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Entries in exotic species (205)

Monday
May302016

You Think Asian Carp Are a Problem? Look at What the Feds Almost Put in Our Waters

If you think that we’ve made a mess of our lands and waters through intentional and unintentional import of exotic plants and animals, you are correct. For example, we now spend billions of dollars annually to control and mitigate the damage done by just four recently introduced species: bighead carp, silver carp, quagga mussel, and zebra mussel.

And in attempts to minimize problems, the government often has made them worse. During the 1940s, the state of Louisiana touted the South American nutria as a way to control water hyacinth, a fast-growing exotic that was crowding out native vegetation in wetlands. Today, the nutria is eating away those same wetlands, contributing to saltwater intrusion and coastal erosion.

In the early 1960s, the states of Alabama and Arkansas allowed import of grass carp to control aquatic vegetation in aquaculture ponds. By 1970, escapees had established populations in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Today, these troublesome grazers are established in at least nine states and have been sighted in more than 40. Ask just about any bass angler, and he will tell you that the grass carp is public enemy No. 1.

And speaking of carp, we have the federal government to thank for one of the worst management decisions ever in regard to our fisheries. In 1877, the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries began intensively cultivating and stocking common carp. In fairness, it was prompted to do so both by public pressure and by overharvest of native fish stocks. By the turn of the century, however, it already was regarded as a nuisance.

“Moreover, their rapid spread appeared to threaten both water quality and native species, as commissioners nationwide noted a deterioration of formerly clear and fertile lakes and waterways upon the arrival of carp,” says the National Park Service.

But you don’t know the half of it. Actually, things could be worse. Much worse. Instead of nutria eating away those Louisiana wetlands, we could have hippos. And who’s to say that these massive “water horses” which can weigh up to 4 tons and eat up to 100 pounds of vegetation a day, wouldn’t have spread east, west, and north?

They are “relatively tolerant of cold conditions,” says the Glen Oak Zoo, which also points out that “many individuals live to 40 years.”

Oh yeah, they also are generally believed to have killed more people in their native Africa than another animal, including lions and crocodiles.

All things considered, I’ll take the nutria, thank you. It tops out at about 12 pounds and is not as likely to charge me at the launch ramp.

But in 1910, Frederick Russell Burnham, a famed American scout and world adventurer, proposed replacing our nation’s depleted wildlife population --- we had hunted deer, turkey, and buffalo nearly to extinction --- with animals that he had encountered in southern Africa.

His proposal lined up nicely with the search for a solution to the growing problem of water hyacinths in Louisiana waters, as well as America’s need for more meat. Writing about this little known piece of American history, Jon Mooallem in American Hippopotamus, says that Rep. of Robert Foligny of New Iberia “liked to plug up problems with big solutions.”

Thus, Foligny introduced H.R. 23261, also known as the “Hippo Bill,” to “appropriate $250,000 for the importation of useful new animals into the United States.” The Washington Post assured readers that they would see shipments of hippos within a few years.

Fortunately for all us, a boatload of hippos never docked in New Orleans. But it wasn’t because of the unexpected discovery of good judgment in Congress. Rather, one representative said that the beasts should not be introduced because unscrupulous hunters would sneak onto the farms and hunt them for trophies.

Yeah, that’s the reason not to import aggressive animals that boast 20-inch teeth and can run at speeds of more than 20 miles per hour.

What turned the tide, though, was that the Department of Agriculture decided to transform swamps and other undeveloped areas into agricultural land to grow more beef cattle.

Thank goodness. Otherwise, we might we watching “Hippo Die-Nasty” instead of “Duck Dynasty” on television.

Thursday
May192016

Pensacola Tournament Takes a Bite out of Lionfish Population

,

Participants removed 8,089 lionfish  in only two days at the May 14-15 Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition Tournament out of Pensacola.

 More than 7,000 people (more than double last year’s numbers) attended the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival , where visitors got to taste lionfish, see filet demonstrations, check out art and conservation booths and much more.

And if that wasn’t enough, Charles Meyling of Montgomery broke the state record for longest lionfish caught in Gulf waters when he brought in a 445-millimeter lionfish (about 18 inches. Previous record was 438 millimeters.

At FWC-supported events statewide that weekend and leading up to that weekend, another 5,978 lionfish were removed for a total of 14,067 statewide. By contrast, 2,975 lionfish were removed in 2015.

“These numbers are a great example of the agency’s efforts to get the public educated about and involved in lionfish removal,” said Jessica McCawley, Division of Marine Fisheries Management director. “Events like this one will encourage continued involvement in proactively and successfully removing lionfish.”

On a more cautious note, this huge increase in harvest also could reflect that populations of this voracious predator are rapidly growing, posing even more of a threat to native species, including snapper, grouper, and other sports fish.

Thanks to the growing interest in lionfish as a food fish, many lionfish harvested around the state will be sold commercially in places like New Orleans, Atlanta, Destin, in Florida Whole Foods, and by Edible Invaders in Pensacola.

Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day (first Saturday after Mother’s Day) was created by FWC commissioners to raise awareness about lionfish – nonnative, invasive species that have a potential negative impact on native species and

If you want to participate in the 2016 Lionfish Challenge or the Panhandle Pilot Program, remove lionfish, and get rewarded, go here.

Lionfish and other exotic pets that can no longer be cared for should never be released into Florida waters or lands. To learn more about how and where to surrender an exotic pet for adoption go here.

Statewide Lionfish Event Removal Totals:

655 – FSDA Lionfish Calcutta – St. Petersburg

3,478 – Northeast Florida Lionfish Blast – Jacksonville

727 – Lion Tamer Tournament – Panama City Beach

25 – Reef Environmental Education Foundation – Key Largo

31 – Sebastian Lionfish Fest – Sebastian

1,062 – Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition Pre-Tournament - Pensacola

Sunday
Apr032016

Contest Begins in Florida to Catch, Report, and Remove Nonnative Fish

Go fishing to win prizes, as well as document and remove nonnative freshwater fish, such as the Mayan cichlid shown above, from Florida’s waters.

You can do that in the second statewide Nonnative Fish Catch, Click and Report Contest, coordinated by the Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and partners. The 2016 contest kicked off  on April 1 and runs until midnight on April 30.  

Participating is easy: Provide a photo, enter detailed catch location or GPS coordinates, and report nonnative freshwater fish catches  here. They also can be reported by downloading the IveGot1 app, by calling 888-IVE-GOT1 (888-483-4681), or by posting photos and catch data to your Instagram account.   

 “Florida is home to at least 34 species of reproducing exotic fish and new species continue to be found, which can impact native fish communities,” said FWC biologist Kelly Gestring. “By removing and reporting nonnative fish, anglers help manage populations of exotic species and help conserve our state’s precious natural resources.”

The contest is part of a continuing effort to raise awareness of nonnative fish species and encourage anglers to target nonnative fish for consumption by the FWC and partners, including the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Florida Invasive Species Partnership, University of Georgia and Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area. Partners plan to hold the event annually with the help of anglers acting as citizen scientists.

For more information about the contest, go here.

 More information on nonnative freshwater fish and other exotic species is here.

Thursday
Jan212016

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.

Thursday
Jan142016

Giant Salvinia Found at Texas' Lake Fork

A noxious invasive plant that has plagued Louisiana and Texas waters for more than a decade finally has found its way to Lake Fork, the Lone Star State's No.1 trophy bass lake. Possibly giant salvinia was brought in accidentally by boat or trailer from Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn, or Caddo.

"We do everything we can within the limits of manpower and budget that we have to work with," said Larry Hodge, spokesman for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). "The problem is that everybody who has a boat is a potential vector."

"We've found infestations like this on other reservoirs  in East Texas and have gone in and physically removed the plants, all that we can find," he added. "If you catch it early, sometimes you can get rid of it, at least temporarily."

On Nov. 18 in Chaney Branch, agency biologists confirmed the presence of this fast-growing, free-floating fern that can double its coverage in a week, as it blocks access and displaces native plants, which can't grow under its dense mats. 

"The infestation appears to be confined to this branch and a another small cove west of the dam and occupies an estimated 3.25 acres," TPWD said. "Judging by the distribution and age of the plants, it appears it has been in place for several months."

The Sabine River Authority (SRA) immediately close boat ramps at Chaney Point South and Secret Haven to reduce the risk of spreading the plant.   It also checked at bridge crossings and along shorelines for additional plants.

Additionally, SRA and TPWD crews have physically removed plants, as well as placed about 1,100 feet of floating boom across the creek, in hopes of containing the infestation within the 90-acre cove.

TPWD also plans to conduct a chemical treatment, using glyphosate. "All efforts will be made to protect beneficial plants, while focusing on killing the invasive giant salvinia," the agency said, adding that it will continue to look for the plant in other areas of the lake.

"We've had a lot of rain and high water this year and a lot of wind," said biologist Kevin Storey. " I suspect this will affect Lake Fork for years."