“A recent presentation to the socioeconomic science and statistical committee (SESSC) of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council by two NOAA Fisheries Service economists showed that recreational value for grouper far outstrips commercial value in the grouper fishery.

“These economists concluded that the current allocation is economically inefficient and to increase efficiency and maximize the value to the nation, the allocation should be moved towards the recreational sector.”

If you do decide to keep patronizing Darden restaurants, you might want have a chat with the local restaurant manager about this issue, or, even better, you might want to write a letter to the chain, expressing your displeasure with a policy that disrespects a significant portion of its customers and their families.

As Leonard pointed out, it’s not unreasonable that a seafood company wants more fish to sell in its restaurants. But if it drives away customers by antagonizing them, what’s the point?   


Minnesota DNR Sacrifices Smallmouth Bass to Help Mille Lacs Walleye Fishery

Smallmouth bass are being thrown under the fisheries-management bus at Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs.  Ostensibly, the move is to help rebuild the walleye fishery, but the regulation change has many anglers shaking their heads in disbelief and organizing to oppose the move via a petition drive.

In 2012, anglers were allowed to keep only one smallmouth bass of at least 21 inches. This year, the limit is 6, with one of more than 20 inches, while the rest must be less than 17.

Conversely, last year anglers could keep up to four walleye shorter than 17 inches, with one longer than 28 inches allowed. Now, they can keep only two between 18 and 20 inches or one in the slot and one longer than 28 inches.

“The smallmouth bass and northern pike regulations are designed to protect smaller walleye until we have better information on what these predator species are eating,” said Dirk Peterson, fisheries chief for the Department of Natural Resources.

“We’ll be starting a predator diet study this spring. Meanwhile, the regulations will allow anglers some additional non-walleye harvest opportunities while also retaining solid numbers of trophy-sized fish.”

But critics counter that increased harvest will damage the world-class smallmouth fishery.

Some also point out that the state isn’t addressing the real problem, netting of walleye by Native Americans.

“Meanwhile, the eight bands of Chippewa who net Mille Lacs during the spring spawn have given no indication they will change the mesh size of their nets, which tend to target walleyes 18 inches and smaller, the same fish sport anglers are trying to protect,” said Dennis Anderson in the Star Tribune newspaper.

And at the Outdoor Hub, angler Rodney Peterson added, “The walleye decline started when the bands started to net spawning fish.

“I remember catching a 6-fish limit in a couple hours as a young adult in the late ‘80s. Last year, we had trouble catching a single fish in the slot. The problem should be obvious, even for the incredibly myopic DNR and tribal fisheries.

“Stop netting the fish during the spawn. It would be the same as a farmer butchering his cows before they have their calves and wondering why his herd was dwindling. Seriously, is it that difficult to figure out? Short-sighted greed is running the fishery, not conservation.”



Spotted Bass Expansion--- Intentional and Otherwise 

Largemouth bass on the left and spotted bass on the right. Photo by Robert Montgomery

Four species of black bass --- Florida, largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted --- vastly expanded their ranges during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Resource managers were responsible for much of that, as they intentionally stocked nonnative fish to establish and/or enhance fisheries. For example, Florida bass went to California and Texas, and smallmouth bass to the Northwest.

Sometimes, though, dispersion occurred naturally or inadvertently, especially for the smaller spotted bass, which wasn’t identified as a separate species until 1929 and still not recognized by many as distinct until the 1940s or later.

Missouri provides a perfect case history of this unintentional expansion with unforeseen consequences. Once confined to lowland ditches and streams to the southeast and west of the Ozarks, they “went everywhere” as reservoirs were built during mid century, according to Jeff Koppelman, a fisheries biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Today, they’re a prominent species in fisheries such as Table Rock, Bull Shoals, and Lake of the Ozarks, among others

How did they get to the latter, an impoundment on the Osage River, which is a tributary of the Missouri and geographically separate from the spot’s native range?

“It all gets back to us,” said Koppelman.

In 1941, about 90,000 bass --- largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted --- were collected from streams during the low water of summer and taken to hatcheries. They then were released in the fall. Possibly spotted bass were taken to and released from a hatchery in the Osage River drainage.

Additionally, spotted bass were stocked in streams north of the Missouri River in an attempt to supplement the limited fishery.

Today, spotted bass make up about 18 percent of the bass population at Lake of the Ozarks, according to electrofishing surveys. That’s down considerably from the early 1990 and 1991, when they outnumbered largemouths. Most interesting, though, a 5-9 spotted/smallmouth hybrid was caught there in 2012, even though bronzebacks aren’t thought to be in this impoundment that’s more than 80 years old.

Smallmouths, however, do share the water with spots at Table Rock and Bull Shoals, and, in both of those, they occasionally cross-breed, resulting in a fish popularly known as the “meanmouth.” At Table Rock, largemouths make up about 74 percent of the bass population, according to electrofishing surveys. Spots account for 25 percent, with smallmouth and meanmouths the additional 1 percent. Lake record for the latter is 5-10.

Spots there likely migrated into the impoundments from tributary streams after dams were built on the White River. How they managed to get into streams on the east side of the Ozarks is another matter. Did they move up the Mississippi or migrate east from the Osage and Missouri systems, where they were introduced?

Whatever the cause, “20 years ago, we were panicking,” Koppelman said.

Resource managers and anglers alike feared that spots would crowd out and/or heavily hybridize with resident smallmouths in streams such as the Big, Gasconade, and Meramec. And, indeed, some hybrids have been collected in the lower basins of the two latter rivers.

Liberal regulations --- no size limit and no bag limit --- to encourage harvest of stream spots had no biological impact, Koppelman said, since few bass anglers keep fish.

Thus, far, though, eastern Ozarks smallmouths have retained some of their traditional range. Today, the biologist explained, spots seem strongest on the edges of the eastern Ozarks, where the region either borders big rivers or the prairie to the west. Conversely, spots and hybrids are not often found in streams with large springs and high gradients.

For a time after its recognition as a separate species, the spotted bass was considered comparable in fisheries value to the smallmouth and even largemouth bass by some resource managers. That no longer seems to be the case for this smaller, more aggressive, and generally more adaptable fish.

“I don’t know of anyone who wants spotted bass,” Koppelman said. 

(A version of this article appeeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)



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