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Entries in conservation (172)


Kids First Cast Helps Grow Fishing and Enrich Lives; You Should Too

"At a young age, I was fortunate to have grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts and friends who have shared their passion of fishing with me.  Through the years, this passion for fishing would sustain me through the good and the bad times. It became my “lifeline."  This lifeline brought me experiences that helped give me knowledge, happiness, physical and mental health. But best of all, it allowed me to always learn more about myself."

When I read those words by Diane Aspiazu, president of Kids First Cast, Inc., I knew that we were kindred spirits. Of course, we are not alone. Many of us who fish know this, and that intangible value is what prompted me to write Why We Fish.

But not everyone is doing what Diane and other volunteers up in Idaho are doing to "pass it on," and that is why I encourage you to learn more about this great organization, contribute to it, and think about starting a similar organization in your area.

Recreational fishing is under siege as never before and, if we are to turn the tide we much show those who don't fish--- especially children---- how it can enrich their lives in ways that they can't even imagine until they give it a try and get hooked.

Here's what Kids First Cast, Inc. is doing in 2016:

  • Assisting Idaho Fish and Game with the “Take Me Fishing” trailer schedule by doing 26 fishing outings from April through June.
  • Annual field trip with Sawtooth Middle School to teach 350 kids about the basics of casting and tying fishing knots.
  • Week of the Young Child, teaching 300 kids about casting.
  • Annual VFW Fishing Derby, helping disabled veterans fish for a day.
  • Annual Babe Ruth Jamboree, host casting pools for baseball teams.
  • Annual Scales of Justice Tournament for troubled youth.                                               
  • Annual Conservation Day Clinic.
  • Canyon Military Kids Fishing Derby.
  • VFW Kids Fishing Derby.
  • Wish to Fish Christmas Program. providing Christmas with a “fishing flair” for kids economically challenged.
  • Annual Canyon County Night Light Parade.

Here is the organization's mission statement

Build and sustain healthy communities by providing education, conservation, and outdoor recreation in a safe and inviting environment for kids and their families while enjoying the sport of fishing.


Maryland Modifies New Regulations to Accommodate Potomac Tournaments

Responding to strong opposition from tournament anglers and organizations, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) quickly altered its new creel regulation for events on the Potomac River and Upper Chesapeake Bay, avoiding potentially catastrophic consequences for local economies.

But fishermen still are shaking their heads. They wonder about the wisdom of the agency's decision, even with a modification that is acceptable to  tournament organizations, including B.A.S.S. for its Elite Series event in August out of Charles County.

"It (original rule) caught us off guard. We were blind-sided," said Scott Sewell, conservation director for the Maryland B.A.S.S. Nation. "I started getting all kinds of calls from people wondering what was going on.

"Since I'm the conservation director, they thought that I was involved in the decision. I wasn't."

Long-time Potomac River guide Steve Chaconas added, "I don't feel the regulations are really needed. This action is blaming tournament anglers for a perceived issue."

For MDNR, the issue was more than three years of poor catch rates, it announced on March 15. Consequently, it intended to limit competitors fishing Maryland-based tournaments to a 5-fish bag with a 12-inch minimum, only one of which could be more than 15 inches, between June 16 and Oct. 31. "Heavy bass tend to die more than smaller bass in tournaments," the agency explained.

Backlash from B.A.S.S. and other organizers of major events was immediate.  "Although we understand Maryland DNR's desire to address a decline in the bass fisheries of the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay, obviously we could not conduct an Elite Series event on waters where anglers cannot weigh in their biggest catches," said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin.

"That would not be fair to the anglers, the fans, the hosts, or the sportfishing community." 

Following talks with Sewell  and others, MDNR, to its credit, quickly added an "Option 2" to the regulation. It does not restrict a competitor to one fish of more than 15 inches.

"The Department appreciates the input and has made modifications to the original possession restriction," the agency said.

"Option 2 requires directors to adhere to special conditions that minimize fish stress, thereby reducing fishing mortality. These special conditions have been modeled after those used in Florida bass fisheries."

Conditions include requiring directors to recover exhausted bass following a tournament and redistribute them to approved locations, as well as other actions to improve survival of large bass.

B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland said,  "I believe MDNR had the interest of the fishery at heart but took a few missteps when they tried to implement protective measures.

"They should have involved the tournament organizations more, early in the process, since they were the target audience and I think they might have avoided some of the conflict that we saw. 

"But they listened and adapted and came up with some options that will allow tournaments to continue under a special set of fish care protocols.  That's good for the resource and good for tournaments."

What mystifies Sewell, though, is why MDNR seemed to act unilaterally on this. "We have an outstanding relationship with them," he said. "I was really taken aback when they didn't consult us. I could have told them that they would be lighting a firestorm with this."

Additionally, the conservation director said little mention was made of a possible regulation change at the annual Black Bass Roundtable in February. "We talked about an aggressive stocking program, areas for catch-and-release only, and educating anglers on how to better care for their catch," he said.

Also at the roundtable, Chaconas added, "Keep in mind this action is not the way Maryland has been managing this fishery. They have previously managed by committee. That is, they send out surveys and take a lot of feedback before acting. In this case, the regulation was barely discussed with no outcome."

Both Sewell and Chaconas, meanwhile, pointed out that other factors  are having a more profound impact on the bass fishery than tournaments, with pollution and changes in submerged aquatic grasses among the foremost. They also believe that the bass fishery is healthier than MDNR has determined from its electrofishing surveys.

"The loss of milfoil and the increase in hydrilla are affecting surveys and the fishing," the guide said. "Anecdotally, the last two years have been my best. I have modified my tactics, which include avoiding grass and targeting hard cover and channel edges. This is successful for me until the hydrilla covers everything. I also target hard hydrilla edges at low tides, or deeper edges at any tide, or areas with scattered grass in front of hydrilla edges."

But even though rationale for and implementation of the regulation are questionable, Gilliland said that Option 2 could be helpful.

"We at B.A.S.S. have preached better fish care for years, but unfortunately there are still a lot of anglers and clubs that don't believe there is a need to follow our proven procedures because they don't believe delayed mortality exists, or they just don't care, which is even more sad," he said.

"Given the relatively low level of adoption of best management practices, these new rules will force the issue. Do it right or don't get the exemption from the new length limit."

While impact from tournaments on bass populations may be minimal, he added, "the negative social aspects of tournaments and fish kills that result are things that agencies have to deal with."

With non-tournament anglers often looking for ways to shut down competitions, MDNR's actions actually could benefit tournaments in the long-term, the national conservation director said. They force better fish-care practices and, thus, reduce chances that bad things will happen, as well as opportunities for critics to find fault.

"I think, over time, organizations will adopt and adapt and realize that a little pain was worth the gain," Gilliland said.


I Am a Steward

I  love to fish. I live to fish. And I want to ensure future generations have many opportunities to spend quality time on the water. That’s why I’m a steward.

Here’s how I live my life: ƒƒ

  • I recycle everything I possibly can recycle—newspaper, junk mail, plastic, glass, and cardboard.
  • I accumulate one small bag (Walmart size) of trash about every month or so. ƒƒ
  • I compost. Fruit and vegetable wastes go onto my land to enrich the soil. ƒ
  • I don’t use fertilizer or pesticides on my lawn. In fact, “lawn” might not be the proper word for my yard. A portion of it gets mowed every couple of weeks, but the rest remains natural. ƒƒ
  • Along my lakeshore, I maintain a buffer zone to prevent erosion. ƒƒ
  • When branches occasionally break off the big oak trees on my property, I place them on brush piles I have scattered around as refuges for birds and small animals. If they fall into the water, I leave them there as habitat for fish and turtles.ƒƒ
  • I conserve energy by turning off lights, closing doors, etc. ƒƒ
  • I fix dripping faucets promptly, and I don’t leave the water running as I brush my teeth.
  • I drive a car that gets 36 miles per gallon. ƒƒ
  • I pick up other people’s trash. ƒƒ
  • I report polluters. ƒƒ
  • I am a member of Recycled Fish, a conservation organization devoted to living a life of stewardship because we all live downstream.

From Why We Fish: Reel Wisdom From Real Fishermen.


Not All Hunters, Anglers Are Conservationists. Are You?

As anglers and hunters, we like to pat ourselves on our collective back about what great conservationists we are. We do that  because state fish and wildlife management is funded primarily by license fees and the excise taxes that we pay on the fishing and hunting equipment we buy. Those hundreds of millions of dollars annually benefit all species, not just those we like to catch and hunt.

But contributing to conservation is not the same as being a conservationist.

That realization came to me recently when I saw a post from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) on its Facebook page, thanking those whose comments "led to a vote to oppose the release of wolves in Colorado."

I also saw other comments that leave no doubt that many hunters want the elk for themselves.  Here's just one: "I hate wolves and I hate the people who love them, too."

Additionally, I saw  the above poster, explaining "why hunting is conservation."

No it's not. Hunters and anglers contribute to conservation. And, yes, some of them are conservationists, including me. I write about my conservation lifestyle in "I Am a Steward," an essay in Why We Fish.

Also, elk, bison, whitetail, and turkey all are thriving once again because of financial contributions made by hunters, through license fees, excise taxes, and great organizations like RMEF and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

But many hunters are not conservationists. They are hunters. Period. And, like selfish children, they don't want to share.

That's what prompted me to leave this comment on the RMEF Facebook page:

"RMEF has done great things to bring back the elk, and I am grateful for that. But I do wonder how large the elk population was long before 1907, before greedy commercial hunters nearly wiped them out, along with bison and wolves.

"And I am troubled by the anti-wolf rhetoric here. Those who want the elk back but not the wolves are not conservationists. Rather, they are not a whole lot different than those commercial hunters who didn't want to share either. They wanted all the elk for themselves.

"Wolves are just as much a part of the wilderness as elk and to deny them that place is not conservation. It's game management for the benefit of hunters, who, like other predator species, do not want competition.

"With proper management, we can have both species and a wilderness that once again is truly wild."

I don't want to leave anglers out of this sermon either.  Yes, many practice catch-and-release, and, most times, that's good conservation. But for some, it also leads to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality. In other words, the logic goes, "If the fish swims away, then I've done my part."

Never mind that far too many fish die of delayed mortality because of mistreatment prior to release.

And whether you hunt or fish, you should leave the places you frequent better than how you found them if you call yourself a conservationist. Pack out not just your own trash, but that left behind by others.

Respect the land and water, as well as all of the fish and animals that live there, recognizing that each is a integral part of the natural system. Asian carp, Burmese pythons, and other harmful exotic species are notable exceptions. Introduced into  systems with no natural limits on their numbers, they destroy the balance, just as commercial hunters did more than a century ago.


Fishing Helps Families Strengthen Bonds

What's more rewarding than spending a day on the water with your son or daughter? You share something you love with someone. You strengthen family ties as you help reinforce the foundation and future of recreational fishing.

But what if you're a kid whose mother or father doesn't fish?  Or what if you're that mother or father who just can't seem to connect with your child and don't know what to do about it?

As an angler, Shane Wilson appreciated the value of various state and organizational programs that introduce kids to fishing. As an educator dealing with good kids who made bad decisions, he recognized that something besides fishing was missing from their lives.

And with the creation of Fishing's Future in 2007, he seized an opportunity to not only increase participation in sport fishing but help better the lives of families.

"I founded Fishing's Future to save the family by creating an avenue for parents to engage their children via an educational angling experience," said the Texas man who traded his administrator's job for a first-grade classroom so that he would have more time to devote to his passion.

"If we do this well, and we do," he continued, "families will go fishing again together and that leads to increased sales of fishing licenses and fishing equipment, as well as an increase in health and wellness. And we will do a better job of saving the sport and caring for the environment."

How does Fishing's Future do it well? Mostly by conducting one-day Family Fish Camps via its 55 chapters in 15 states. The events are free and all equipment is provided, courtesy of sponsors. Following instruction, the families go fishing from shore, but the kids aren't competing for the first, biggest, or most fish. Focus is on the parents helping their children  and sharing the joy when they hoist ashore a wiggling bluegill or catfish.

The families also pick up trash as part of their instruction on conservation and stewardship. Last year, 103,000 kids and their parents collected 18,000 pounds. "Thirty families can pick up 300 to 500 pounds or more pretty easily," Wilson said. "It adds up quickly when you have events going on in multiple communities across several states."

At the end of the camp, Fishing's Future instructors encourage the kids to hug their parents and say that they love them. Because they have spent the day together having fun, the effect is profound. Sometimes, though, it's not the first embrace of the day.

"Your program today has caused me to re-evaluate my priorities," one parent wrote Wilson. "Being a single parent and working full time is hard and sometimes I just cannot relate to my 11-year-old son.

"When my son caught his first fish today, I saw something in his eyes that I have never seen before. He was so excited, he even hugged me in public."

Another offered, "I thought that all he (son) liked to do was skateboard and play on the computer . . . I am very deeply moved in my awakening and want to thank you again for a remarkable program."

These "remarkable programs," as well as other educational and family-related fishing events, are conducted by the master angler(s) in each chapter. Volunteers achieve that status by taking the angling instructor certification course offered by their states. In exchange for a fee that helps finance the national non-profit program, Fishing's Future provides additional information and guidance, as well as liability insurance and equipment.

Bass clubs, schools, and even municipal governments have formed chapters, but just two or three dedicated individuals can do so as well.

The ultimate goal, Wilson said, is to re-establish fishing as the No. 1 family-oriented outdoor sport in America. If you're someone who already takes your child fishing, you might be thinking "re-establish?"

But an outdoors website doesn't even include fishing with camping, hiking, walking, biking, canoeing, photography, and even "BBQing" as a popular family activity.

"Collaboration with other organizations and industry leaders, along with legislative changes, must occur, but teaching a family how to fish together independently is the first necessary step," Wilson said. "America will return to fishing and spending time outdoors together if their first experience is positive, educational, and memorable.

"Fishing's Future is fishing's future."

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