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Monday
Oct292012

Future of FWS Fisheries Program in Doubt 

Fisheries management works best as a joint state-federal venture. Photo by Robert Montgomery

Nearly a decade ago, anglers and biologists knew little about Largemouth Bass Virus and worried that it could have catastrophic consequences.

In response, B.A.S.S. assembled resource managers and fisheries scientists for a coordinated response. Fish Health and Technology Centers operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proved indispensable for analyzing samples, determining vectors, and tracking spread of the virus.

“Many states that used those labs didn’t have the capacity to do it themselves,” says Dave Terre, chief of Inland Fisheries Management and Research for Texas Parks and Wildlife. “Plus, they (labs) provided support for sampling designs and elevated aspects of our work.”

In other words, if not for this segment of FWS’s Fisheries program, we wouldn’t so quickly have discovered the causes, symptoms, and limitations of the virus, as well as calmed the concerns of anglers and state fisheries managers nationwide.

Today, FWS fisheries scientists are working with the U.S. Geological Survey and others to better understand Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia, a fish disease that has caused major die-offs in the Great Lakes.

These are but two small examples of the incalculable value provided to the nation’s anglers and fisheries by the nearly 800 employees of FWS Fisheries. It’s a value that’s not appreciated by most of us, according to Noreen Clough, National Conservation Director for B.A.S.S.

“It does so much that I can’t get my mind around it. This is the only agency that fulfills the role of national fish and aquatic resources conservation,” she says.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Fisheries program supports a variety of projects and programs that are very important to the sportfishing industry from healthy fish to the federal fish hatcheries to habitat restoration,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association.

Admittedly, I didn’t know that much about Fisheries. But I decided to find out after hearing from angling advocates that they have “concerns” for its future.

First the numbers: Fisheries consists of 65 Fish and Wildlife Conservation offices, 70 National Fish Hatcheries, 9 Fish Health Centers, 7 Fish Technology Centers, and a Historic National Fish Hatchery (D.C. Booth in Spearfish, S.D.). In a nation that spends trillions of dollars annually, such a program poses an insignificant expense, yet it is an invaluable support system for a sport fishery that generates $125 billion annually in economic output.

Considering the fiscal mess that our nation is in, however, concern for its future is not a surprise. Fisheries and conservation programs are considered “easy marks” by many of those who trim budgets. That’s borne out by the recent recommendation from the Office of Management and Budget to steal $34 million from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund (SFR) to help reduce the federal budget. Never mind that those are dedicated funds, obtained through excise taxes that anglers pay on fishing tackle and motorboat fuel.

Additionally, within the Department of Interior, approval of outdoor recreation is diminishing, as evidenced by access limitations imposed at Cape Hatteras by the National Park Service. The agency also wants to prohibit fishing in portions of Florida’s Biscayne Bay.

“There is a bias against outdoor recreation,” one insider says bluntly

Meanwhile, anglers typically are not strident activists on their own behalf, as are other constituencies.

But we will need to be so, through outlets such as Keep America Fishing, if we want to protect and enhance out fisheries and, by extension, our waters, through SFR and FWS Fisheries.

What does the latter provide besides laboratory expertise?

Well, fish, of course. Dozens of hatcheries grow trout, salmon, and other species as “mitigation” for the damage caused by dams to free-flowing waterways. For example, that’s why we have a world-class trout fishery in Arkansas.

These facilities also provide sanctuaries for threatened and endangered species, and they help the states with put-and-take fisheries.

“We have used advanced-sized channel catfish produced at the federal hatcheries to support our Neighborhood Fishing Program,” says Terre.

“The federal fisheries biologists provide support and work collaboratively with our state fisheries biologists on research projects and, most recently, on threatened and endangered fish issues and watershed-scale fish habitat improvement projects.”

Fish Passage provides yet another benefit. In 2011 alone, Fisheries and its partners removed or bypassed 158 dams, culverts, and other structures, opening up 2,180 miles of streams to native fish populations.

These efforts “contributed to improved water quality, provided additional recreational and economic opportunities, and even addressed serious threats to human health and safety,” FWS says.

Additionally, Fisheries coordinates the Aquatic Nuisance Species Program, analyzes and approves new drugs and chemicals for aquatic species, monitors population levels and responses to environmental changes, and more.

“It’s impossible to enumerate all that Fisheries does and not wise to prioritize,” Clough concludes. “They’re all important functions that the states cannot perform alone.

“And we can’t afford to lose them.”

(A shorter version of this piece appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Friday
Oct262012

Carp Strike Back; Sharks Stalk Golfers

Check out these quirky fish tales at The Blaze. And take a look at this from Australia, where bull sharks live in a golf course lake. These man-eaters give a whole new meaning to the term "water hazard."

Friday
Oct262012

Bassmaster Classic Set for Oklahoma's Grand Lake

Oklahoma's biggest bass tournament ever --- the Bassmaster Classic --- is set for Feb. 22-24 at Grand Lake and Tulsa.

At that time of year, conditions could be wintry --- below freezing with snow and sleet --- or balmy --- 70 degrees and sunny. Odds suggest weather will be closer to the latter than the former.

Either way, anglers across the nation who know little about the great bass fishing in Oklahoma will get a televised look at one of the best lakes around. In fact, it is arguably the best "non-grass" fishery in the country. Despite its age, it continues to yield strings of 4- and 5-pound fish.

For a preview of the fishing at Grand and insights from some of the Classic competitors, check out this video.

Thursday
Oct252012

Lake Talquin Lunker First Entry in TrophyCatch Program

Corey Dolan's 12.3-pound largemouth is the first entry in Florida's TrophyCatch Program.

On the first day Oct. 1, the first day of Florida’s new TrophyCatch program, Larry Campbell, of Fleming Island, caught an 11.25-pound, 26.5-inch-long bass while fishing in the St. Johns River with his younger brother, using live shrimp. They had caught and released several 4- to 7-pound bass before Larry broke the 10-pound barrier for the first time in his 20 years of fishing. They found where they could boast online about their catch and posted it on TrophyCatchFlorida.com, an FWC website that is hosted by the World Fishing Network (WFN).

But . . . here’s what happened next, according to Bob Wattendorf of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:

If only Larry had read the rules first and taken photos of the bass on scales, with the weight showing, and on a tape measure with the length showing, he would have had the first entry into the new Trophy Bass Club. However, without appropriate photos to verify the weight and length for TrophyCatch, his fish was at least entered into the Big Catch Program.

“Thanks for the AWESOME Big Catch Certificate. I don't have any other pictures of the fish. I'll know next time,” he responded graciously. “Things are just starting to heat up here. Thanks for the awesome recognition program.”

On Oct. 9, Marcus Arrendondo caught a 29-inch-long, bass with a girth of 24 inches estimated at 14 pounds.

If only he had called FWC toll free at 1-855 FL TROPHY (855-358-7674) while he had the live fish in his possession, an FWC employee would have come out to examine the bass, ensure it was live-released and healthy, and weigh it on certified scales. If it exceeded 13 pounds, it would have been entered into the Hall of Fame. FWC would have provided a free fiberglass replica from New Wave Taxidermy, and a bundle of other prizes.

Got One …

Then, on Oct. 16, Corey Dolan of Tallahassee got one. He landed a 12.3-pound largemouth bass on Lake Talquin and released it to become the first entrant in the TrophyCatch program. Dolan started fishing at sunrise on his last day off before starting a new job and was rewarded when, around 1:30 in the afternoon, a huge bass struck his artificial worm. Dolan manipulated both rod and trolling motor to land the 27-inch-long bass.

Dolan found TrophyCatchFlorida.com on his smartphone and ultimately connected with the TrophyCatch hotline. FWC biologists arrived at Coe’s Landing an hour later to determine a certified weight of 12.3 pounds – just short of the Hall of Fame mark (13 pounds) but qualifying for the Trophy Club. Dolan will receive $100 in gift cards from sponsors such as Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Rapala lures, plus a long-sleeve Trophy Club shirt from Bass King, and discounts from New Wave Taxidermy, FishPhotoReplicas.net and SportsmanOnCanvas.com.

KP Clements, the FWC’s TrophyCatch coordinator, said that as the first TrophyCatch angler, Dolan will also receive a special one-day pass to fish at the famed Bienville Plantation and is entered into drawings for other prizes.

Marcus Arrendondo's bass weighed an estimated 14 pounds, but he neglected to call FWC while the fish was in his possession.

TrophyCatch includes three tiers to encourage reporting and live-releasing bass heavier than 8 pounds that are caught in Florida waters. Bass 8 to 9.9 pounds (Lunker Club) or those 10 to 12.9 pounds (Trophy Club) that are caught, documented and released can be reported online at TrophyCatchFlorida.com any time of the year. All that is required to qualify for prizes is a photo of the fish on a scale with the weight visible, and one on a tape measure or ruler showing the length. Bass heavier than 13 pounds that are caught between Oct. 1 and April 30 each year must be checked by FWC staff to enter them into the Hall of Fame Club.

The angler who enters the biggest bass of the year into TrophyCatch will earn a Super Bowl-like ring, from the American Outdoors Fund. If it is caught in Osceola County, the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) will award the angler $10,000. In addition, if the angler is on a guided fishing trip, the guide will receive $2,500 from the CVB.

“TrophyCatch will enable biologists to better manage freshwater fisheries by providing valuable incentives to anglers for reporting and releasing their catches of trophy bass,” said Tom Champeau, director of the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management. The information will be used to evaluate and improve management strategies that produce more and larger bass.

“It is important for anglers to read and understand all the rules and details about rewards, which may change during the year, since they are provided by various sponsors,” said Clements (see TrophyCatchFlorida.com). However, just for registering, an angler is entered into a drawing for a Phoenix bass boat, Mercury motor and trailer.

Celebrities such as Glen Lau, Shaw Grigsby, Peter Miller, Terry Segraves, Alan Zaremba and Th3Legends  – Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston and Roland Martin –  are speaking out for TrophyCatch along with ODU Magazine, the American Outdoor Foundation and Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. They are on board because it is clear that catching, documenting and releasing trophy bass will provide local economic benefits to the community, promote tourism, provide vital data for conservation managers, and recycle these top-level predators for other anglers to enjoy catching.

To keep informed, you can “like” TrophyCatchFlorida on Facebook

Wednesday
Oct242012

Asian Carp Pose Threat to All Great Lakes

If they gain entrance, Asian carp could find enough food and breeding areas to infest all five Great Lakes within 20 years, according to a recent risk analysis by scientists from the United States and Canada.

Additionally, authors of the report released by Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans Ministry suggested that just 10 mature females and even fewer males would be enough to establish a population within the Great Lakes. Previously, many theorized that at least hundreds of fish would be required.

“Ever since these non-native fish first escaped and began to breed prolifically in the rivers of the Midwest, the questions everyone has been asking are: ‘Can a breeding population survive in the Great Lakes and would it be a significant problem if they did?” Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), said in a released statement.

“Now we know the answers and, unfortunately, they are ‘yes’ and ‘yes.’”

No surprisingly, scientists still believe that the manmade connection between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River watershed is the most likely pathway for entry, an electric barrier notwithstanding.

But state and federal researchers recently reported that they have found DNA from Asian carp in Lake Erie,  suggesting that rivers and wetlands connected to that fishery might provide entrance as well.

Four samples from Sandusky Bay in Ohio waters tested positive for bighead carp, while two samples from north Maumee Bay in Michigan waters were positive for silver carp.

“The results from these water samples are certainly concerning, as this marks the first time Asian carp DNA has been detected in water samples from Lake Erie or any of the Michigan waters intensively surveyed for the presence of invasive carp,” said Jim Dexter, fisheries chief for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“Protecting the Great Lakes from the threat of Asian carp is critical to the health of our sport and commercial fisheries and to the quality of life in Michigan.”

The international analysis, meanwhile, projects carp would find Erie, Huron, and Michigan most to their liking, while infestation of Ontario and Superior would take longer.

(Reprinted from B.A.S.S. Times)