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Monday
Feb032014

Keep Smaller Bass to Grow Bigger Ones

Protective slot limits have proven a good tool for improving bass fisheries during their more than 30 years of use. But arguably they would have been --- and still could be --- far more effective if anglers followed them as fisheries managers intended.

But about the same time as slots were recognized by wildlife agencies as a strategy for growing larger bass, anglers began to embrace catch-and-release. Too often, those two work at cross purposes, which has prompted managers to rethink how and when to use protective slots, if at all.

“If anything, slots are used less,” said Bill Pouder, a fisheries biologist and regional administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “In Florida, we’ve had one new one in the last 10 years.”

Jason Dotson, an FWC section research leader, added, “Harvest rates are low, usually less than 10 percent. Fisheries managers in the Southeast are not as concerned about overfishing as they were in the 1980s.

“Now, we’re more concerned about growing trophies and providing goods numbers than being sustainable.”

In Texas, meanwhile, fisheries managers have added just three protective slot limits during the past 10 years, according to Craig Bonds, a region director for Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW). Additionally, seven have been removed in favor of minimum or maximum length limits and a catch-and-release regulation, while six have been modified to shift protection to longer fish.

“Texas fisheries managers have not substantially increased the use of SLLs (slot-length-limits) over the past 20 years,” Bonds said.

“We have maintained SLLs where they have been successful at restructuring largemouth bass populations to make fishing better for our constituents. We’ve removed or modified them where they were not successful in achieving our management goals.”

Why have they sometimes been unsuccessful, not only in Texas but in bass waters across the nation?

A protected slot’s purpose is twofold. First, it is intended to shield a certain size of fish, say 14 to 18 inches, from harvest. Second, it is intended to encourage harvest of fish smaller than 14 inches to reduce competition for forage and habitat brought about by excess recruitment. When anglers follow both practices, theoretically the number of bass above 18 inches increases.

But because of the popularity of catch-and-release, reality often has trumped theory.

“Slots haven’t worked,” said Jeff Slipke, a fisheries expert with Midwest Lake Management, Inc., in Missouri. “For one reason or another, folks are reluctant to keep small bass. So what you’re doing when you use a slot is creating an artificially high minimum length limit. A 12- to 15-inch slot is really a 15-inch minimum.”

In a worst case scenario, that can result in a fishery with an overpopulation of small to medium size fish.

“A lot of the time, there’s ample food for young bass to 8 to 10 inches,” Slipke continued. “Where you start to see stockpiling is at 10- to 14-inch bass because there’s a lack of 3- to 4-inch bluegill for them to eat. When that happens, bass hit a wall and won’t grow anymore.”

When working as intended, the slot reduces the number of bass moving into that protected slot and, thus, the competition for food.

All of this is not to say that slots have not worked. Some of them have, especially when managers closely monitor not only the bass population but angler behavior.

For example, Florida managers replaced a 14-inch minimum with a 15-24 slot in 2000.

“Prior to that, harvest was pretty high, up to 30 percent,” Pouder said. “We wanted to try to redirect effort, to protect the females.”

And it worked, harvest declined to 10 percent, and Istokpoga now is one of the best trophy lakes in the Sunshine State, the biologist said.

Other times, fisheries have improved when the protective slot is replaced with a higher minimum length, as happened in Texas’ Lake Nacogdoches. With a 14-21 protective slot in place, managers noted that too many bass longer than 21 inches were being harvested.

By changing to a 16-inch minimum in 2008, TPW allowed anglers to keep more small to intermediate fish to eat, and, simultaneously, increased the odds of catching a trophy. The latter occurred because remaining bass had less competition for bigger and more desirable forage, allowing them to grow both faster and larger.

A volunteer trophy bass reporting program “revealed exceptionally high catches” of trophy bass following the regulation change,” Bonds said.

What does the future hold for the use of protective slots? Fisheries managers continue to believe that they are an effective management tool, but they also know that how effective depends largely on angler behavior.

The key, Bonds believes, is educating anglers about how harvest of bass below a protected slot improves their chances of catching bigger fish.

“Simple manipulations of consumptive variables (changing the slot and/or the bag limit) will not likely motivate bass anglers to harvest more fish,” he said, adding that TPW has produced a video, “Eat More Bass: Slot Limits Help Grow Bigger Fish,” in hopes of convincing fishermen to do that.

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

Friday
Jan312014

Threat to Your Right to Fish Grows With Animal 'Rights' Movement

No long after I posted the article below, I learned of this attack against recreational fishing in Australia.

Sooner or later, someone is going to try to stop you or someone you know from fishing. Possibly it will be attempted with legislation. Possibly it will be related to prohibiting catch-and-release because it is “cruel.” Or maybe it will be tied to giving “rights” to fish and wildlife.

This anti-fishing front is part of an aggressive animal rights campaign with origins in Europe, where catch and release already is illegal in places, as is the use of live bait. And the movement is growing here, as a growing percentage of our population is urbanized with little to no direct contact with nature.

Following are some of the latest news stories regarding the animal rights movement on this side of the ocean:

  • In Maine, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) opposes hunting tactics that the state allows for management of its bear population. You remember the HSUS. You’ve seen the commercials. It’s that noble organization dedicated to taking better care of homeless and abused cats and dogs.

The only problem is that very little of that money goes to pet shelters. Rather, it funds radical animal rights campaigns.  Check out this great parody of those misleading tear-jerker commercials: Lawyers in Cages.

Here is what two state representatives have to say about the HSUS campaign in Maine:

 “It was not the Humane Society of the United States that stepped up to protect and elevate the public perception of bears from a pest to one that that should be conserved and protected. Indeed, this was the effort of sportsmen, the Legislature and conservationists through a new license fee that would be used to establish an ongoing revenue stream to guarantee trained, professional biologists and wardens would closely monitor and protect bear populations . . .

“Since 1969, with the oversight of the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife bear biologists, the legislative Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and sportsmen, Maine’s black bears have flourished. The population has grown from 23,000 in 2004 to 31,000 in 2012, with healthy bears found throughout Maine . . .

“Enter the Humane Society of the United States, who, with their team of lawyers and millions of dollars slated for media manipulation, would hijack this success story and replace it with wildlife management based on 30-second emotional TV commercials.”

  • In Oregon, an animal rights activist and eco-terrorist was sentenced to just five years in jail by a sympathetic judge.

"She was a member of a group blamed “for 20 fires across the West from 1996 to 2001 that did $40 million in damage. They burned a ski resort in Colorado, wild horse corrals in Oregon and Northern California, and lumber mills and Forest Service offices in Oregon.”

  • Finally, check out No, Animals Don’t Have Rights, in to a New York Times piece that declared “an era of what might be called animal dignity is upon us.”

“Let me be clear: I'm all in favor of treating animals decently, with special sensitivity to their pain and suffering. By all means, let's pass stricter regulation of factory farming and laboratory experimentation.

“But the basis of these reforms should not be any quality we presume the animals themselves possess. It should grow out of an expansion of the sphere of human concern and sympathy, along the lines of the old aristocratic ideal of noblesse oblige — the notion that one's superiority obliges one to act nobly toward commoners. In other words, we should treat animals decently not because they're just like human beings, but rather because they're not.

“The animal rights movement, by contrast, invariably takes the opposite tack — either reducing us to the level of animals or attempting to raise them up to ours. Both should be resisted.”

Thursday
Jan302014

Green Decoys Exposes 'Radical Environmentalists' in Outdoors Camouflage

For awhile, I’ve been concerned that the interests of anglers and hunters are being weakened and compromised, as groups that supposedly represent them embrace friendship and funding from preservationist and left-wing organizations and financiers.

In fact, I wrote about this awhile back, when I discovered that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had been named to the board of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). (You can read my post about that here.)  I also was concerned about its acceptance of grants from left-leaning trusts.

Others in the fishing and hunting community share my concerns, it seems, as the launch of a new website, Green Decoys, demonstrates. Founded by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), its intent is to “expose radical environmentalists camouflaged under outdoor-sounding names whose real objective is to serve the interests of their wealthy backers.”

Its targets: TRCP, Izaak Walton League of America, Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance.

“These self-anointed sportsmen’s groups posture as advocates for the hunting and fishing communities, but their funding tells the real story,” said CCF Senior Research Analyst Will Coggin. “Given the millions they collectively take from radical activists, it’s clear they serve an environmentalist master, not America’s sportsmen.”

My biggest regret regarding this campaign is that it clearly is based on the assumption that real anglers and hunters can be only on the right-side of the political spectrum. Traditionally, I don’t think that’s true.

But the sad reality today is that the leftist ideology in general is anti-fishing and anti-hunting, as its direction is shaped by environmental preservationists who want to force us off the water and out of the woods.

I write about the difference between being an environmentalist and a conservationist in my new book, Why We Fish.

Here’s an excerpt from the essay “I’m Not an Environmentalist”:

“We don’t want to be called 'environmentalists' because we associate that description with agenda-driven campaigns for preservation policies that often are not backed by scientific evidence.

“For anglers, 'conservationist' is the term of choice. Conservationists believe in both protection and sustainable use of our lands, waters, and other natural resources. They follow an ethical code of behavior and embrace a stewardship philosophy.

“So we have two factions, conservationists and environmentalists, sharing many of the same values, but more often viewing each other as enemies than allies.”

Wednesday
Jan292014

Maine Biologists Say 'No' to Proposed Ban of Soft Plastic Baits

Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will not recommend that use of soft plastic baits be banned in the state’s waters. That doesn't mean the legislature can't ignore the agency and go ahead with the ban, but the agency's stance is encouraging.

In a report presented yesterday to the state’s legislators, the agency said the following:

“Requiring the sale and use of only biodegradable SPLs (soft plastic baits) is currently not a solution. There is currently no standard national or international definition for what constitutes ‘biodegradable plastic” and SPLs specifically. Based on the information presented in this report, the Department does not recommend any legislation at this time.”

Instead, it appears that emphasis will be on education, encouraging anglers to properly dispose of used baits to minimize impacts to fish and fisheries.

That’s the right course of action, and I applaud Inland Fisheries for its efforts on this issue. (The entire report eventually will be posted on its website.)

No question that anglers should do a better job of cleaning up after themselves, but a ban of plastic baits, as proposed last year in the Maine legislature, was not the proper response. It would have been impossible to enforce and likely would have hurt the state’s economy because of reduced tourism. Additionally, while some individual fish do eat discarded baits, no evidence exists that populations are being harmed as a consequence.

A particularly interesting finding by the agency was that baits advertised as 100 percent biodegradable show no signs of degradation after one week, one month, or even eight months. “The SPL retained the same observable physical characteristics and elasticity of a new, identical SPL,” the report said.

Learn more here.

Here is the originally proposed bill.

And here is an earlier post at Activist Angler.

Tuesday
Jan282014

Why We Fish 'a Must Read . . . '

"A particularly inspiring success once again by Robert Montgomery . Delves into the psychic nature of outdoorsmen and conservationists with the fervent penmanship one can only get from having experienced it.

"A must read from cover to cover which will hold you spellbound from page to page. Excellent work by an excellent author !!! 5 star without a doubt." --- Amazon review of Why We Fish by Carl Wengenroth at The Anglers Lodge on Lake Amistad.