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Asian Carp Already Damaging Fisheries

Leaping silver carp on Illinois River. Photo by Nerissa McClelland, Illinois Department of Natural ResourcesMost bass anglers realize that Asian carp pose a threat to the nation's sport fisheries. But they know that because of what they have read and heard, not because of what they've seen and experienced. For them, the danger is theoretical, especially since most of the focus has been on possible consequences to the Great Lakes  if/when these large and prolific exotics gain entrance there.

Bighead and silver carp, however, already are damaging bass fisheries and showing up in frightening numbers in others. In southern Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee, the invasion has begun and casualties are mounting.

"Once you needed 12 to 20 pounds to win a tournament on the Kaskaskia (Mississippi River tributary south of St. Louis)," said Rick Brynes, who runs the Angler's Choice Tournament Trail. "But now that's gone, and we're starting to see the same thing on the Smithland Pool (Ohio River). During the past three to four years, the weights have dropped dramatically.

"It's a crisis, and not enough anglers see it," added the Illinois fisherman who has been pressing officials and agencies for action and sounding the alarm to everyone who will listen. "We're going to lose our fisheries. It's just going to take longer in some places than others."

Juvenile Asian carp. Photo by Ben DuncanIn Kentucky, guide Jim Perry said that "zillions" of young-of-the-year carp are showing up along the shorelines below both Kentucky and Barkley dams. "Plus there are schools of them above those dams all around the intakes, where the water goes down to the generators," he added.

Steve McCadams, another guide, added crappie anglers are worried about carp eating up all of the zooplankton and algae that young-of-the-year typically feed on. "Our overall crappie fishery has experienced some declines the last few years as to catch rates and recruitment," he said.

Kentucky fisheries chief Ron Brooks pointed out that little data exists regarding the impacts of Asian carp on native species.  "We have ancillary information concerning their effect on paddlefish," he said, adding that Illinois has evidence of harmful impacts to buffalo, and pelagic sport fish, such as sauger, in the Illinois River.

"We also are seeing fewer shad and skipjack in our tailwaters in western Kentucky," the fisheries chief said. "The real problem with measuring impacts of Asian carp in fertile waters is that they may be very subtle until a certain point of density is reached when a system is finally depleted, or nearly depleted, of algal and invertebrate forage. We are hoping to avoid reaching that threshold."

Arguably thresholds already have been reached on portions of the Missouri and Illinois Rivers, where net sampling has revealed Asian carp now comprise more than 95 percent of the biomass. In other words, those waters contain less than 5 percent native species by weight. Notorious for leaping when frightened, the silver carp also has made boating hazardous in these places, especially in the Illinois River below Peoria.

Riverine fish in their native China, silver and bighead carp spread in every direction after escaping Mississippi Delta aquaculture facilities because of flooding during the 1970s. Prolific, voracious, and fast-growing, they overwhelmed those Midwest waters first. They did so by gobbling up phytoplankton and zooplankton, which is critical forage not just for shad, paddlefish, and buffalo, but for fry of sport fish, including crappie and bass.

"Between 1994 and 1997 commercial catches of bighead carp in the Mississippi River increased from 5.5 tons to 55 tons," reported the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. "Today, commercial fishers in the Illinois River regularly catch up to 25,000 pounds of bighead and silver carp per day.

Asian carp harvested from Kentucky Lake. Photo by Jim PerryAnd while most attention was focused on the fear that the invaders might migrate into the Great Lakes via a manmade connection between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, they quietly pushed east into the Ohio. That gave them entrance to the Tennessee River and Kentucky Lake, as well as Lake Barkley and the Cumberland system. Now, their numbers are exploding in those reservoirs, even as they have been found as far up the Cumberland as Old Hickory and as far up the Tennessee as Watts Bar.

"Personally, I think it's too late to fully save the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The quantity of carp in both those rivers is unimaginable, although, sustained fishing does help," said Ben Duncan, a commercial fisherman, as well as high school mathematics teacher. "If we don't start soon, the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers will soon follow."

Duncan added that he already sees how native fish have changed their behavior because of the carp invasion. "I think it's even influenced the crappie population and spawn on Kentucky Lake," he said. "Commercially, we catch way fewer fish in the bays than we did seven to eight years ago, especially buffalo, a fish that competes with Asians for food."         

Even more concerning, they are growing to sizes never before seen, even in their native China. Earlier this year, Bill Shroeder foul-hooked and landed a 106-pound silver carp in Kentucky Lake. Fisheries experts say the maximum weight for that species should be about 60 pounds.

What's being done to protect sport fisheries in these imperiled waters? Not enough, stressed Byrnes, who has pressed the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies to explain why they are not more aggressively exploring and implementing strategies to manage Asian carp.

"Things could be done to eradicate them that are not being done," he said, adding that lack of funding seems a contributing factor.

"We're 25 years into this, and we need some action now," the Illinois angler said. "Asian carp can take over and change our fisheries forever."


While resource agencies aren't responding to the Asian carp threat as quickly as some would like, they are working on control methods, according to Michael Hoff with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"It is unlikely, in my experience, that any technology will be the end all," he said. "That is why we, in the U.S. agencies, are researching and developing a variety of containment and control technologies that are feasible now, and may be implemented within the next few years."

Any strategies, he added, must take into account "a variety of scientific, social, political, and environmental constraints."

Genetic modification is one option. It would require stocking hundreds of thousands of altered carp to breed with the existing population to cause reproductive failure, reduced fertility, or ineffective recruitment. But concerns about  the effects of genetically modified animals on the environment and humans makes this option less likely. Variations that do not require modification of the nuclear genome also are being explored, but they likely would work only where densities are low.

Distribution of "microparticles" that only silver and bighead carp would eat seems a more likely strategy.

"Those microparticles are being developed to kill only Asian carp," Hoff said. "I am hopeful that the microparticle technology will be approved for use within the next several years."

Photo by Nerissa McClelland


As research continues on methods to control Asian carp populations, Kentucky and Tennessee have followed the lead of Illinois in promoting commercial harvest. The mild-flavored fish is highly prized for food in Asian, and slowly is growing in popularity in the United States. Additionally, meal made from carp can be used in livestock food, as well as fertilizers.

Kentucky fisheries chief Ron Brooks said that Riverine Fisheries International, LLC has retrofitted a salmon processing ship to accommodate carp and now is towing it to his state from New Orleans. "The owner has a very aggressive plan of attack concerning fishing the carp and expects to eventually haul in about 150,000 pounds of Asian carp daily," he said, adding that he knows of at least two other processors.

"The good thing about the larger companies is their interest in Asian carp in Kentucky and Barkley Lakes," Brooks added. "The carp grow faster and are more robust in those reservoirs than they are in the rivers. They pose immediate threats not only to the fisheries, but boaters as well."

Tennessee, meanwhile has no major processors as of yet, but the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) "proposes to use commercial fishing methods to remove large volumes of bighead and silver carp in established populations such as Kentucky, Barkley, and Cheatham Lakes."

First, a few carp will be caught and then tagged.

"Silver carp tend to stay in large groups so biologists could track the tagged fish to larger groups of silver carp," it said. "Biologists or commercial fishermen could then set nets in areas of known silver carp concentrations and remove them."

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


Hunters Help Manage Wildlife, Pay the Way for All to Enjoy Outdoors

In Florida, bears are invading homes, damaging property, killing pets, and injuring people. Sadly, sooner rather than later, a Florida bear is going to kill someone.

But Florida doesn't have a bear problem. It has a people problem, people who are clueless about how nature works and guided solely by emotion. Mostly they are urban and often they are college educated. But they have spent little time in the outdoors and know little to nothing about how about science-based management benefits both people and wildlife.

And in their ignorance, they protested loudly when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recently staged its first bear hunt.

In an attempt to educate the uneducated, FWC produced the following piece on the connection between conservation and wildlife. My only quibble with it is that it refers to hunter conservationists as a paradox. I don't agree. It's a natural connection.Otherwise, it's an excellent article:

This past week was Theodore Roosevelt’s 157th birthday, and never has a former president looked so good. The occasion serves as a great reminder of what he stood for and what we still can do to honor his conservation legacy today. A naturalist with a deep love for America’s natural beauty and resources, TR embraced conservation ideals throughout his administration. He protected 230 million acres of land and created 150 national forests, the first 51 federal bird reservations, five national parks and the first four national game preserves. The very first National Wildlife Refuge he established, Pelican Island, is in Vero Beach. 

Theodore Roosevelt was also a hunter, and it is his legacy as a sportsman-naturalist that serves as the best example of one of the great (and often misunderstood) paradoxes of wildlife conservation: Those with a passion for the hunt also have a passion to protect. 

Though many Floridians may be unfamiliar with hunting, it is a critical component of wildlife conservation in the Sunshine State. In Florida, nearly a quarter of a million people hunt each year, and their numbers are growing. Even more consider themselves hunters but do not hunt every year. From 2006 to 2012, the number of hunters increased 2.5 percent in Florida, as more women, men, young people and those interested in eating locally-sourced organic meat swelled their ranks. 

And it is these hunter conservationists who are underwriting and supporting politically a large part of wildlife conservation in Florida and the nation. Enjoying wildlife and its habitat is free to all, but the programs providing habitat conservation are not. Florida hunters specifically pay for managing wildlife through the licenses and permits they buy. For instance, all adult waterfowl hunters purchase a federal duck stamp. It’s a program the hunters helped create in the 1930s. Considered one of the best conservation tools ever, 98 percent of the duck stamp’s purchase price goes to acquire and protect wetland habitat not just in Florida, but throughout North America for migratory birds and other wildlife.

Hikers, paddlers, campers and all who love wildlife benefit from the millions in conservation dollars generated by hunters. 

So too, hunters were some of America’s first conservation activists. Not only Theodore Roosevelt, but Aldo Leopold, Ding Darling and George Bird Grinnell — all hunters — went on respectively to form the Boone and Crockett Club, The Wilderness Society, the National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. Today, in the tradition of TR, many sportsmen and women contribute their time, money and effort to conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Quail Forever and others. These organizations are dedicated to on-the-ground projects and advocacy that benefits wildlife, including purchasing lands for a wide array of species beyond animals that are hunted.

As TR said, “in a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen.” 

Hunters are also our wildlife thermometers in the woods and fields. As essential partners in wildlife management, they spend a great deal of time outdoors, providing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission important information on what is happening in the most remote parts of the state. Hunters report on the conditions of wildlife and habitat, game law violations and other threats to wildlife conservation, helping the agency protect and conserve the state’s natural resources. 

Finally, hunting is the first and original organic and natural grocery store, offering locally-grown and harvested protein from the land. Think of it as nature’s Whole Foods. Health-conscious families value living off the land and the meat from game birds and deer, which carries no preservatives, antibiotics or growth hormones. As society becomes more removed from the source of our food, hunting connects us directly to what we eat and to the life and death cycles of animals. 

In the spring of 1903, President Roosevelt made a cross country trip to Yosemite to sit around a campfire with John Muir, famous naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club. Many historians believe this meeting inspired the President’s aggressive approach to protecting American landscapes and wildlife treasures for future generations. John Muir was a critic of hunting. It is said that he and TR had spirited debates on the subject, but their common love for the natural world moved them beyond these differences to become the original architects of America’s conservation legacy. 

We are so fortunate that John Muir recognized and accepted the hunter conservationist paradox so profoundly personified by Theodore Roosevelt. Today’s conservation community, both hunters and environmentalists alike, can learn a lot from the great example set by these two great men. We all need to be more willing to share a campfire with those who think differently about wildlife conservation, focusing on our common ground so future generations can enjoy a rich wildlife legacy. 

 Brian Yablonski, chairman, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission


National Policy Needed to Help Stop Spread of Grass Carp

This grass carp was illegally stocked in a lake where it wasn't needed, and the health of the fishery has suffered as a consequence. Photo by Robert Montgomery

Although grass carp have been found in every one of the Great Lakes except Superior, resource managers don’t believe that the exotic fish have established a self-sustaining population.

But the Mississippi Interstate Resource Association (MICRA) recently warned that “state grass carp regulations are varied and inconsistent, and a national policy strategy is needed to effectively minimize the risks of additional fertile and sterile grass carp introductions into the Great Lakes.”

MICRA reached that conclusion as result of a study funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to look at grass carp use, production, and regulations. It also made recommendations to help minimize risk not only to the Great Lakes, but other waters not yet infested by unintentional introductions of this aquatic invader.

Those recommendations include the following:

  • Production, shipment, stocking, import, and export of diploid (fertile) grass carp should be prohibited except by licensed facilities.
  • States that allow production of triploid (sterile) grass should develop a set of minimum standards, permit requirements, and recordkeeping for diploid broodstock.
  • States that allow importation of triploid carp should adopt consistent regulations that allow only FWS-certified fish.  Also, increase random inspections and enforcement of regulations in these states.
  • FWS should work with states, producers, and other partners to develop testing procedures for quality controls and law enforcement in support of random inspections.

Grass carp, a species of Asian carp, were first imported into the U.S. in 1963 as a tool to manage nuisance aquatic vegetation, including exotic hydrilla, in ponds and impoundments. But flooding allowed many to escape into rivers and streams and, by 1970, they were reported in the Mississippi River basin.


Big Bass Still Plentiful at Stonewall Jackson

More than a year after resource managers removed a catch-and-release-only regulation for West Virginia's Stonewall Jackson Lake, resource managers believe that big bass numbers haven’t diminished.

“It’s a bit early to tell, but at this point we haven’t seen a difference whatsoever,” Jim Walker, district fisheries biologist, told Metro News. “We encourage you to do whatever you want with the fish when you catch it. It’s your prerogative. But the majority of anglers are still releasing them, and it’s not affecting the population whatsoever."

They’re still releasing them at the 2,600-acre impoundment, even though now anglers can keep six bass each, with one over 18 inches. The West Virginia Natural Resources Commission decided to allow harvest of smaller fish because of an overall decline in size of largemouths and a growing spotted bass population.

To learn even more about what anglers are doing with those larger fish, biologists tagged some of them this past summer, when the bass were shallow.

“When an angler catches one of these tagged bass, they look at the tag, call us up, and tell us what they did with the fish,” Walker explained. “Did they keep the bass or did they release the bass? That information will help us with future regulations.”


Animal Rights Activists Focus on Florida Bear Hunt--- For Now

Compassionate animal rights lovers tried their best to stop the recent bear hunt in Florida. They used protests, harassing emails, and media that often sympathized with them. They went to court.

Eventually, these same types of people are going to come after sport fishing. They operate solely on emotion and are totally ignorant about how science-based wildlife management works and how hunters and anglers  finance conservation nationwide. A  subset of the political correctness crowd, in which everyone receives a participation award, they are virulently anti-fishing and anti-hunting.

Right now, though, championing cute and cuddly bears is more appealing to them than protecting bass and bluegill. 

Fortunately, they failed in Florida, as a judge upheld the Fish and Wildlife Commission's science-based decision to join more than 30 other states  that allow bear hunts. In just two days, the hunters killed 295 bears, suggesting  that the population is more than the 3,500 originally estimated.

That exploding population was responsible for 13,679 nuisance reports in just Central Florida from January 2008 to May 2015. Those reports included bears in buildings, bears causing property damage, and bears threatening pets and humans. More recently, three women have been attacked in Central Florida and one in the Panhandle.

And in a state with so many people and so many bears, it's just a matter of time until there's a human fatality.

The protestors argue that all wildlife managers have to do is shoot the bears with darts containing birth control chemicals to control the population or trap them and move them to nearby national forests. A few even believe that people can co-exist peacefully with these large and dangerous animals if they will just "follow the rules." All three options are, to put it kindly, naive, and, to put it bluntly, idiotic.

Birth control is too expensive, time-consuming, and inefficient to work on a large population of wild animals spread across thousands of square miles. Bears moved from suburbs to a national forest will just return to the suburbs, where they are acclimated. And bears don't read the "rules."

I can't say it any better than rocker Ted Nugent, who bought one of the first permits to hunt bears in Florida.

“Wildlife can only be one of two things: It can only be an asset or a liability,” Nugent said, citing the spike in nuisance bears. “Currently, the central Florida bear population is a liability because it is not valued as the renewable resource that God designed it as.

“Let me give an Uncle Ted alert to everyone: (All animals) are beloved. We love them all. We want them healthy and balanced, and if you fail to harvest the surplus, they will not be healthy and balanced,” he said.

“The reason there hasn’t been a bear season until now — even after more than 6,000 nuisance complaints — the reason we’ve waited so long is because of the scourge of political correctness dispensed by the idiots who claim the defenseless animals need protecting.

“Helloooo! It’s a (expletive) bear!”

And it's a (expletive) fish!

But that isn't going to stop these oh, so compassionate animal lovers who operative solely on emotion. Make no mistake about it. If they could, they'd stop you from fishing just as quickly as they would stop the Florida bear hunt. As anglers, we just aren't on their radar yet.