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Low Water Threatens Access, Navigation on Huron, Michigan, Superior

Top photo of Lake Michigan shoreline at Pere Marquette Park is from Oct. 12, 2012, while the lower is of the same location on July 20, 2011.

Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior all are dangerously close to all-time record lows.

Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warns that if the current trend continues, these lakes will reach historic lows later this year or early in 2013. That could have serious negative implications for access and navigation, as well as the environmental health of the Great Lakes ecosystem.

A mild winter with little snow followed by a hot summer with little rain likely is the biggest factor leading to these low-water conditions.

Read more here


The Easier Way to Build a Fire

Let’s start with fire and then move to water (below) to reveal some interesting new products related to the outdoors.

FireStarters from Grate Chef allow you to build a charcoal or wood fire without lighter fluid or newspapers. Also, they’re odorless and tasteless and environmentally safe.

I’ve found them great for starting a campfire down by the lake on cool fall evenings. I just put one of the sealed packets in the kindling and light a corner. It will burn for about 10 minutes, which is plenty of time to get the wood blazing, even when it’s damp. Also, it burns clean, with no smell or funky-looking colors like I sometimes get from newspapers with colored ink.

Each pack contains six packets, with a three-pack selling here for $8.99.

Go here to see a video about FireStarters.


Bedol Clock Runs on Water

On a planet that is mostly water, why not a water clock?

And that’s just what Bedol has created. It runs for about six months on 16 ounces of water, never needing batteries or electricity. It also offers a daily and hourly alarm and a memory chip that allows the time to be saved for two minutes while you are changing the water.

I have the Squirt model, which resembles a splash of water, is available in five colors, and retails for $26. And as someone who is severely challenged technologically, I found it about as simple as a digital device can be.

Mark Bedol, designer of the clock, says that his company is committed to do its part for the environment “by offering eco-friendly alternatives to everyday products.”

Go here to see a YouTube video about the water clock.

Now, how about a water wristwatch? I hate replacing batteries in watches.


Asian Carp Also Threaten Southern Fisheries

A commercial fisherman caught this 12-pound silver carp on one of his trotlines in Kentucky Lake. Photo by Steve McCadams.

Almost all of the publicity regarding Asian carp has been directed at the Great Lakes and what those invasive species might do to the sport fishery there if they gain entrance.

But anglers in Tennessee and Kentucky believe that bighead and silver carp already are harming fisheries in the Tennessee and Cumberland River systems, and they say that federal and state officials aren’t doing enough to combat the problem.

“The commercial fishermen here on the main lake where I live are having a difficult time catching bait in their cast nets for their trotline bait,” said Jim Perry, a long-time guide on Kentucky Lake.

“Bass fishermen are telling me that the huge schools of shad are hard to locate on the main lake as compared to years past.”

And guide Darrell Van Vactor reported similar observations. Tailrace striper fisheries, he said, “are all but gone.

“The gizzard shad and the sauger, one in abundance below all these dams, are all but gone as well.”

Perry added that evidence isn’t yet definitive regarding the impact that Asian carp are having. “We need answers so we can get ourselves organized to do whatever we can to control Asian carp,” he said. “Sticking our head in the sand isn’t the answer. We need answers now.”

Bobby Wilson, fisheries chief for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), sympathizes with anglers.

“They should be concerned,” he said.

In 2011, his agency received many reports of carp in Kentucky and Barkley lakes and, this year, even more.  Additionally, carp have been seen as far up the Cumberland River as Old Hickory and as far up the Tennessee River as Fort Loudoun Lake near Knoxville.

“The only thing that our biologists have not documented yet is if they are reproducing in our waters yet,” Wilson said. “We have received reports from anglers and commercial fishermen that they are seeing schools of small Asian carp, but we have not collected them yet. However, I suspect that they have reproduced to some extent.”

Right now, the fisheries chief added, TWRA is “still looking at solutions” in conjunction with other state and federal resource managers through groups such as the Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resources Association (MICRA).  A management and control plan has been developed, he added, “but implementation of the plan has not taken place, even though there is a lot of interest from some key politicians.”

That’s because federal money has yet to be appropriated. “A lot of federal money is being spent in preventing them (Asian carp) from entering the Great Lakes, but very little is being spent on trying to control Asian carp in areas where they already exist,” said Wilson, adding that “something needs to be done now.”

One possibility is encouraging and possibly even subsidizing commercial fishing for the invasives.  “The cog in the wheel is adequate funding to construct processing facilities at key locations across the Mississippi River basin,” the fisheries chief said.

Steve MaCadams, another guide, agrees with that as one strategy to combat Asian Carp. “The market is here, I’m told, but getting the fish from the lake to the processing plan needs to be a short step and, right now, we have no processing plants in area,” he said.

“At stake is a very important sport fishery here that is crying out for help,” he added. “But the cries are falling on deaf ears to the degree that active plans are not being implemented as a clear and present danger lurks.”

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

Commercial harvest of bighead carp.

More About the Carp Invasion

Guide Steve McCadams is concerned about the following:

1. The public is not educated or really aware of the ramifications that encroaching Asian carp now thriving in our waterways will do to the overall sport fishery.

There are some signs and red flags beginning to pop up but generally speaking, the average angler isn’t fully aware of what negative impact lies ahead if these fish continue to go unleashed. He has seen and heard YouTube videos of the clowning when folks up north shoot them with bows or shotguns but isn’t aware of the silent danger lurking below that not only can harm boaters from clashes but silently take away the quality of the fishery he now enjoys.

2. Asian carp are abundant here and increasing at an alarming rate with no control programs in place from our states’ (Kentucky and Tennessee) fisheries divisions that seem to be moving way too slow in addressing this scenario.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife head of fisheries Ron Brooks has taken the lead between our two states and is attempting to bring more awareness plus implement some programs to rid our lakes of these nonnative fish. Having come from Illinois he has some background in the battle with Asian carp and I have been impressed with his efforts to highlight this growing problem. But actually getting something going with the two state agencies, TVA, USFWS, seems to be sluggish at best, while the Asian carp are marching into our rivers and lakes like Sherman went through Atlanta.

This “wait and see” atmosphere does not sit too well with some of us who know would could be lost.

Steps need to be taken here quickly to combat the problem before it gets worse and we start seeing further degradation of our sport fishery which is an industry in itself that generates millions of dollars in tourism.

Kentucky Lake has long been known as the Crappie Capitol. Our bass fishery in the last few years has been fantastic, a likely beneficiary of aquatic vegetation (milfoil, hydrilla, spiny leaf) that has come on. But the building blocks lie in the forage base, namely shad. If we lose the foundation of a good forage base, our bass, crappie, bluegill, sauger, catfish, etc. will begin to suffer soon.

 3. What needs to be done 

After attending several meetings, reading a lot, and trading numerous e-mails with fisheries biologists it appears to me that total eradication is a long way off and that some research is being done on that but that’s another realm altogether.

Urgent attention is needed here. From my observation it appears the commercial fishery will need to be in the equation as establishing a processing plant which will purchase fish from commercial fishermen will help control the expanding population which at this time has no enemies.

Right now, commercial fishermen here cannot get much per pound so they can’t pursue the Asian carp as the fish is delicate and must be flash frozen in the marketing process. The market is there I’m told but getting the fish from the lake to the processing plant needs to be a short step and right now we have no processing plants in the area.

So, fishermen cannot transport the fish for a very long distance before the meat spoils. States need to come together and subsidize the formation of a processing plant which will, in turn, bring the commercial fishery into the battle of carp control. However, that endeavor has been slow in the making.

There is the hurdle of commercial netting and the sport fishermen to clear. However, I think the state fisheries departments can work that out if education and public relations were handled properly.

In summary I don’t think our fisheries biologists realize how abundant the Asian carp are in our waters of Kentucky/Barkley Lake or the impending problem. The carp problems don’t stop or start at state lines either. So, both TVA and USFWS should also better address the problems and work with states in the battle but that doesn’t seem to be happening.



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.)