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Entries in Columbia River (11)

Tuesday
Feb252014

Providing Quality Fisheries Is Complicated Challenge

Photo by Robert Montgomery

Fisheries management often is an enigma wrapped inside a riddle, and the more we learn, the more we realize how much we don’t know. That’s why I respect fisheries biologists.

To provide us with quality fisheries, they must “manage” not only the fish, but the fishermen. Plus, they must factor in the effects of development, pollution, water degradation, introduction of exotic species, and many other variables.

Up in Minnesota, anglers and biologists have compiled some impressive statistics regarding the fragility of a fishery.

On a 160-acre private lake this winter, 97 northern pike have been caught and released 431 times. Additionally, 24 measured 30 inches or longer and had been caught an average of 6.83 times each.

“Now think about how long it takes a fish to grow,” said Dallas Hudson, one of the anglers who initiated the idea of not spearing or keeping northern pike caught on hook and line. “A northern in our lake will take six years to reach 24 inches and nine years to reach 30 inches and weigh 7 or 8 pounds.

“So it becomes pretty obvious what happens if people keep not only the bigger fish, but the medium-sized fish, say 24 to 30-inch northern. You end up with what we have in many Minnesota lakes: stunted fish.”

Fisheries supervisor Doug Kingsley added, “Dallas’ work shows us pretty clearly how vulnerable northerns, in particular, are to being caught. When you can catch the same fish 15 times over, and sometimes two times in the same day, it seems clear that in many lakes we need to limit the harvest of larger fish if we want bigger northern pike in our lakes.’’

For example, the work by Hudson and his associates clearly suggests that--- at least on smaller lakes--- larger northern pike can be overharvested. Still, many Minnesota anglers likely would oppose reducing the current harvest regulation, which allows three northern daily, with one longer than 30 inches. Plus, spear fishermen convinced the legislature to pass a law in 2011 that limits the establishment of length-based harvest regulations on 100 state lakes.

Arizona Game and Fish photo

Out in Arizona, fisheries managers are trying to figure out how to reign in an exploding population on non-native gizzard shad that threatens the health of bass and crappie fisheries at Apache and other Salt River impoundments.

In Lake Havasu, however, the combination of two introduced species seems to have ignited a premiere fishery for redear sunfish, also known as “shellcracker.”  Just recently, Hector Brito caught a 5.8-pound lunker, which likely will be declared a world record. In 2011, Bob Lawler caught the previous record --- 5.55 pounds--- also at Lake Havasu.

In the Northwest, meanwhile, champions of native species have been blaming bass for decades for the decline of salmon fisheries. In truth, dams destroyed salmon habitat and blocked habitat, while creating impoundments where bass have thrived.

Still, nature is resilient. That’s why this year’s projected spawning run of fall-run Chinook (king) salmon on the Columbia could be the largest since 1938. That was the year after the Bonneville Dam was completed, blocking their migration route and enabling the fish to be counted.

Fisheries managers suspect that the healthy run is attributable to good ocean conditions for the salmon while they are out at sea, as well as a mandated  water releases from spill gates at dams on the Columbia and Snake River dams, allowing small salmon to move downstream.

Saturday
Jan112014

Anglers Can Relate to Experiences in Why We Fish

Bruce Holt of G.Loomis battles a Columbia River sturgeon with the help of guide John Garrett. Golfing great Johnny Miller looks on. The three of us wore ourselves out catching the fish that weighed several hundred pounds each. Click on the photo for Garrett's Guide Service. Photo by Robert Montgomery

"Robert Montgomery lays it all on the line so that readers understand why fishing is such an important part of his life. I loved this approach and appreciate his candor in actual life events, both sad and happy!

"Very few writers are able to get to the core of such a subjective storyline as Robert does in Why We Fish! I'm certain there are hundreds of avid anglers out there that can relate to his life experiences and just as many that love fishing for their own very personal reasons. A delightful read and one any angler would enjoy!" 

That's a review of my book, Why We Fish, by Bruce Holt of G.Loomis, one of the best guys in the fishing industry. The rods aren't bad either!

Tuesday
Apr162013

Columbia River Ripe for Mussels Invasion

Portland State University researchers recently revealed some bad news regarding the Columbia River Basin: Water chemistry and temperature there are sufficient, if not ideal, to support invasion by quagga and zebra mussels.

“We found that 68 percent of mussels raised in untreated Columbia River water gained weight,” said researchers Brian Adair. “This does not bode well for the Columbia.”

On a positive note, water in the Willamette appears only marginal for mussels, due to lower calcium levels.

Scientists obtained the results by placing mussels from Lake Mead in containers of untreated water from the two rivers. Then they observed the mussels as calcium concentrations and water temperatures were changed.

“This appears to confirm our fears that mussels would grow well in the Columbia,” said Bill Bradbury of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. “The results underscore the importance of the boat inspection programs and other efforts in our states to keep mussels out of Northwest waters.”

Researchers also are testing several types of coatings to see how well they inhibit mussel growth. Given acceptable surfaces, the shellfish block water intakes with their dense colonies, as well as deplete nutrients and smother fish habitat.

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

Tuesday
Apr092013

BCI Helps Forge New Management Plan for Columbia River Salmon Fisheries

Photo from oldoregonphotos.com

Those who fish for warmwater species might be a bit perplexed by the concept of “redesigning” fisheries. That’s because user conflicts typically are not a consideration in management of bass, catfish, and crappie.

But out in the Northwest, where salmon are more prized than gold, it’s big news when a new allocation system is even considered --- much less implemented. That’s why what Oregon and Washington have agreed to do regarding management of salmon stocks in the lower Columbia River is historic.

“This is a big deal,” said Jim Martin, conservation director of the Berkley Conservation Institute (BCI). “It has been 40 years since the last major change in this fishery, and we have been intensely pushing this idea for more than 5 years. Finally, the governor of Oregon endorsed it and put new commissioners on the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. And now we have the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in agreement.

“When implemented, the plan will substantially improve the economics of sportfishing in the Columbia River area and will be better for the conservation of wild fish as well.”

Although commercial fishermen and their allies opposed and continue to rail against the redesign, strong popular support convinced state officials that it was time for a change. “I give a lot of credit to the Coastal Conservation Association,” Martin said. “It brought the issue to a head.”

Other BCI allies included Trout Unlimited, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, and Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

For BCI, a part of Pure Fishing, campaigning on behalf of the redesign was a natural. “For us, conservation is job No. 1 and the economy is job No. 2,” said Martin, former Oregon fisheries chief. “Any time that you can improve both, you do it.”

The conservation director added that this plan for the lower Columbia --- to be phased in by 2017 --- serves as an example of what can be done with red snapper, summer flounder and other mixed marine fisheries around the country.

"We are wasting economic value,” he said. “Why allocate half to outdated, obsolete fisheries?”

Martin pointed out that allocation between recreation and commercial fisheries always has been a difficult issue because of competing views regarding economics, efficiency, and fairness. “In my experience of 44 years in the fisheries management business, I have found few issues that are as potentially powerful in increasing net economic benefits to regional/national economics and supporting more jobs . . . and as universally avoided by managers,” he said.

What is the plan for the lower Columbia that could spark a sea change and why are four years required for full implementation?

“A couple of key assumptions have to be tested,” Martin explained.

First, the plan calls for commercial gill-netters to be moved off the main river channel and into the bays and sloughs, where almost half of their catch already occurs. Managers intend to increase the number of smolts stocked in those backwaters, and their harvest, when they return as adults, would compensate commercials for not fishing in the channel.

“They (commercial fishermen) are saying that it won’t work, and we are saying that it will. So we’ll test that assumption,” the conservation director said.

Additionally, purse seines and beach seines will be allowed for commercial harvest in the main river --- at least that is the hope. Their use already is legal in Washington waters, but Oregon still must pass a bill to legalize them. Decades ago, they were been banned, mostly because gill-netters, a powerful political force, viewed their use as competition and opposed them.

“The number of gill-netters has decreased tremendously over the years,” Martin explained. “There were 500 of them 20 years ago, but about 225 with legal permits now. Only about 125 are actively fishing and 30 to 40 make significant landings.”

Still, they enjoy support out of proportion to the economic benefits that they provide their communities. “For a lot of local communities, they are ‘their’ guys, while they see this redesign as being pushed by greedy sportsmen from Portland,” Martin said.

“In reality, they benefit more from the sportsmen, but they see commercials as having the real jobs and recreational fishing as a hobby. To get something like this done, you have to fight politics.”

You also have to work within the confines of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the hope is that this can be more efficiently achieved with purse and beach seines.

Under the ESA, a small percentage of mortality is allowed for protected species, such as spring Chinook. But once that “impact” target is reached, the fishery must be shut down.

“When that happens, not even hatchery fish can be caught, and so they go unharvested,” Martin said. “Right now, impacts are costing of millions of dollars annually (in lost revenue).”

Because they are not as lethal as gill nets, the seines will allow for selective harvest of hatchery fish, while protected wild fish that are captured inadvertently can be released unharmed. That means “impact” is not achieved as quickly and the season can be extended for sport fishing.

“Commercials say that this won’t work either. But we will test it to make sure that it does,” the conservation director explained.

An estimated 1.43 million hatchery-raised and wild salmon enter the Columbia each year. In 2011, about 200 gill-net boats caught 137,000 worth $4.72 million. By contrast, about 350,000 trips by recreational anglers resulted in 142,000 salmon caught, but with an estimated $22 million spent on food, travel, lodging, and tackle.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife predicts that by moving commercial fishermen to improved off-channel areas and increasing access to fall Chinook in the main river (with purse and beach seines), the value of their catch will increase by 15 percent during the next four years. Concurrently, it says, the number of angler trips will grow by 22 percent.

“This plan will increase sport fishing by 20 to 40 percent in the Columbia River,” Martin added. “Even though they don’t like it, commercials will be better off too.

“There are not many opportunities to do reallocations and redesigns to increase economic benefits that much and still be fair to commercials,” he continued. With this, we think that their benefits will increase.”

(This article appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer Magazine.)

 

Friday
Jan112013

Fed Joins Assault on Bass in Northwest

No evidence exists that big smallmouths like this have contributed to the decline of salmon in the Northwest. But anti-bass bias persists.

That haze you see above the White House is from the smoking gun of anti-angling bias.

Most alarmingly, this time the shot was fired at bass fishing.

That’s right. No longer are saltwater anglers the only ones under assault from an administration just beginning its second term. Now the danger has moved inland, and “plausible deniability” is going to be far less convincing with this latest assault.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is encouraging the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to remove size and bag limits for bass in the Columbia and Snake Rivers and their tributaries. Additionally, it says that an alternate proposal to remove daily limits but limit harvest to three fish over 15 inches “would imply a desire by WDFW to maintain a healthy population of large, non-native predators.”

And, no, we must not have that. Never mind that the Columbia River arguably is one of the top two or three smallmouth bass fisheries in the United States.

And never mind that 25 to 30 percent of anglers in the Northwest now fish for non-native warmwater species, including walleye and channel catfish, as well as bass.

“What we’ve seen the last 20 to 30 years is a noticeable shift in anglers who prefer warmwater fish,” says Jeff Dillon of Idaho Fish and Game. “It was 10 percent.  Now, on a statewide basis, it’s more than 20 percent and, in some regions (southwestern) it’s closer to a third.”

And never mind that anglers who fish for bass recreationally and competitively support Northwest economies by spending millions of dollars annually on tackle, boats, tow vehicles, and travel.

No, no, we must eliminate these non-native fish, even though they have been established in the rivers for decades and even though no evidence exists that they harm native salmon and trout populations through predation. NMFS Regional Administrator William Stelle Jr. says as much in his letter:

“While it is difficult to quantify the magnitude of predation by these species on salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act, predation by these species was noted as an increasing threat in NMFS’ recent 5-year ESA status reviews.”

 He also admits that the outcome from waging war on popular warmwater species is questionable:

“The extent to which a regulation change will affect the harvest of these species and thereby reduce predation rates on at-risk salmon and steelhead population is uncertain . . .”

But, hey, let’s do it anyway, even though stomach surveys of bass show that salmon smolts “don’t even make the top 10” among prey species, according to Mark Byrne, conservation director for the Washington B.A.S.S. Nation.

In truth, dams, development, and agriculture have caused the decline of coldwater fisheries by destroying habitat, degrading water quality, altering flows, and blocking migrations. But bass and bass anglers are high profile and easy targets.

No, no bias here.

Just as there is not in the National Ocean Policy, which would “zone” uses of our oceans and Great Lakes, telling us where we can and can’t fish. Just as there is not in heavy-handed enforcement of the Magnuson-Stevens Marine Fishery and Conservation Act, which has devastated coastal fishing communities. Just as there is not in Catch Shares, a scheme to privatize a public resource and, inevitably, limit access.

In truth, none of these are directly anti-fishing. Neither is the NMFS letter. But what all of them reveal is a disregard for the popularity and importance of recreational fishing and a willingness for sportfishing to be collateral damage in the imposition of a preservationist ideology.

President Obama, meanwhile, told Keep America Fishing:

“My administration is committed to maintaining fishing opportunities for America’s fishermen.”

But that does not seem to be the case for the National Park Service, which has limited angler access at Cape Hatteras National Seashore and now is attempting to do the same at Florida’s Biscayne National Park.

And it certainly does not seem to be the case for the National Marine Fisheries Service, which would like to obliterate one of the nation’s best bass fisheries.

Someone probably should tell the President that.

(A variation of this opinion piece appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)