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.)