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Wednesday
Nov052014

Hitch Protection Could Threaten Clear Lake Bass Fishery

Clear Lake bass. Photo by Bob Myskey

A recent decision by the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC) could foreshadow catastrophe for Clear Lake’s world-class fishery.

Depending on what happens now, “it could be an overnight disaster for bass,” according to guide Matt Allen who closely followed the state’s research into the status of the hitch, a forage fish native to the 43,000 natural lake in northern California.

That investigation culminated with the Department of Fish and Wildlife recommending that the hitch be the first aquatic species in the Clear Lake Basin to be classified as “threatened.” FGC then approved the classification under the California Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned both the state and the federal government to list the hitch, with the latter yet to act. Danger to the bass fishery will be intensified if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) follows the California lead.

In its petition, CBD recommended “reducing predation by invasive fish near the mouths of spawning streams.”

State and/or federal protections could include suspending limits on non-native bass and/or even mass harvest with nets. And even if California elects not to decimate the trophy bass fishery that it created more than 40 years ago, its hands would be tied if the FWS decides to target bass.

“Trapping largemouth bass in the mouths of the creeks will kill the biggest bass in no time,” Allen said.

That’s because the bass fishery revolves around the hitch. In spring, these plump forage fish move into creeks to reproduce, and big, prespawn Florida bass follow to eat them.

And state findings to the contrary, Allen said that hitch remain in the lake in huge numbers. They’ve simply altered their locations because of drought and increasing water withdrawals for vineyards and other uses, he explained.

“The fish have abandoned some creeks, like Adobe,” he added. “But one bay over, in Casino, I saw thousands and thousands of them boiling.  Their population is booming. If anything, they are on the rise because they are adapting.”

But environmentalists and their supporters in state government were more interested in pursuing a political agenda than the real status of the native fish, Allen said. 

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

Tuesday
Nov042014

Anti-Angler Says, 'Please Enlighten Me!'

Those who don’t want us to fish are all around us. Unfortunately,  they don’t wear signs so we can identify them, take them fishing, and open their eyes to the happiness, the peace of mind, and all of the other good things that they are missing.

Here’s a message that I received today at Activist Angler:

"hi, just saw your page. Am wondering why catch and release should be allowed. For people's fun? because you enjoy fishing so much? How would you feel if someone was hunting you for fun? Have you tried to find another pass time? Its cruel in my opinion. Even if you say the fish can't feel pain , they are fighting for their lives...please enlighten me!"

I recommended that he/she read my book, Why We Fish--- Reel Wisdom From Real Fishermen.

Sadly, I doubt that he/she will. The tone of the message clearly indicates that this person has a closed mind and is not about to open it to the myriad blessings that fishing bestows.

Monday
Nov032014

Should We Support New CWA Rules? I'm Not So Sure . . . 

Some sportsmen groups support the new rules proposed for the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).

For example, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, of which B.A.S.S. is a member, says this: “Sportsmen must speak up for strong, science-based protections for waters upon which America’s hunters and anglers rely. Tell the Army Corps and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) you support their efforts to clarify the Clean Water Act and urge them to finalize a rule that protects wetlands and headwater streams.”

I’m not so sure. For months I’ve argued with myself about this. Yes, I want to protect wetlands and headwater streams, but . . .

The original Clean Water Act was passed by our elected representatives and senators and signed into law by the President. It clearly was implemented with the best interests of the public and our aquatic resources in mind.

These rules were formulated by the EPA for the EPA. Public input was solicited, but no bureaucracy is going to institute rules detrimental to its own best interests. It’s going to create regulations that strengthen it and expand its powers.

And what recourse do citizens have in dealing with unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who, more and more, are making the rules that we must live by? Not much.

EPA insists that these new rules simply “clarify” its regulatory role in protecting waters upstream of navigable waters. It needs to do so, it asserts, because of Supreme Court decisions that created uncertainty.

Critics of EPA and Corps overreach counter that those decisions reined in those agencies, which is why they now are proposing new rules.

I could present you with an almost endless list of testimonials from both sides, but I’ll keep it to a couple.

EPA’s Nancy Stoner says this:

“So EPA and the Corps are bringing clarity and consistency to the process, cutting red tape and saving money. The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule does not regulate new types of ditches, does not regulate activities on land, and does not apply to groundwater.”

Mike Freese, an attorney for the Oregon Farm Bureau counters:

“This is also going to affect counties, cities, home builders and land use anywhere near a waterway . . . The Clean Water Act will become a land management tool for federal agencies.”

If my decision to align with one side or the other were based only on the rules themselves, I’d probably side with the sportsmen groups and EPA. But it’s not.

There’s also interpretation and enforcement by the bureaucrats in those agencies, and the track record there is not good. Ask Mike and Chantell Sackett up in Idaho about that. After obtaining necessary local permits and consulting with the Corps, they were filling in their lot with dirt and rock, preparing to build a home in a neighborhood where other houses have stood for years. Suddenly, federal officials showed up, demanding that they stop construction because their .63-acre lot is a protected wetland.

Seven years later, they’re still fighting for the right to build their home. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on their behalf, but its judgment said only that the couple has the right to seek judicial review in opposing the EPA.

Also in 2012, a top EPA official, Al Armendariz, resigned after a video surfaced of him making a speech in which is compared the agency’s enforcement strategy to Roman crucifixion.

“It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean,” he said. “They’d go in to a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find five guys they saw, and they’d crucify them.

“And then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”

More recently, bureaucrats in another agency have refused to cooperate with Congress on another water-related issue. The Interior Department ignored a subpoena to provide documents regarding this administration’s rewrite of the 2008 “Stream Buffer Zone Rule.”

"The administration's response to the committee's oversight efforts has been downright shameful. Their actions are unjustifiable and show blatant disrespect to the transparency they promised the American people,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Yes, we all want clean water.  And thanks to the original CWA we’ve made tremendous strides in improving water quality and fisheries. The question now is how to balance continued improvements with maintaining a government that is mindful of and respectful to its citizens and their rights.

(This was published originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Thursday
Oct302014

Bathroom Reading

Okay, all you guys and gals who love nature but insist that you don't like to read books. Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies is perfect for you.

It's a collection of 43 essays. You can start at the beginning, middle, or end. You can read one essay at a time or a dozen. You don't have to worry about where you left off. In other words, it's perfect bathroom reading.

The same is true for Why We Fish --- Reel Wisdom From Real Fishermen.

Thursday
Oct302014

ASA, RFA Oppose 'Sector Separation' for Red Snapper Fishery

Not surprisingly, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) also are critical of Amendment 40, which created “sector separation” in the recreational segment of the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery. (For more about this issue, see post below this one.) 

From ASA:

The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is strongly opposed to sector separation and is deeply troubled that this poorly conceived and detrimental plan was passed by the Gulf Council.

In its 2013 position paper on sector separation, ASA urged federal fishery managers to remove saltwater recreational sector separation from all management plan discussions. ASA believes that sector separation will create serious conflicts between private anglers and charter/for-hire captains, and further diminish recreational fishing opportunities for red snapper.

“While we understand the charter/for-hire position, we in the tackle industry don’t see Amendment 40 as being in the best interests of the entire recreational fishing community,” said Gary Zurn, Big Rock Sports SVP Industry Relations. “The economic impacts of sector separation have not been clearly determined, but we know it will have a significant financial impact on the coastal communities and businesses throughout the Gulf region that support recreational fishing.”

From RFA:

President Obama has made it very clear that his "policies are on the ballot" in Tuesday's election - coastal fishermen should understand by now that those policies include blanket marine reserves, privatized fish stock, recreational catch shares, and sector separation.

Despite heavy opposition from individual saltwater anglers, local tackle shops, marinas, most of the for-hire sector captains in the United States, tackle shops, the governors of the coastal states and nearly every standing member of the U.S. Congress, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) voted to divide the recreational fishing community into pieces over the next three years.

In a 10-7 vote, the appointed fisheries managers, led by NOAA Fisheries' regional administrator Dr. Roy Crabtree, approved a proposal to split the Gulf recreational red snapper fishery between charter/for hire anglers and private recreational anglers. The so-called "sector separation" measure approved by the Gulf Council will take the entire recreational quota of red snapper and split it into pieces, with the for-hire sector getting their own share of the quota and private individual anglers getting the rest.

Strangely of course, the recreational for-hire sector caters to individual anglers who book charters or climb aboard head boats to fish for red snapper, making the entire sector separation debate more about divisiveness and less about fixing the problems with federal fisheries management. The new proposal essentially privatizes more of the red snapper stock by stealing open public access away from anglers.