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Entries in climate change (16)

Thursday
Jun262014

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.)

 

Monday
Jun092014

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.

Tuesday
Apr012014

Invasive Species Top List of Tourism Concerns in Michigan

Invasives species, including Asian carp, rank at the top of concerns by Michigan tourism professionals.

Tourism industry professionals in Michigan were asked to “identify key issues facing and threats to the integrity of Michigan’s tourism resources.” Since Michigan is a Great Lakes state, the results are not surprising: Invasive species rank as the top threat.

The tourism folks know what they’re talking about, not only for Michigan, but for much of the rest of the country as well.

As a matter of fact, I think that they correctly have identified the top four for many of the states, and they have appropriately placed climate change and increasing the number of wind farms where they belong--- at or near the bottom.

Sadly, a good number of them have bought into the environmental left’s hatred of fracking, when no evidence supports the notion that it poses a threat to our lands and waters. In fact the former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, said unequivocally that her agency has found no evidence of contamination.

  • Spread of invasive species (aquatic & terrestrial) – 65.2 percent
  • Lack of/limited funding for resource protection/maintenance – 59.5 percent
  • Declining water quality of our lakes, rivers and streams – 42.7 percent
  • Declining water levels of our lakes, rivers and streams – 41.3 percent
  • Diversion of water from the Great Lakes – 39.3 percent
  • Reduction in historic preservation tax credits – 28.9 percent
  • Closure of Department of History, Arts and Libraries – 25.1 percent
  • Fracking – 24.5 percent
  • Need for better/faster adoption of technology at tourism sites – 20.8 percent
  • Under-appreciation of Native American history and culture – 20.0 percent
  • Climate change – 16.8 percent
  • Spread of infectious diseases – 8.5 percent
  • Increasing number of wind farms – 7.7 percent
Thursday
May232013

Climate Change Is Reality; Claim That It Is 'Manmade' Is Not

Out on the water, biologists observe the effects of climate change on fisheries. At conferences, they talk about its implications.  For example, at the recent annual meeting of the Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society, concerns about its effects were discussed in at least seven presentations, several of them involving bass.

One abstract summarized this way: “Climate change is thought to be a leading driver in the erosion of biodiversity and ecosystem sustainability at all scales.”

Yet, some anglers deny the reality of climate change, and I speak from personal experience in saying that. I’ve met them.

So have the biologists. “When I explain what is happening (to fishermen), I have to tip toe all around the reasons for change,” says one.

Why is that?

Certainly a number of them do not believe.  But for most, I think that refusal to accept reality has more to do with blind rejection of what they view as the “party line” for environmentalists. And I can relate to that argument.

Much of the “green” agenda  is anti-fishing, as typified by attempts to ban lead fishing tackle, and campaigns to create “protected areas,” where recreational fishing would not be allowed. Let’s not forget, either, an adjunct of that, the animal rights movement, which now wants to use drones to stalk and harass hunters and fishermen.

But what anglers with tunnel vision fail to see is that enviros are beating the drum to end “manmade” climate change. Questioning the validity of that argument is where fishermen should make their case, not denying that the climate changes and, in so doing, affects fisheries.

Of course climate changes. It’s a dynamic force.

More than a century ago, Mark Twain reputedly said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” The reality, though, is that’s the case, no matter where you live. As fronts move in and out, weather changes --- by the minute, by the hour, by the day. And just as it evolves over these short periods, it changes during longer stretches of time as well --- by the year, by the decade, by the century.

“When we talk about climate change, we talk about changes in long-term averages of daily weather,” says the National Atmospheric and Space Administration.

Anglers who deny this fact of life damage our reputation as conservationists, and alienate some of our closest allies, the biologists. Instead of being supporters of enlightened management to sustain fisheries, they become barriers.

Most importantly, in rejecting climate change, they are disputing the idea that changes occur naturally in fisheries, changes for which there are no “solutions.”    

Still not convinced? Just look to the north and south, the front lines for fisheries altered by climate change.

In Florida, milder winters have allowed snook to move up the Gulf Coast. Eight years ago, the saltwater predator was an infrequent visitor to Crystal River. Now it seems to be a firmly established resident --- and a competitor with bass for forage and habitat. Long-time angler Matt Beck says that it’s not uncommon to catch more snook than bass when fishing for the latter. “Today, snook in the 20- to 35-pound range are caught on a regular basis,” he adds.

Florida biologist Allen Martin says the state has no data on the river’s bass population, but he doesn’t doubt Beck’s observation.

“With mild winters, snook have moved as far north as the Suwannee, about 100 miles to the north,” says the biologist, adding that degraded habitat and increased salinity because of lower flows of springs likely have contributed to changes as well.

“Peacock bass, armored catfish, and tilapia moved farther northern too,” he adds. “A couple of cold winters knocked them back, but they probably will start moving north again.”

Meanwhile, water temperatures have been warming for 47 years on New York’s Oneida Lake, a benefit for bass.

“It’s been particularly pronounced since the 1980s, when smallmouth bass really started to take off,” says Randy Jackson, a biologist with the Cornell Biological Field Station on the lake. “At Lake Erie, there’s a strong correlation too.”

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that largemouth bass, bowfin, longnose gar, and gizzard shad also are profiting from warmer weather, he adds. Concurrently, the cold-water burbot, on the southern end of its range, is declining.

“This is all consistent with what people are predicting,” he says. “No one can argue than we have warmer lakes than we did 40 years ago.”

I wish that were true, especially among anglers.

(This opinion piece appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Thursday
Jan242013

Low Water the 'New Normal' for Great Lakes?

Leader-Telegram photo.

Anglers and recreational boaters were warned in late fall of dangerously reduced water levels in Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior, with a likelihood of all three falling to record lows in early 2013.

Michigan and Huron were 11 inches lower than the year before and 2 feet, 4 inches lower than their long-term averages for October. Superior was at its 1925 record-low average for that month.

Mostly, the decline is blamed on a mild winter with little snow followed by a hot summer with little rain, according to Keith Kompoltowicz, a hydrologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We are seeing much lower water levels than we had last year, and that is the case all over the Great Lakes,” he said.

But more and more, attention is turning to what man has been done to alter the water levels and what might be done in the way of mitigation. For example, reversing the Chicago River in 1900 so it flowed out of Lake Michigan instead of into it resulted in a loss of about 2.1 billion gallons a day, which has dropped the long-term average for both Michigan and Huron by two inches.

Key focus, though, is on the St. Clair River, which has been heavily dredged, allowing more water to flow out of Huron and into Erie and, from there, eventually into the Atlantic Ocean. Scientists generally believe this alteration has resulted in a drop of the long-term average for Huron and Michigan by about 16 inches. But a recent joint study by the U.S. and Canada suggests that erosion in the St. Clair might have reduced the long-term average for those two lakes by an additional 3 to 5 inches.

That has prompted a coalition of mayors from 90 cities around the Great Lakes to ask the International Joint Commission, which advises on boundary water issues, to further investigate engineering options to raise lake levels in order “to compensate for human activities, notably dredging in the St. Clair River . . .”

Another group, Save Our Shoreline, wants a mechanism to control water flow in the St. Clair.

“Given the history of consistent water level reductions since 1855, the unmitigated and unplanned increase in conveyance in the St. Clair River since 1962, and the uncertainties presented by climate change, we believe it would be irresponsible not to begin the process toward a regulatory structure now,” it said.

Water levels on the Great Lakes typically fluctuate by inches seasonally and by as much as several feet over a period of years. But, until now, anglers, marina operators, and lakefront property owners felt secure in believing that water levels wouldn’t drop below the 1964 record lows.

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