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Entries in climate change (19)


New Challenges Face America's Trout, Says TU

America’s native trout have declined dramatically over the last century thanks to a number of threats ranging from hatchery fish stocking to logging and mining to poorly designed roads and livestock grazing practices. Now a new suite of threats, from energy development to a changing climate, poses even greater challenges.   

According to a new Trout Unlimited report titled, “State of the Trout,” these threats are greater than ever, and they make for an uncertain future for coldwater fish if steps are not taken to protect and restore habitat, reconnect tributaries to mainstem rivers and keep native trout populations viable for the benefit of anglers and the country’s riparian ecosystems.

The report notes that, of the nation’s 28 unique species and subspecies of trout and char, three are already extinct. Of the remaining 25 species, 13 occupy less than 25 percent of their native ranges.

Trout across America are dealing with the cumulative effects of resource extraction, climate change and the introduction and persistence of non-native fish into native trout waters. But, according to the report, there is hope for trout and for those who fish for them all across the nation. The report lays out a roadmap for native trout recovery and persistence, but it will require a host of advocates playing vital protection and restoration roles for years to come.

“It’s daunting when you consider the scope of the threats facing coldwater fish in the United States,” said Chris Wood, TU’s president and CEO. “But if you step back and look at the work that TU and our partners are already doing all across the country, it’s encouraging to see progress and to know that, with help from volunteers, private industry, government agencies and elected officials, we can replicate that progress and keep trout in our waters.

“And that’s why this report isn’t just for anglers or for biologists,” Wood continued. “This is a report for all Americans, because trout require the cleanest and coldest water to survive—and we all need clean water.”

Like Wood, report author Jack Williams, TU’s senior scientist, believes all Americans have a stake in this report, and that it will require a collective effort to ensure a future for native trout in America.

“The reasons many populations of native trout are on the ropes is because of our growing human population and the increasing demand on water resources,” Williams said. “For eons, the great diversity of trout genetics and life histories coupled with their widespread distribution allowed them to thrive. The changes we’ve made to their habitat over time, just by pursuing our lifestyle, has had a huge impact on water quality, connectivity and trout habitat. We’ve also stocked non-native trout on top of native populations, to the point where even well-adapted native trout are overcome by repeated stockings.”

Williams notes that common-sense conservation measures in the years to come can help native trout recover. But, restoration needs to take place across entire watersheds and be sustained over decades.

For instance, in Maggie Creek in northwest Nevada, collaborative restoration has been underway since the late 1980s. TU’s work with ranchers, the Bureau of Land Management and mining companies have restored 2,000 acres of riparian habitat and today native Lahontan cutthroat trout have been completely restored in 23 miles of Maggie Creek and its tributaries.

In Maine, where TU and its partners helped negotiate the removal of two dams and construction of fish passage on a third, more than 1,000 miles of the Penobscot River has been reopened to Atlantic salmon, striped bass, herring and shad.

In the West, in states like Idaho and Colorado, sportsmen and women have mobilized and helped protect millions of acres of intact, functional habitat that is vital to trout and the waters in which they swim. Broad-scale restoration work on streams in the Driftless Area of the Midwest has translated into waters that once held only 200 fish per mile to holding 2,000 fish per mile.

TU’s public and private partners are key to the report’s findings. Without help from government, private entities and volunteers, trout truly do face an uncertain future.

"The health of America's trout is directly connected to the health of our nation's watersheds—watersheds that provide clean drinking water, drive economic growth and support recreational fishing opportunities for millions of people across the nation," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. "The ‘State of the Trout’ report provides a valuable overview of the health of these fisheries, helping Trout Unlimited, the Fish and Wildlife Service and our partners identify priority areas for conservation."



Climate Change Complicates Fisheries Management

Photo taken March 1 by Activist Angler near neighbor's dock on lake in Missouri Ozarks.

The history of our planet is defined by climate change. One hundred million years ago, dinosaurs roamed a temperate land that we now know as Antarctica. Then, a warm Earth turned frigid and glaciers covered much of North America.

Thousands of years later, a warming planet allowed black bass to flourish on this continent and Viking culture to expand in Europe. But then came the Little Ice Age. By the time that Columbus set sail in 1492, frozen seas had forced the Vikings to abandon settlements in Greenland, while those in Iceland struggled to survive.

Of course, we can see these dramatic shifts only through the lens of history. Pinpointing definitive start and end dates is impossible. And those who lived during those frigid times knew nothing of climate change. They knew only that it was cold.

Today, we recognize that climate’s only constant is perpetual change. What we don’t know is where today’s changes are in context with what occurred before and what will come tomorrow. Are we on the precipice of a major shift? Are we in the midst of a long, gradual change? Are we experiencing an anomaly?

Today, we also know that our climate --- the prevailing weather conditions, which include temperature and precipitation, averaged over a series of years --- is moderating. (The “causes” of that change have become a political issue, only slightly less controversial than abortion, and I won’t get into that here.)

“The underseas world is on the move,” says National Geographic. “Climate change is propelling fish and other ocean life into what used to be cooler waters, and researchers are scrambling to understand what effect that is having on their new neighborhoods.”

On the sportfishing front, that’s demonstrated by the fact that the snook, a cold intolerant species, is expanding its range up the east coast of Florida. In freshwater, northern fisheries are experiencing warmer year-around temperatures. For example, Lake Champlain annually freezes over two weeks later than it did in the early 1800s.

At a glance, that might seem like good news for bass and bass anglers, with cold-water species as the only casualties.

That’s not the case, and that’s why fisheries managers will find their jobs increasingly difficult, as well as complicated, in the years to come. One of the reasons for that is not because bass will expand their range, but because they are likely to become more dominant in fisheries where they now are marginal. That’s a formula for friction among users regarding management strategies.

As to the negatives for bass, remember Largemouth Bass Virus? Scientists found that outbreaks were most lethal in warm water.

And a longer growing season for bass also is conducive to larger and longer blooms of algae, some of them toxic. Additionally, warmer temperatures could invite invasion by parasites, diseases, new exotic species, and problematic, invasive plants.

“Giant salvinia and hyacinth that are now limited by freezing winters will spread north,” said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director and a former fisheries biologist. “The result will be the need for expensive control to prevent them from causing ecosystem chaos. Ask Texas or Louisiana what they spend on weed control each year! That could be Oklahoma or Kansas or Nebraska in the future.”

Southern waters, meanwhile, might become too warm for healthy bass fisheries.  “You don’t see great bass populations at the equator and it would likely get even warmer there and other parts of the tropics and subtropics. Maybe even Mexico and peninsular Florida,” he explained.

The conservation director also is concerned about climate fluctuations that seem to accompany warming waters. Short-term droughts can degrade or destroy until precipitation returns and those fisheries recover, probably with assistance from resource managers.

Up in Wisconsin, study of a lake during drought revealed that shoreline species lose refuge areas, forcing them into open water where they become more vulnerable to predation, and, as a consequence, the entire ecosystem is altered.

 Also, excessive rains can flush systems and deplete nutrients, causing changes in the food chain that bass and other species may not adapt well to.

What can managers do to help fisheries cope with climate change?

“As waters warm and cool-water species decline, it will be imperative that agencies adapt quickly to avoid getting behind the curve,” Gilliland said. “Although it will be difficult for them to persuade older/traditional constituents that the past cannot be revived, they will need to move on and adopt new technologies, new protocols, learn new science, and manage evolving warmer-water ecosystems.” 

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


Coral Diseases Threaten Marine Fisheries


Coral reefs, among the most valuable marine habitats for fisheries, are suffering. Overfishing, world climate change, and other stressors likely are contributing to their degradation and increasing susceptibility to disease. 

One of the most recent examples comes from Hawaii, where a new disease has been found on coral colonies.

This disease can spread fast and has the ability to kill a small coral colony within a week,” said Anne Rosinski, a marine resource specialist with the state’s Division of Aquatic Resources.

Additionally, the state reported that a “mass bleaching event” of coral colonies occurred last fall. Scientists don’t know if there is a direct connection between the disease and the bleaching, “though bleached coral is generally more susceptible to diseases.”

Here is what NOAA says about the value of coral reefs:

  • The commercial value of U.S. fisheries from coral reefs is more than $100 million. In addition, the annual value of reef-dependent recreational fisheries probably exceeds $100 million per year.
  • Coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and hundreds of other species. Scientists estimate that there may be another 1 to 8 million undiscovered species of organisms living in and around reefs.
  •  Storehouses of immense biological wealth, reefs also provide economic and environmental services to millions of people. Coral reefs may provide goods and services worth $375 billion each year.
  • Millions of people visit coral reefs in the Florida Keys every year. These reefs alone are estimated to have an asset value of $7.6 billion.
  • Coral reefs buffer adjacent shorelines from wave action and prevent erosion, property damage, and loss of life. Reefs also protect the highly productive wetlands along the coast, as well as ports and harbors and the economies they support.



Northern States Warming Up to Bass Anglers

Photo by Robert Montgomery

Because of climate, management of bass fisheries in the North understandably must be different from management in the South. Northern winters are longer and more severe, while spawning and growing seasons are shorter and often more tenuous. For example, pounding winds and waves during a spring storm can nearly wipe out a year class on Lake Erie.

For decades, though, it also has been different for a myriad of reasons not related to stewardship of the resource, with bass fishing restricted as a consequence. Fortunately, that is starting to change, as evidenced by what happened recently in Wisconsin. Due in no small part to the diligent efforts of Dan Brovarney and Ken Snow in the Wisconsin B.A.S.S. Nation, that state has implemented regulations more friendly to bass anglers, including one that allows culling in permitted tournaments.

Elites Series events in northern waters also have helped. B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland pointed out that the 2012 Elite Series Green Bay Challenge “opened eyes and that allowed biologists to better understand what B.A.S.S. pro level tournaments are all about.”

They’ve also eased concerns that local residents had about possible negative impacts on their fisheries.

In general, Gilliland added, many states are moving toward simplifying regulations, but northern managers especially are warming up to the realization that bass are  popular fish deserving of more enlightened management. Most notably, closed seasons are going away, often replaced by catch-and-release.

For decades, northern fisheries managers believed that closed seasons were necessary to protect reproduction and recruitment. Now, though, evidence has begun to show that while individual nests can be harmed when male guardians are pulled off the nest, overall populations aren’t harmed. On New York’s Lake Oneida, biologist Randy Jackson found that environmental conditions are more likely to determine the success of a year class than whether anglers are pursuing bass during the spawn.  

Additionally, many managers have noted that the majority of bass anglers, no matter where they live, practice catch and release. Thus, overharvest isn’t the threat that it once was assumed to be.

Understandably, though, the farther north a fishery, the smaller the window for reproduction, and the greater the chance that it could be harmed by angling pressure.

Gilliland cited New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, along with Wisconsin, as some of the northern states being the most pro-active adopting regulations more friendly to bass anglers. Minnesota, he added, “is one of the holdouts.”

Traditionally, the conservation director explained, bass management in northern states was dictated by “legacy biology.”  In other words, it just continued to be as it always had been, with resource managers focusing on walleye, muskie, pike, and trout, while bass remained “a kind of unknown.”

“But now that bass tournaments are exposing how tremendous some of the bass fisheries are up north, they have to deal with bass management,” Gilliland said. “Most of the biologists were cold-water trained, and it was easy not to deal with it (bass management). Now, they have to deal with it.”

That assessment is confirmed by the fact that three of the top five fisheries in Bassmaster’s “Top 100 Best Bass Lakes” for 2014 are northern waters: 1. Wisconsin’s Sturgeon Bay in Lake Michigan 3. Lake Erie and 4. Lake Coeur d’ Alene in Idaho.

But Gilliland also is sympathetic to the reality that managing bass is more complicated in the North than in the South. Two of the most obvious reasons are the diversity of user groups and the vast expanses of water.

“When you’re trying to keep everyone happy and keep all of those different fisheries sustainable, it can be difficult,” he said.

A general trend toward warmer winters also “throws a monkey wrench” into the mix, he added.

Plus, tournament fishing is not nearly as popular with local residents in the North as it is in the South. Residents around those northern natural lakes view the waters as their own, and many don’t want to share them fishermen who are just passing through.

“Those people are automatically against new regulations and biology doesn’t matter. They want to limit access,” the conservation director said.

Still, regulation improvements are occurring, and managers of northern waters are to be commended for responding to their bass-fishing constituents.

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



Didymo Spread Linked to Climate Change

A troublesome alga has been around much longer than previously believed and human transport likely is not the reason for recent outbreaks throughout the U.S. and eastern Canada, according to researchers.

They report that fossilized remains in lake sediment reveal that didymo, also known as “rock snot” because of its slimy tendrils, has been in lakes and rivers for decades.

“Didymo has been present in the regional algal community for much longer than many people thought,” said Michelle Lavery, the lead author for the study co-sponsored by Queen’s University, Brock University, and l’Institut national de la recherché scientifique.

“Instead of human introduction, an environmental trigger is a more probably cause for its recent proliferation.”

That trigger, scientists believe, is a changing climate, with warmer winters.

For years, resource managers suspected that outbreaks occurred solely because anglers and others spread didymo with their gear from some undetermined original source. In response, several states banned felt-sole wading boots and recreationists were encouraged to thoroughly wash paddles and hulls when leaving an infected waterway.

Now, it appears, such precautions might minimize the spread of this alga that forms thick, wooly mats along the bottom of waterways. But they will not stop didymo from degrading fisheries.