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Entries in conservation (131)

Wednesday
Jan152014

Anglers Divided Over Diversion to Restore Mississippi Delta

Vanishing Paradise staffer Ben Weber

The campaign to protect and restore the wetlands and marshes of the Mississippi Delta has been fractured. Sadly, anglers now are pitted against anglers regarding the strategy for coastal Louisiana, with the future of fish and waterfowl, as well as their habitat, in the balance.

“It breaks my heart to see this fragmenting,” says Ben Weber, a Louisiana native and staffer for Vanishing Paradise, a coalition endorsing a comprehensive plan for rehabilitation of the Mississippi Delta. “Opposition is not based on science, and bass fishing is taking a hit.”

“This is the greatest environmental disaster in our country and no one knows about it,” adds Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures. “We have to get bass fishermen involved in the fight.”

In short, manmade alterations in the river’s natural flow during the past 70-plus years, mostly for flood control, have allowed saltwater intrusion. That has killed vegetation and prompted erosion and loss of about 1,900 square miles of wetlands.

As this habitat for bass and waterfowl has been destroyed, a multitude of saltwater species, including redfish, flounder, speckled trout, shrimp, and crab, have enjoyed an expanded range. Not surprisingly, some commercial fishermen, charter captains, and local communities  want to maintain the status quo.

Their Save Louisiana Coalition supports restoration, but opposes freshwater diversion, one of the most effective tools for doing so. That’s because this sediment-carrying water, which will rebuild marshes, also will move saltwater species back toward the Gulf.

As an angler, it’s easy to understand their point of view: They don’t want to surrender any of their fishing grounds, including those created by man’s interference with a natural system.

But they also are short-sighted. Freshwater diversion is vital to the continued health of both the fresh and saltwater fisheries in the Delta. If saltwater continues to encroach, nearly all nursery habitat will be lost and redfish and trout will decline, right along with bass and catfish.

“The problem in Louisiana is we’re addicted to salt because that salt brings tremendous benefits in fisheries,” offers Robert Twilley, a coastal scientist at Louisiana State University.

But every year, he cautions, that artificial fishery moves closer to the river than nature ever intended.

“In 15 years, I’ve seen 80 percent of the marsh near our camp (Leesville) vanish,” says Weber. “There are cemeteries in bayou communities with just one or two headstones left (above water). We fish in the cemeteries for trout.”

Along the Mississippi at Buras, a stark contrast highlights the importance of using freshwater diversions, adds Lambert. On the west side, which receives little to no freshwater, only open water and dead marsh grass remains. On the east side, where freshwater flows, the wetlands are alive and thriving.

In that area, the Louisiana angler notes, “bass fishermen and redfish fishermen go to the same place to catch fish. From Buras down to the mouth of the Mississippi is the best fishing in North America.

“You can’t just pump in sediment,” he says. “You have to have freshwater too (for sustained fisheries).”

He also points out that the Davis Pond Diversion, where Kevin VanDam won the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, is no longer a viable fishery because flow has been reduced. “Saltwater has come in and killed the grass,” he says. “There are no bass, no brim, no crappie, no catfish, and no duck habitat. And it’s all because they want to grow oysters there.”

Freshwater diversion is but one of several tactics that will be used to revitalize the Delta. Others will include vegetation planting, dredging and placement of sediment, and protecting shorelines and barrier islands.

But reconnecting the river to the Delta is of paramount importance.

Only by restoring the natural process as much as possible can we achieve a solution that will benefit both freshwater and saltwater species.

 “Sportsmen and women have always had an eye towards long-term conservation,” says Steve Bender, Vanishing Paradise director. “That is what this is all about ---  the long term. To do it any other way is shortsighted and will not ensure that future generations will have the hunting and fishing opportunities we have all come to enjoy.”

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

 

Monday
Dec302013

'12 Worst Invasive Fish on Earth'

Smallmouth bass. Photos from Environmental Graffiti.

Have you ever seen a largemouth bass eat an alligator? Neither have I.

I’m not saying it hasn’t--- or couldn’t--- happen. Predatory fish are opportunistic feeders and will eat any critter that they can catch and swallow.

Or did you know that largemouth bass “eat day and night.”

I didn’t know that either, and I know plenty of anglers who would disagree with that assessment.

I stumbled upon these two portrayals of largemouth behavior on a list of “12 Worst Invasive Fish on Earth” at Environmental Graffiti.”

In general, I agree with the list, including the inclusion of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Because they are popular game fish, and because they are so cooperative and adaptable, they have been spread well beyond their original ranges. And they will eat smaller native species.

Common carp

In our own Northwest, however, they are inaccurately blamed for the demise of salmon populations, which have declined because of altered habitat and degraded water quality. While dams have provided perfect reservoir habitat for bass, they have been devastating to cold-water fisheries.

My belief is that the author of this list is either from the Canada or the United Kingdom. His descriptions certainly suggest to me that he’s not an angler and he has no personal experience with either bass species. Here is what he says about smallmouths:

“Even small mammals and snakes aren’t safe! Once this bass has its prey, there’s little chance of escape, as its mouth is lined with tiny gripping teeth that work like Velcro.”

My biggest criticism: Why aren’t Asian (bighead and silver) carp included?

Thursday
Dec192013

Why We Fish on the Radio

 

Please check out the radio shows and podcasts listed at the right and below. I was interviewed about my new book, Why We Fish. Hosts and I also talked about how and where to catch fish, B.A.S.S., and conservation and access issues.

And if you want to order a copy of Why We Fish as a Christmas present for your favorite angler, you'd better do it soon!

The Outdoor Guys at ESPN Radio in Kansas City.

The Outdoor Scoreboard Podcast.

Fish Bait Radio Show.

 

Thursday
Dec192013

Brown Trout Can Interfere With Brook Trout Conservation

Photo of brook trout by Mark Sagan

No big news here: Brook trout populations throughout the East long have been damaged by stocking of non-native rainbow and brown trout. Brook trout have more specific habitat needs and they are less aggressive, both negatives in a world where species are moved about and ecosystems altered. And they are not trout, but char, related to Lake trout, bull trout, Dolly Varden, and Arctic char.

But this study by USGS does provide interesting insights into the brook trout/brown trout dilemma in New York.

Brown trout introductions could hamper the conservation of declining native brook trout populations, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study.

Brook and brown trout are valuable sport fish that co-exist in many parts of the world due to stocking introductions. USGS researchers found that, in New York State, direct interactions between the two species, such as competition for food, have minor effects on diminishing brook trout populations compared to human-caused habitat disturbances. However, repeated, disproportionate stocking of brown trout in brook trout habitats could drastically decrease brook trout numbers.

"There is great potential for brown trout stocking to reduce native brook trout populations," said James McKenna, USGS scientist and lead author of the study. "But brown trout aren’t necessarily causing the current brook trout declines, and managers may be able to develop sustainable scenarios to support both fisheries."

The USGS study found that human-induced degradation (from dams and roads, among other causes) of the habitats of both species can affect the populations of either. However, because brook trout do better in forested watersheds, whereas brown trout can thrive in more agricultural environments, degraded watersheds and/or the elimination of forests may affect brook more than brown trout. Improper brown trout management could further threaten vulnerable brook trout populations.

Fisheries managers in New York use stocking to maintain brook trout—a native species—and/or brown trout—a non-native species stocked in New York for over 100 years—in some streams. Brook trout have been declining within its native range in recent decades, and there has been concern that the stocking of brown trout has caused these declines.

The report is published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management and is available online.

For more information on USGS Great Lakes ecosystem research, please visit the USGS Great Lakes Science Center website.

Tuesday
Dec102013

Catch-And-Release Latest Target for Anti-Fishing Movement

Here is something that you didn’t know: You are a hypocrite if you practice catch-and-release.

That’s right. If you care enough to turn a fish loose after you catch it, then you should be smart enough to realize that you shouldn’t catch it in the first place.

Don’t laugh. That’s the latest strategy by animal rights activists in this country to kill recreational fishing. Twice now it’s been used in comments at my Activist Angler website. The latest was in response to a post of mine that ridiculed PETA for distorting facts to support its anti-fishing ideology.

I was accused of being so steeped in a “pro-fishing, pro-industry dogma” that I have lost perspective. “Attempting to demonize people who are concerned about the ethics of sport fishing is a clear act of bigotry,” said commenter Rob Russell.

“Any thoughtful angler will reach a point where he or she desires to lessen their impacts on fish. When you engage in premeditated C&R, when your only goal is ‘sport’ (gratification), how do you rationalize putting a fish’s life at risk?

“If you are not concerned about this, then you have some thinking to do.”

Well, Rob, I have been thinking about it, and I am concerned. And if you fish, you should be concerned too. As irrational as this ploy seems, it already has worked in Europe.                        

The Swiss Animal Welfare Act of 2008 makes catch-and-release illegal because “it is in conflict with the dignity of the fish and its presumed ability to suffer and feel pain.” A similar rule has been in place since the 1980s in Germany, where anglers also must take a course in fish handling before they can obtain a license.

“The argument runs (in Germany) that it is legally acceptable to go fishing only if one has the intention to catch fish for food,” say the authors of a disturbing study, “A Primer on Anti-Angling Philosophy and Its Relevance for Recreational Fisheries in Urbanized Societies.”

In other words, you can have fun catching fish in Germany, but don’t tell anyone--- and you must keep the fish. Tournament fishing is not allowed and economic benefits are not a sufficient justification for fishing.

 “It all boils down to the individual benefits experienced by the angler, and here food provision is currently the only acceptable reason,” the authors add.

Think that can’t happen here, a country of nearly 40 million licensed anglers? Think again, and don’t be misled by the fact that 9 out of 10 Americans approve of legal fishing and support using fish for food.

The authors of that study discovered that when people are asked whether they approve of recreational fishing for sport, answers change dramatically. Twenty-five to 30 percent view angling for sport as cruel in more urbanized states such as Colorado and Arizona, while about 20 percent feel the same way in more rural states, including Alaska and the Dakotas.

And then there are the useful idiots. They fish but are so narrow-minded that they support anti-fishing activists in this campaign.

The second commenter at my website said this: “Sport fishing for catch-and-release should be outlawed! We are working to keep fish for real fishermen who enjoy the taste and food. We need to keep these so called ‘sport fishermen’ out of Minnesota lakes!”

How do we combat this strategy? We don’t engage in the false argument that catch-and-release is just one step on the road to enlightenment and that, if we really care, we must stop fishing for sport. That’s like trying to answer the question “Do you still beat your wife?” and not sound guilty. An attempt to answer either instantly puts the responder on the defensive.

The reality is that catch-and-release is a conservation practice, not an action prompted by concern for the welfare of an individual fish. Since B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott popularized the practice during tournaments in the 1970s, it has been embraced by anglers worldwide as a way to sustain fisheries. And it’s working. For example, Florida anglers keep less than 10 percent of the bass that they catch, with the vast majority released so that they can continue to reproduce, as well as be caught again.

And let’s not forget the value that we derive from catching and releasing those fish.  Yes, fish as food nourishes the body, but fishing for fun nourishes the spirit. During this chaotic and angry time in our nation’s history, nothing is more important.  

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