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Entries in Columbia River (20)


Anglers, Bass Win in California Delta Water War

An in-state attempt to wage war on black bass and stripers in the California (Sacramento-San Joaquin) Delta has been repelled  --- at least for now.

Led by agricultural groups, a coalition was calling on the California Fish and Wildlife Commission to changes in size and bag limits for these non-native species that have been established for more than a century.

Translation: They wanted all limits removed  on one of the world's best bass fisheries.

Why?  Native salmon and other fish are suffering because of  drought and growing demand for a limited water supply. But because bass are  predators and high-profile, they're easy to blame for the decline of native species.

The same thing has happened in the Northwest, where both Oregon and Washington wildlife agencies have made management decisions based on politics and science. Up there,  size and bag limits have been removed on the Columbia and other rivers. The feds are involved too, and on the wrong side, of course. Check out War on Bass Is Spreading.

But in California, the petition to wage war on bass was withdrawn by the petitioners before its scheduled review by the Commission. It had been vehemently and vocally opposed by B.A.S.S., California Sportfishing League, and other groups.

“Our coalition had science on our side and we were able to show the Fish and Wildlife Commission that all fish need water and this was simply a water grab that sought to make striped bass and largemouth and smallmouth bass the scapegoats for the status of salmon stocks, said Scott Gudes, vice president of Government Affairs for the American Sportfishing Association (ASA).

Representing millions of sportsmen and women nationwide, including tens of thousands in California, the coalition engaged  supporters who sent a clear message to the Commission that this was a water issue, not a fish issue.
 "This is a real victory for anglers. But we need to be vigilant. No doubt the agricultural industry that pushed this proposal will be back. Anglers need to stay unified," added Gudes.

These are the groups that targeted bass:

The Coalition for Sustainable Delta, California Chamber of Commerce, California Farm Bureau Federation, Kern County Water Agency, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Northern California Water Association, San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, Southern California Water Committee, State Water Contractors and Western Growers were the petitioners.

These are the groups that spoke up for bass and anglers:

American Sportfishing Association, B.A.S.S., California Sportfishing League, Coastal Conservation Association California, Coastside Fishing Club, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Fishing League Worldwide, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and Water4Fish.


As Expected, Washington Joins Oregon in Removing Limits on Bass in Columbia

As expected Washington state joined Oregon in removing limits on bass, walleye, and catfish in the boundary waters portion of the Columbia River.

Inexplicitly, though, the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) did not mention the measure in the regulation changes endorsed by the Washington Wildlife Commission (WWC). And because it wasn't listed as approved, bass anglers and others mistakenly believed that the commissioners had declined to approve it.

"This whole business gave me a day of hope," said Lonnie Johnson, Oregon B.A.S.S. Nation conservation director. "Unfortunately it was just a pipe dream."

One publication even praised the WWC for refusing to "jump on the band wagon and follow Oregon's fuzzily thought-out elimination of daily bag limits . . . "

But upon investigation, B.A.S.S. Times discovered that the commissioners did approve the DFW recommendation. It becomes effective July 1.

"Unfortunately, we didn't do a very good job of publicizing it, so I can understand the confusion," said a public affairs spokesman for the agency. "We should have included it in the news release."

The commission received 23 written comments in favor of removing limits on the non-native species that have been in the Columbia for more than a century,  but just 12 from those opposed to the measure.

As salmon and steelhead fisheries have diminished over the years because of habitat loss and altered flows, warmwater species have flourished, especially in the impounded waters behind hydroelectric dams. Although evidence indicates predation by these non-native species has contributed little to this decline, an anti-bass bias has persisted. And in recent years, the federal government joined in putting pressure on both Oregon and Washington to remove limits, despite a lack of science to support the move.

Bass anglers, meanwhile, argue that they also finance fisheries management by buying fishing licenses and that this strategy shows disregard for them as a constituency and will do little to diminish the smallmouth population of the Columbia River. Most of them will continue to practice catch and release.


War on Bass Is Spreading

If you fish for bass outside the Midwest and Southeast, chances are that you are catching "non-native" fish.

"So what?" you ask. I'll tell you.

In the wake of the state of Washington joining Oregon to remove limits on bass on the Columbia River, Congress has just painted a big, red bull's eye on North America's most popular game fish outside its native range. Since it has established populations in 49 states, that covers a broad area--- including Texas.

Following a hearing entitled “The Costly Impacts of Predation and Conflicting Federal Statutes on Native and Endangered Fish Species" in Washington, D.C., you can bet  that environmental groups across the country also will look to portray non-native fish in general, and black bass specifically, as Public Enemy No. 1 in issues related to protection of native aquatic species. It's the old "monkey see, monkey do" corollary.

To put it mildly, B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland was irate in the aftermath, pointing out that those chosen to testify clearly favored "the native species crowd."

An "expert" who received the most speaking time said,  "Bass species are good for the sole purpose of sportfishing and this isn't a good reason to keep them around," according to Melanie Sturm of the American Sportfishing Association.

Additionally, Will Stelle from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration (NOAA)  proved be a "strong proponent that predators (sea lions and birds, along with non-native fish) are a huge problem," Sturm said. She added that Stelle argued "control programs should swiftly be implemented and NOAA welcomes legislation to do that."

And here's the exclamation point: "A lobbyist for ASA talked to Pelosi (House Minority Leader Nancy) face-to-face and she told him these non-native fish have got to go . . . Period," Gilliland said.

In the real world, meanwhile, the black bass'  only crime is its adaptability. But its high profile makes it a convenient scapegoat for opportunistic politicians catering to frustrated native fish advocates and a multitude of other interests who demand that something--- anything--- be done to stop the demise of native species and/or deal with complicated water management issues.

For years, Ground Zero for this issue has been the West Coast. But the groundwork was laid decades before, when the needs of salmon were given little consideration as more and more water was diverted from the California Delta to irrigate farm fields and supply cities and as the Columbia and other Northwest rivers were dammed for hydropower and irrigation.

Additionally, bass and other warmwater species were stocked by both the states and federal government, and, as they thrived, salmon declined. Today, an argument actually could be made that salmon  are the non-natives in these highly altered systems, which more closely resemble the warm waters and lake environments where bass evolved.

Do bass prey on young salmon? Yes, they do, but the numbers are insignificant in the "big picture" of declining salmon stocks. Study after study shows it. And they do so only because altered ecosystems facilitate the predation.

"I suppose the numbers can say whatever you want them to say if you put on your 'bias pants' when you go to work," said Lonnie Johnson, conservation director for the Oregon B.A.S.S. Nation. "Is there predation. Yes. Is it significant? Highly questionable."

Those in Congress who now want to wage war against bass in a futile attempt to bring back salmon would be well advised to acquaint themselves with Peter Moyle, a professor in the University of California- Davis’s Wildlife Fish and Conservation Biology Department and an honest broker on this issue.

"The historic Delta ecosystem cannot be restored," he said. "The Delta of today bears almost no resemblance to the Delta of 100 years ago. . .  Only three percent of the historical wetland acreage exists today. About the only familiar features would be the main sloughs and river channels, and even they have high levees on both sides."

Although specific alterations are different, the same is true for the Columbia and other rivers of the Northwest.

Preserving native species requires intensive management of human-dominated ecosystems  that contain a mixture of native and non-native species, Moyle added. "We humans decide by our actions which of these species are desirable and worth preserving often without making a conscious choice.qqq"

That's exactly what happened during the early 20th century, when governments and developers decided irrigation, water supply, and hydropower were more important than healthy salmon runs.

But that won't stop the bass blame-game by native fish and environmental groups and the politicians who are all too eager to curry their favor.

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


The Big Picture for 'Why We Fish'

Aspiration is a big part of what makes us human. For fishermen, that translates into the desire to catch a big one. Size, of course, is relevant. I can get as excited about a one-pound bluegill as I can a ten-pound bass or a 100-pound tarpon, but here’s the bottom line: that possibility of catching a big one is an important part of why I fish.

Awhile back, I went fishing for white sturgeon on the Columbia River, accompanied by my good friend Bruce Holt of G. Loomis, and golfing great Johnny Miller. Guide John Garrison put us on plenty of fish and I had the experience of a lifetime.

Seeing that first 10-foot sturgeon emerge from the depths at the end of my line had to be the highlight. Yes, the fight with a 500-pound fish was memorable, but visual confirmation of its incredible size made my knees buckle and inspired exclamations I rarely use. It was a sight I’ll never forget

Excerpt from "The Big Picture" in Why We Fish.


Oregon Removes Limits on Smallmouth Bass; Angry Anglers Consider Options

Following a disappointing decision by fisheries managers, Oregon bass anglers are considering their options--- and sounding off about the removal of limits on smallmouth bass in the Columbia, John Day, and Umpqua Rivers.

The ruling by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, they argue, was based more on politics than science.

"Needless to say, it's very frustrating," said Lonnie Johnson, conservation director for the Oregon B.A.S.S. Nation, who believes that the decision was pre-ordained because of pressure by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, neighboring Washington, tribes,  and preservationist groups who do not like the "non-native" fish.

"To me, it devalues the resource,” added Bud Hartman, a long-time member of the Oregon Bass and Panfish Club. “It says to the angling public that these fish don’t mean anything.”

B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland attended the commission meeting to voice the organization's opposition to removing limits. In the aftermath, he said this:  "In my opinion it sends a poor message, that warmwater species are of little value and that the agency's priorities are so focused on native species (i.e. endangered salmon stocks) that even a world-class smallmouth bass fishery can be sacrificed."

And writing in the Oregonian newspaper, veteran outdoor writer Bill Monroe theorized that the move threatens "a long history of support from about a quarter of their constituency."

Johnson acknowledged that support for the Department of Fish and Wildlife by warmwater anglers likely will be damaged, because they're paying license fees to an agency that disrepects them. At a meeting following the decision, he said, "At first the consensus was that we needed to separate ourselves from ODFW permanently. Just walk way.

"But as the initial visceral response eased, the rhetoric eased also. My feeling is that, however distasteful, it is easier to work from within the system than from outside. Several folks probably will step away, but most will grit their teeth and persevere."

Gilliland, meanwhile, hopes to rebuild a relationship with the agency, while making it clear "that a great deal of trust was lost during this process and both sides will need to work at it."

Preservation and native fish groups have been pushing for removal limits on bass and other warmwater non-native species for some time, arguing they are harming native salmon by predation. But little evidence supports that. Habitat loss and degraded water quality are the primary causes of declines in these coldwater species. Consequently, ODFW framed its action as "simplifying" regulations.

“There are lots of confusing regulations and conservation needs,” said Mike Gauvin, recreational fishing program manager. “First and foremost, though, we’re doing this to simplify and streamline the regulations.”

But on behalf of bass anglers, Johnson offered an option that was just as simple: Make the statewide bag limit 5, with one over 15 inches.

Of course, the recommendation was rejected, as the commission removed limits for bass, walleye, and catfish. As it did so, though, Johnson said that one commissioner acknowledged that the action was going to anger a large constituency. Gauvin responded that it sends a good message to the salmon recovery community.

"That sort of wraps the whole thing into a single sentence," said Johnson.

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