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Threat to Fisheries From Asian Carp, Zebra Mussels Continues to Grow

Zebra mussels can hitchhike from one fishery to another on outboard engines.

More bad news regarding aquatic invasive species. So what else is new?

First, the U.S. Geological Survey says in a June 18 report that four tributary rivers of the Great Lakes have conditions conducive for successful spawning by Asian carp. They include the Milwaukee and St. Joseph Rivers on Lake Michigan and the Maumee and Sandusky Rivers on Lake Erie.

Of course, the Asian carp must enter the Great Lakes first --- if they haven’t already.

Regarding that situation, a little good news does exist: The governor of Illinois says that he is in favor of severing the manmade connection between the Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basin.

“Ultimately, I think we have to separate the basins,” Pat Quinn said. “I really feel that is the ultimate solution.”

Until now, Illinois has sided with Chicago, Indiana, the Obama administration, and commercial navigation interests in opposing separation. Most of the other Great Lakes states want separation to protect the system’s billion-dollar fishery from Asian carp.

Additionally, separation would prevent migration of other invasive species in the future into and out of the Great Lakes.

The second piece of bad news is that a live zebra mussel has been found in Texas’ Lewisville Lake, less than a year after an established population was confirmed in Lake Ray Roberts, just a few miles to the north. Likely the mussel was brought in on a boat hull or trailer, but it could have drifted down the Elm Fork of the Trinity River.

Mussel colonies can clog water intakes, costing metropolitan areas like Dallas/Fort Worth millions of dollars in maintenance costs over time to protect water supply reservoirs.

No matter where they are fishing, anglers should conscientiously inspect their boats and trailers when leaving a lake or impoundment to be certain that they are not about to transport these shellfish and other invasives.  If voluntary compliance isn’t enough to stop the spread, access restrictions inevitably will follow.


Inactive Anglers Are Embarrassment in Fight for Bristol Bay and on Other Issues

Sadly, environmentalists and fishermen, who are conservationists, don’t have much in common these days. That’s because of much of the environmental agenda is inherently anti-fishing. 

Much of that stems from enviros refusal to differentiate between recreational fishing and commercial fishing.

As a matter of fact, anglers were among the first “environmentalists” because of their concern for clean water and healthy fisheries. Today, they contribute hundreds of millions of dollars annually for resource management through license fees and excise taxes on fishing tackle. And, unlike commercials, they keep only a tiny fraction of what they catch.

But stopping Pebble Mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay is one thing that enviros and anglers--- both recreational and commercial-- agree on. Its creation would lead to the devastation of one of the world’s few remaining unspoiled salmon fisheries.

More than 925 angling and hunting groups, as well as related businesses, now are on record as supporting EPA’s assessment of the danger and asking that agency to take the necessary steps to deny permitting for the mine.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post newspaper reports the following:

“Almost all the comments urging the EPA to block the mine have been generated by major environmental groups . . .

“The Natural Resources Defense Council produced 83,095 comments, more than any other group in favor of EPA action, while the Pew Charitable Trusts came in second with 41,158 comments.”

Now here is where you come in. You have until June 30 to voice your opposition to the mine. Go here to do so, and, in the process, enter a contest to win a fishing trip to Bristol Bay.

Thus far, the enviros have done most of the heavy lifting in producing comments. As of May 18, only about 6,000 sportsmen had participated.

In a nation where 60 million people describe themselves as anglers, that’s beyond pathetic.

“Sadly, fishermen have lagged, but not by any lack of effort,” said Scott Hed, director of the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska. “Keep America Fishing sent out two notices to their massive list. Many other groups and businesses sent action alerts and posted to their Facebook groups, whose collective number of followers is in the millions.”

So, what all of this tells me is that sometimes enviros and anglers can agree on an issue, and that’s a good thing. Maybe one will lead to more.

But it also suggests that we’re going to lose when we oppose them on any issue that requires grassroots support. Almost certainly we outnumber them, but too many anglers are content to just go fishing and leave standing up for our sport to someone else.

Mark my words: Eventually, that’s going to bite us in the butt big time.


Future of Fishing Threatened by PETA Propaganda

Okay, ladies and gentlemen, the article below (For Cod’s Sake Stop Fishing) provides a perfect example of the irrational and false arguments against recreational fishing that we must confront and dispel. Written by a PETA “senior writer,” it appeared, unchallenged, in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead on June 8.

No doubt the organization managed to get it inserted in other media as well.

Particularly note the second paragraph, which alleges that fish can feel pain and fear and “these facts are no longer in question.”

But none of the “facts” cited are supported by credible fisheries scientists.

Here’s the truth:

“When a fish is hooked by an angler, it typically responds with rapid swimming behavior that appears to be a flight response,” says Dr. James Rose, who has spent more than 30 years studying neurological responses  to pain in animals. “Human observers sometimes interpret this flight response to be a reaction to pain, as if the fish was capable of the same kind of pain experience as a human.”

But fish “don’t have the brain systems necessary to experience pain,” he says, adding that “flight responses of fish are a general reaction to many types of potentially threatening stimuli and can’t be taken to represent a response to pain.”

Someone did respond (Anti-Fishing Column Nonsense). But even though the writer did defend fishing for food, she bought into the argument that fish feel pain and fear.

That’s what is insidious and dangerous.  If these zealots can convince enough people that fishing for sport is wrong, they will be well on their way to banning fishing entirely. They've already achieved a ban on catch-and-release fishing in parts of Europe.

I write about this threat and others  in “No Fishing?,” an essay in my new book, Why We Fish.

The threat is very real, my friends. Please don't ignore it.

For cod’s sake stop fishing

Earlier this month, a German angler made headlines for reeling in a 103-pound cod off the coast of Norway. The fish is believed to be the largest cod ever caught anywhere in the world, and if confirmed, the catch will break the existing record, which was set back in 1969. As I looked at the obligatory photos of the grinning angler with his “prize” and giving the “thumbs-up,” my first thought wasn’t, “Atta, boy!” but “How disconnected does a person have to be to take pleasure in killing other living beings – any other living beings?”

Here are two things that anglers should know about their supposedly “harmless” pastime: Fish can feel pain, and they can experience fear. These facts are no longer in question.

Even though fish don’t scream audibly when they are impaled on hooks, their behavior offers evidence of their suffering. When biologist Victoria Braithwaite and her colleagues exposed fish to irritating chemicals, the animals behaved as any of us might: They lost their appetite, their gills beat faster, and they rubbed the affected area of their bodies against the side of the tank.

A study in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science found that fish who are exposed to painful heat later show signs of fear and wariness – suggesting that they both experience pain and remember it.

Other studies have shown that fish communicate distress when nets are dipped into their tanks or they are otherwise threatened. Researcher William Tavolga, for example, found that not only do fish grunt when they receive an electric shock, they also begin to grunt as soon as they see the electrode, in anticipation of the painful experience to follow.

Researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada concluded that fish feel fear when they are chased and that their behavior is more than simply a reflex. The “fish are frightened and … they prefer not being frightened,” says Dr. Ian Duncan, who headed the study.

Now think about what all this means. Try to put yourself in the fish’s place. When fish are impaled on an angler’s hook and yanked out of the water, panicking and gasping for breath, they aren’t having a good time. It’s not a game to them. They are scared and in pain and fighting for their lives.

Anglers may not want to hear this, but fishing is nothing more than a cruel blood sport, and killing animals for pleasure – just so that someone can set a world record or pose for a silly photo with a corpse – is inexcusable. It’s time to stop pretending that it’s “good, clean fun” to engage in an activity in which most of the participants aren’t even participating willingly but are, instead, desperately struggling in vain to stay alive.

Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation.

Anti-fishing column nonsense

As an avid fisherwoman married to an avid fisherman and mother to two avid fisher-boys, I just had to write my first-ever letter in response to the Paula Moore opinion column in the June 1 Forum.

If I understand correctly, we are not supposed to fish because it hurts the fishies. I do not discredit the facts presented but, honestly, why someone would test fish for pain tolerance leaves me scratching my head. And I see Moore did not bring the smack-down on those “researchers.” But what of those of us who fish to eat? Are we now required to not fish to eat because it hurts the fish? And is the next step worrying about the feelings of the cows and chickens and pigs?

Good grief. Has she not heard of the circle of life? If we are now supposed to worry about the feelings of fish, then it is nothing but downhill from here – to the dock, to the lake, to the boat to fish.


The Reel Truth About Catch of Giant Catfish

This wels catfish was caught on the Neckar River in Germany. Photo by Peter Merkel

As with any angling addict, I watch most every television program that relates to fishing. That includes Jeremy Wade’s River Monsters on the Animal Planet channel.

His over-the-top dramatization of stories about and encounters with “killer” fish drive me crazy, but still I watch. Seeing the people, the places, and the fish featured are worth enduring a little mental anguish, I guess.

But now it seems that the Brit’s yellow journalism --- for which his countrymen are so famous--- is infecting other outdoor media, perhaps because of his success.

Here’s what I mean: “U.K. Angler Dragged into Lake by Giant Catfish.”

That headline appears in Outdoor Hub’s June 18 Fishing News.

Makes you want to read the story, huh?

But that’s not what happened. 

Now, I like the Outdoor Hub. I read its stories often. But it misled its readers with this one.

What happened is that the angler waded into the lake to battle the 108-pound wels catfish and lost his balance a couple of times.

What he accomplished was remarkable in and of itself. His tale needed no embellishment.

He was fishing for carp with 8-pound line and a spinning rod, when the big fish struck. He fought it for two hours, wading into the water to get as close as he could to the catfish to relieve stress on his line and tackle.

And now a shameless plug:

I did much the same thing to catch a tarpon from a Costa Rica beach, while fishing for snook with light tackle. I recount that battle in an essay entitled “You Just Never Know,” which is part of my new book, Why We Fish--- Reel Wisdom from Real Fishermen.

Go here to learn more about the book, including the names of others who contributed.


Good News on the Carp Front; Bad News About Zebra Mussels

There’s good news and bad news on the invasive species front.

Let’s start with the good, since that so rarely happens:

During a Great Lakes governors’ summit, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn voiced support for separating the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basins as a way to keep Asian carp and other invasive species from migrating into the lakes.

“Ultimately, I think we have to separate the basins,” the governor said. “I really feel that is the ultimate solution. We have to do it.”

Quinn’s defection from the side that opposes separation, supported by commercial navigation interests, could be a tipping point toward a real solution that would save the $7.5 billion fishing industry --- unless the carp already have moved past the electric barriers. 

Almost certainly bighead and silver will not show up immediately after they enter the Great Lakes. We won’t see one here and another there. Suddenly, they just will be there in substantial numbers --- as happened with snakeheads in the Potomac River.

It’s important to remember too that these two basins were connected by man, not nature. The connection was made so that Chicago’s sewage would flow downstream, instead of contaminating its Lake Michigan water supply. Commercial navigation on the waterway developed from there.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper says this in an editorial:

Illinois political leaders, such as Quinn and former Sen. Barack Obama, have a long history of kowtowing to Chicago shipping industry cronies who oppose the surest strategy for preventing these gilled gluttons from laying waste a precious liquid asset that floats a $7.5 billion fishing industry and 800,000 jobs .

“It was Quinn who inked a deal with a Chinese meat processing plant and an Illinois fishing operation in 2010 under a "if you can't beat 'em, eat 'em" initiative that has sent more than 700 tons of the piscine palate pleasers to Asia.

“But hydrological separation remains the only true solution. Now that Quinn's on board, maybe President Obama could join him in putting the public good over political expediency.”

 *    *   *

The bad news is that zebra mussels have been found in northern Minnesota, in a lake that connects to Rainy River. That could allow them entrance into massive Lake of the Woods.

The CBC reports that an aquatic invasive species outreach liaison with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters said if zebra mussels migrate to Lake of the Woods, their habit of straining out plankton could be disastrous to the sport fishery there.

“If you take out the energy in the bottom of the food chain, as you move up the food chain, there will be less energy for your walleye or lake trout,” Matt Smith said.