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Entries in delayed mortality (4)


Reef Fish Mortality Reduced by Angler Education, Conservation Measures

A cooperative effort among the recreational fishing industry, anglers and state and federal agencies has resulted in reduced mortality for thousands of red snapper and other reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic.

Throughout 2015-2017, the FishSmart Best Practices and Descender Education project, coordinated through the FishAmerica Foundation, engaged more than 1,100 anglers in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic regions to improve the survival of angler caught-and-released fish. Participants in the project were provided with information on best practices for handling and releasing fish and with SeaQualizer descending devices. They were then asked to evaluate their experience.

Through the FishSmart Best Practices and Descender Education project, anglers collectively reported releasing 16,000 – 28,000 red snapper and 13,000 - 22,000 other fish by applying best practices techniques and using the SeaQualizer when needed. Based on the most recent research on the benefits of descending fish under conditions typically encountered in the Gulf of Mexico, an estimated 3,000 - 9,000 red snapper survived during this project period through the use of the SeaQualizer alone, plus an unknown number of fish that survived as a result of improved handling techniques.

“Through the FishSmart project, the recreational fishing industry is leading the way to improve the survival of caught-and-released fish and help ensure the future of our sport” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA). “The FishSmart Best Practices and Descender Education project represents the continued growth and evolution of this program, which reflects anglers’ and the industry’s longstanding and continued commitment to fisheries conservation.”

One of the key findings of the four regional workshops was that returning saltwater fish caught in deep water to the depth at which they were caught – or as close as possible – can significantly improve their chances of survival. In the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic, many reef fish such as red snapper are being released due to increasingly shorter seasons and higher rates of encounter. Without proper handling techniques, such as use of descending devices, a significant percentage of released fish die, to the detriment of fisheries conservation and future fishing opportunities.

However, since release mortality in recreational fisheries is the culmination of millions of individual encounters between anglers and fish, true conservation benefits will be achieved by empowering individual anglers with information, training and tools to improve the survival of each individual fish that they return to the water.

“Some of the key findings of the project involved the changes that anglers voluntarily made in the way that they released fish,” remarked Mike Leonard, ASA’s Conservation director. “The vast majority of project participants found that information provided on how to properly handle fish improved the way that they release fish.”

Leonard added, “Nearly 75 percent had little or no knowledge of descender devices prior to participating in this project and indicated that are now likely to use a descender device to release most or all fish when needed. This reinforces the well-known fact that anglers are true conservationists at heart: provide them with the tools and techniques to do the right thing and they readily embrace it.”

Additional information about the results of the project are included in this information sheet.

This FishSmart Best Practices and Descender Education project was the result of numerous partnerships. Major funding support was provided through the American Sportfishing Association, the Brunswick Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NOAA Fisheries, SeaQualizer, LLC, and Grizzly Smokeless Tobacco.  Educational materials and descending devices were distributed through the assistance of partners including Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association. International Game Fish Association, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Georgia Coastal Resources Division, Florida Sea Grant, South Carolina DNR, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Alabama Department of Conservation, and Texas A&M/Harte Research Institute.


Myths About Bass Exposed

For some bass anglers, their favorite soft drink isn't the one that they prefer to drink. It's the one that they pour on fish.

While professional athletes, especially baseball players, are noted for their superstitions, fishermen, especially those who fish for bass, "take the case" when it comes to myths. The problem isn't that they are ignorant. The problem is that they know so many things that simply aren't so, including the belief that pouring a soft drink on a fish's gills to stop the bleeding is a good idea.

This is not to suggest that it  doesn't work. Plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests that it does. And Dr. Bruce Tufts, a fisheries expert at Queen's University in Ontario, said this:

"I've discussed this with my physiology colleagues and we're pretty confident we can explain it. The carbonation (carbon dioxide) in pop causes the gills to vasoconstrict and stop bleeding. It's a pretty cool scientific explanation."

But while it might stop the bleeding, it also feeds into possibly the greatest myth among bass anglers: Any bass released alive is healthy and will survive.

"Too many bass fishermen don't understand delayed mortality," said Gene Gilliland, National Conservation Director for B.A.S.S. and a fisheries biologist who has seen the soft drink solution employed. "They think that you can just add water and forget about it."

But resource managers, marina owners, and those who live near tournament sites know otherwise. They've seen the bodies of bass that looked healthy when released, but later died because of stress, infection, or injury.

Similarly, Coke or Mountain Dew might stop the bleeding, providing a visible and immediate fix, but what does it do to the delicate gill structure long term?

 Such tricks are well intended, "but so misguided," said Judy Tipton, an ardent angler, conservationist, and inventor of the V-T2 livewell ventilation system. Just putting the fish into water, she added, also slows down the bleeding, without possible delayed side effects.

"Until it (soda) is tested for delayed mortality, we don't know the effects," Gilliland said. "Whether it's good or bad is an unknown.

"What we do know is that the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) has approved only ice, salt, and oxygen (for fish care). So we don't recommend anything else."

Myths abound related to the spawn too, including the notion that bass spawn only during a full moon. Perhaps it's the romantic in us that perpetuates this one, but hatcheries have proven it verifiably false. Day length and water temperature are the determining factors, especially the latter.

"Hatchery managers who make a living spawning bass report bass spawning on all moon phases," said Dr. Hal Schramm, a long-time fisheries researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey. "Peak spawning occurs when water temperature is 64 to 68 degrees."

Also, Schramm added, female bass do not help guard the eggs, as many anglers believe. Rather, they often are "loose women" who move on to spawn in multiple nests.

"You will find a female bass at a nest before she spawns," he said. "Every biological study of bass spawning has found that the male guards the eggs and the female spawns and leaves."

Plenty of weather-related myths are out there too. But the one that gets the greatest "rise" out of anglers is related to barometric pressure. They believe that high pressure turns off the bite.

In truth, bass probably barely notice the pressure difference, if at all.

"Water doesn't compress like air," said Gilliland. "If you are underwater, the difference is almost immeasurable. All a bass has to do is adjust the air in its bladder and move up or down a few inches. Barometric pressure probably doesn't affect a bass directly." 

Instead conditions related to the pressure change, such as clouds, wind, rain, and rising water, affect the fish's feeding pattern. "Pressure affects the environment and the food chain, not the bass," Gilliland said.

Finally, if an angler elects to keep 10- or 12-pound bass, "the trophy of a lifetime," catch-and-release zealots should just calm down and go fishing. Removing that double-digit bass from the fishery doesn't trigger its collapse.

"When a bass gets to be that size, it's probably not going to live that much longer," Gilliland said. "It's had plenty of time to spawn."

Plus, as female bass age, their reproductive capacity declines. The most fertile and productive bass are typically 5 to 7 pounds.

But whether you've caught a 5-pounder or a 10-pounder, if it is bleeding from the gills, you might want to consider keeping it. Or, if you choose to release it, follow the lead of doctors who practice the Hippocratic Oath and "do no harm." Save the Coke for yourself.

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


Is Stockpiling a Problem for Bass Fisheries? It Depends . . . 

Live-release boats prevent stockpiling of bass in the weigh-in areas.

Prompted by B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott,  anglers of the 1970s began to release their fish instead of kill them. During those early years, only the big picture was in focus, and it revealed bass fishermen to be stewards who cared about conserving the resource.

Then we began to closer examine our actions and their consequences, and we realized that not all of those released bass survived, including many caught in tournaments. We recognized that improper handling led to delayed mortality. We worked to increase survival rates by devising and promoting better ways to handle bass from lake to livewell to weigh-in stand and finally to release. In 2002,  B.A.S.S. compiled a "Keeping Bass Alive" handbook for anglers and tournament organizers.

We're not there yet, and likely never will be in terms of keeping all bass alive after they are released, but we've dramatically lowered delayed mortality rates through innovation and education.

And as we've responded to that challenge, we've noted yet another, this one specifically related to tournament fishing: Stockpiling.

Traditionally, the term referred to what the United States and USSR did with nuclear weapons during the Cold War or what survivalists continue to do with food, firearms, and precious metals. But during the past two decades or so, fisheries managers have recognized it as a phenomenon that occurs when all the bass are released near the weigh-in site following a tournament or two or three . . .

What's the problem with stockpiling? At a meeting last fall with Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) biologists, concerned anglers suggested that when bass are collectively released at a weigh-in site they become more susceptible to meat fishermen who catch and kill, as well as easier targets for future tournament anglers, resulting in increased  chances of stress, injury, and delayed mortality.

MDNR agreed that stockpiling can damage the overall health of a fishery, and Tony Prochaska, Inland Fisheries division manager, added that the issue likely is a national one. As evidence, he pointed out that 6 of 10 northeastern states that responded to questions about this issue said it is a concern.

Telemetry work conducted in the North East and Potomac rivers decades ago revealed that some fish will leave the release area, but about half may remain for a month or more. Out in California, a study conducted during the 1990s on Lake Shasta showed that largemouth bass moved less than three miles from where they were released. 

MDNR's tidal bass manager, Joe Love, says that the issue comes down to two questions:

1) Are too many fish being taken from one area, such as isolated streams and then released at a distant weigh-in site?

2) Are too many fish being released at a weigh-in area?

"We've found that the answer to both of these questions is that it depends on the weigh-in area," he said. "Specifically, it depends on the number of shore anglers fishing the weigh-in area, water quality in the area, and the distance of the weigh-in area from streams where the fish were taken."

Additional variables include the numbers and sizes of the fish weighed and the sizes and timing of the tournaments

Anglers and fisheries managers alike agree that there's an acceptable  loss or mortality of fish, Love added.  Otherwise there wouldn't be limits. But how much does stockpiling add to that loss, especially at popular sites where multiple weigh-ins are staged each season?

"Pinpointing the relative impact of a single factor is nearly impossible, making successful mitigation of that single factor improbable," the biologist said. "In combination with other factors affecting a fishery, though, stockpiling may affect a fishery if it increases the number of fish caught and released at the weigh-in site and the number of fish caught and eaten at the weigh-in site, both of which increases fishing mortality and reduces the proportion of big fish in a population."

Unlike habitat loss and other factors affecting the quality of a bass fishery, stockpiling likely can be managed. MDNR hopes to do that by having tournament directors specify what management practices they intend to use, such as spreading around weigh-in areas during a tournament trail and/or reducing possession limits.

"We also are working with some tournament organizations such as B.A.S.S. and PVA (Paralyzed Veterans of America) to redistribute fish when they request assistance because of otherwise significant, undue harm to bass survival," Love said.

Because of so many variables, stockpiling is a more complex problem than delayed mortality, but fisheries managers and concerned anglers are working on it to better protect and enhance the nation's bass fisheries.


Oxygen Injection System Will Help Fish Survive

With hot weather already here in many places and fast approaching in others, you should be educated and prepared in terms of caring for fish in your livewell, especially if you are a tournament angler.

Recent research by Texas Parks & Wildlife showed that most mortality of tournament-caught bass occurs one to three days after they are released. In other words, “delayed mortality.” The fish look fine swimming away, but later die.

 “Delayed mortality ranged from 18.2 percent to 43.1 percent of the fish in tournaments held when the water temperature exceeded 79 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Randy Myers, a fisheries biologist and tournament angler.

 “Adding mortality of fish weighed in dead can result in total mortality of 50 percent. Use of appropriate livewell management and fish-care procedures will increase the likelihood of long-term survival of fish caught in tournaments and then released.

 “Dissolved oxygen is the single most important factor for keeping bass alive,” he continued. “It is very difficult to supply enough oxygen to keep tournament limits of 30 pounds or more alive. Such limits are common at Falcon, Amistad and other Texas reservoirs.”

Consequently, Myers and others have developed an oxygen injection system that keeps oxygen concentration in a livewell about twice as high as that provided by standard recirculation.

Learn more at Keeping Bass Alive in Hot Weather and Oxygenation of Livewells to Improve Survival of Tournament-Caught Bass. Both include a link to a PowerPoint presentation on how to install the system.