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Monday
Jan192015

Divers Capture Another Invader in Florida Waters

Surgeon fish photo by Deb Devers

Congratulations to two divers who had the good sense to report and then capture an exotic fish. Their actions might have prevented its establishment in Florida waters.

The two first noted the small, bright yellow fish while SCUBA diving beneath Palm Beach County’s Blue Heron Bridge, and realized that they never had seen one like it. They took photos and later reported what they had seen to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), a non-profit that keeps track of exotic marine fish species.

According to the Miami Herald, REEF identified the fish as a mimic lemon peel surgeonfish, also known as a chocolate surgeonfish. It’s native to the Indo-Pacific, and this was its first sighting in Florida waters. Upon learning that, the divers returned to where they had first seen the fish and captured it.

"We don’t know what the effects would have been if the fish had become established and began reproducing,” REEF said. “But if we wait to find out, then it’s too late.”

Taking out the surgeonfish could prove to be the fourth preemptive strike against a non-native marine fish species in Florida coastal waters, according to the organization.

In 1999 and 2002, REEF staff and volunteers captured four large Indo-Pacific batfish from Molasses Reef in Key Largo. In 2009, they removed a whitetail dascyllus damselfish from the east side of the Blue Heron Bridge. In 2012, Miami divers Greg Caterino and Wayne Grammes speared an exotic humpback grouper on a reef off Biscayne National Park and turned the carcass over to REEF. None of those three species are known to have reappeared in Florida waters since their removals.

“Some people might say, ‘Oh big deal, we took this little fish out of the water,’” REEF said. “But that’s the way the lionfish got started. If only we could have taken the first few lionfish out of the water in the first place. We’re relying on divers, snorkelers and fishermen to be our eyes and ears on the water. It’s a perfect example of how early detection and rapid removal can be successful in stemming an invasion.”

Anyone who spots a strange-looking fish that they suspect is invasive is advised to take a photo and report the sighting to REEF.

Friday
Jan162015

A Sportsman's Lesson in Love

I looked down at my dying friend. His breathing was loud and labored now. My heart seemed only a beat away from bursting. All around us, crickets chirped, unaware of what was about to happen.

I put the barrel an inch from Tiger’s head. Then I turned my face away, closed my eyes, and squeezed. The crack was hard and loud, stilling not only the crickets, but what seemed like the whole world for a split second.

I turned back to see Mrs. Thompson and the girls staring down at Tiger. Mrs. Thompson didn’t even look at me when she spoke. “You killed my cat,” she said. “We loved him too much to do anything like that.”

(This is an excerpt from the short story "A Sportsman's Lesson in Love" from my new book, Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies --- Growing Up With Nature.)

Thursday
Jan152015

New Threat Revealed Against Florida's Rodman Reservoir

Florida's Rodman Reservoir is a paradise for fishing, wildlife watching, and outdoor recreation in general. It is a diverse ecosystem, with many more species of fish and wildlife living there than in the river above and below it. Its dam saves the St. Johns River from nutrient overload. It will prove invaluable one day as a water supply reservoir for a state with an insatiable thirst.

But none of that matters for the ideologues who want to tear down Rodman. To them, it simply is unnatural, doesn't belong there, and they want it gone.

And now they've found a new angle: Jacksonville wants to dredge the mouth of the St. Johns to accommodate mega-container ships. The St. Johns Riverkeeper threatened to sue to stop the dredging.

As a result, the two have created an unholy alliance with Rodman Reservoir as the sacrificial lamb. In return for the Riverkeeper allowing dredging for the ocean-going ships, the City of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Port Authority, and the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce signed a memorandum of understanding to create “a collaborative framework for the parties to coordinate their efforts and resources to expedite the restoration of the Ocklawaha River by removing/closing impoundments.”

In other words, you help us tear down Rodman and we’ll let your dredge. The collaborators hope to get funding through a line item listing in the state budget.

To learn more and to help the fight to save Rodman, go to Save Rodman Reservoir.

Wednesday
Jan142015

Sediment Removed to Restore Habitat on Lower Missouri River

This past fall, work began to remove more than 130,000 cubic yards of sediment from two backwaters and access areas, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to rehabilitate the lower Missouri River.

“Backwaters are huge reproductive areas,” said Luke Wallace, a Corps biologist. “I’ve heard them described as the grocery for the river.”

Many of these prime feeding, spawning and winter refuge areas were lost in 2011, when the swollen river smothered them with tons of dirt and cut off side channels from the main river. That occurred mostly because a year’s worth of rain fell during the second half of May on the upper basin, adding to a melting snow pack that was 212 percent above average in the Rocky Mountains.

Since then, the Corps has spent between $14 and $16 million to restore 17 of these places between Sioux City and the Iowa-Missouri border. As work continues, another $3 million to $5 million likely will be spent.

Most all of the areas are popular for fishing and hunting.

 “I think in general, the importance of backwaters has been underemphasized,” said Dave Swanson, director of the Missouri River Institute. “They’re important as nurseries for fish, important for insects. They really need these areas to do what they do.”

In the latest effort, contractors are removing 45,000 cubic yards of sediment from a 9-acre site known as Hole-in-the-Rock, near Macy. Deeping that pool should benefit bass, as well as an additional 59 forage, game, and rough species.

They also are cleaning out 88,000 cubic yards from a side channel at Middle Decatur Bend. That will lower the entrance by two feet to once again allow water to enter the channel.

Scheduled to be completed in June, the two projects will cost an estimated $972,000.

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

Monday
Jan122015

Boating Safety Threatened at Lake Eufaula

One of the most popular bass fisheries in the Southeast soon might become one of its most hazardous.

That’s because proposed budget cuts for fiscal year 2015 could force removal of navigation markers on Lake Eufaula/Walter F. George, a 45,000-acre impoundment on the Chattahoochee River.

“Safety is the main issue,” said Jim Howard, Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation Conservation Director, who has been leading a campaign to alert anglers to this possibility. “Every angler I talk to cannot imagine the lake without buoys. As I see it, boat damage and boater injury will be common. Ultimately, boater death will occur.”

Without markers, the lake would be most dangerous at levels below 186 feet (above sea level), according to Troy Gibson, a tournament angler and lure designer for Southern Plastics.

“It would be especially that way for people who don’t live here and don’t know the lake,” he said. “They might run over sand or hit stumps or trees.”

Gibson has personal experience with such hazards. In 2011, his boat suffered $2,800 in damage when he motored outside the markers.

The average depth outside the channels is just 5 to 7 feet (at 188 feet), said the Eufaula regular, who added many use the buoys to position themselves for fishing, as well as navigation.

Removal of those markers could occur because no operational funding has been requested for the U.S. Coast guard unit at Eufaula, which is responsible for their maintenance and which has been at the impoundment since the 1960s. Chief Petty Officer Patrick Haughey confirmed that his unit is scheduled for closure as part of the proposed federal budget for 2015. He added that some of the markers have been “thinned,” but the main navigation channel remains marked (as of late November).

“The bottom line is that the Coast Guard does plan to pull out of Eufaula on approximately March 31,” said Andrew Ashley, a military legislative assistant for U.S. Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama.

That’s reputedly because of limited barge traffic on the river, as well as the need for those Coast Guard personnel elsewhere.

“Apparently, the drought of 2007 has significantly impacted water traffic,” Ashley said. “The Coast Guard reports that there was only one barge that traversed the waterways last year.

“The previous barge that traversed the waterway was four years ago. The mission of the Coast Guard is to facilitate commercial traffic --- not recreational.”

But what’s being overlooked, besides safety, is popularity of recreational fishing and boating on Eufaula and their importance to local economies.

“Impact on the city of Eufaula will be huge,”Howard said. “Once the word gets out that (Lake) Eufaula is not a safe place to boat, folks will write it off their list.

“I expect the city and surrounding communities will lose angler/boater expenditures in the millions of dollars.”

When/if the decision is announced to close the Guard Coast unit at Eufaula, a public comment period will afford citizens and businesses the opportunity to express their concerns, Ashley explained.

“The Coast Guard encourages the community to seek funding for navigational assistance from the state government or private sources,” he added. “The Coast Guard offered its expertise and assistance to future providers of navigational services in the region.”

Additionally, assistance for maintenance of the markers will be solicited from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said. 

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