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Entries in fisheries management (111)

Tuesday
May242016

Wisconsin Law Encourages Volunteer Habitat Projects

A new law in Wisconsin is intended to encourage volunteers to place more permitted fish habitat projects in state waters. Its sponsors say it will do so by protecting those who do from the civil liability associated with damage or injury caused by placement of certain types of structures in navigable waters and wetlands.

"During this legislative session, my office was contacted by a number of property owners who were hesitant to pursue a DNR (Department of Natural Resources) permit for placing a fish crib or other coarse woody habitat due to liability," said state Rep. Rob Swearingen.

"After working closely with officials at the DNR, I am confident that Senate Bill 315 will protect Wisconsin property owners and promote fish and wildlife habitat."

Carrying the lengthy title of "An Exemption From Civil Liability Related to the Placement of Certain Structures in Navigable Waters and Wetlands," the law provides immunity  if the structures were placed  for the creation, protection, or improvement of fish and wildlife habitat. Additionally, it affords protection for non-commercial net pens used to hold and rear fish for stocking into the body of water in which they are located.

DNR must have approved placement of the habitat or determined that

a permit or approval was not required. Also, the law specifies that those placing habitat are not required to inspect or maintain the structure or to give warning of the existence of the structure.

Thursday
May192016

Pensacola Tournament Takes a Bite out of Lionfish Population

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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

Tuesday
May172016

Kentucky Wants to Grow Its Own Trophy Bass

Responding to anglers' desires for more opportunity to catch big bass in state, Kentucky has initiated the Trophy Bass Propagation Program.

But while its neighbor to the south, Tennessee, seems to have found success by introducing Florida-strain bass into its lakes, Kentucky is not going that route. Over the years, fisheries biologists have learned that just a few miles north or south can make the difference between whether introduced Florida bass thrive or just barely survive.

"If we had the same kind of year-round temperatures as Florida, then we'd we would be stocking Florida-strain bass," said Ron Brooks, fisheries chief for the Kentucky Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Resources (DWF).

Instead, DWF intends to use offspring of trophy native bass donated by anglers who catch them, with 8pounds the minimum for females and  6 pounds for males.

"I wanted to figure out how we could do a better job of propagating larger bass in Kentucky," Brooks added. "So this kind of program just makes sense. People have been breeding animals forever to optimize the size of the animal, so why not do this with largemouth bass?"

Anglers who wish to help grow bigger bass in Kentucky can take their fish to participating bait shops from Oct. 1 to May 31, when weather typically is mild enough to reduce stress. Employees at those shops will hold the fish in aerated tanks until they can be picked up and taken to a hatchery by DWF staff.

"We don't want anglers to leave their trophy bass in a livewell or keep it in a fish basket on the bank for an extended period of time because we don't want the fish to succumb to stress," Brooks explained. "We're asking people to handle these fish with kid gloves and bring them to a participating bait shop as soon as possible."

After the bass spawn, hatcheries will raise the fish until they are 5 inches long. Then they will be stocked in fisheries around the state, including the lakes where their parents were caught.

"This won't mean that every largemouth bass spawning in Kentucky will have trophy bass genes," the fisheries chief said. "That would be a long way off.  But n the immediate future, it will mean the fish we're stocking to augment the natural spawning will be a higher quality of fish as far as growth potential."

Anglers can find out more and see a list of participating bait shops by plugging in "Trophy Bass Propagation Program" in the search window on the DWF website.

Friday
May132016

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.

Wednesday
May112016

Sustaining Mille Lacs Smallmouths While Rebuilding Walleye Fishery a Tough Challenge for Minnesota DNR

 

 Maintaining a single world-class fishery in a lake is one of the greatest challenges for a state wildlife agency. As they employ and/or alter regulations, resource managers must consider constantly changing biological and environmental variables, as well as possible economic and social impacts.

And when a lake has two world-class fisheries and one of them is in decline . . .

"It's a complicated mess," said Eric Jensen, a large lake biologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

That's the situation that DNR finds itself in at Mille Lacs Lake, site of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship Sept. 15-18. With a five-fish bag of 25 pounds not uncommon, the smallmouth fishery arguably is more robust than ever, earning a No. 10 ranking among the best bass lakes in the nation by Bassmaster Magazine in 2015.

On the flip side, the once productive walleye fishery is in steep decline. In fact it's so steep that the agency finally went all the way and imposed a ban on harvest in 2016, and prohibited the use of live bait, except on launch (party) boats.

At the same time it's been imposing tighter and tighter restrictions on walleye harvest in recent years, it's been allowing increased harvest of smallmouth bass. In 2013, the limit went from one fish to six. This year's it's four.

But Jensen's comment was not intended to suggest that DNR doesn't have sound science to back these decisions. Rather it reflects that  management regarding such  popular, productive, and economically important fisheries is controversial, as they impact diverse constituencies.

How so? Many walleye anglers want to keep and eat their catch, while most bass anglers catch and release, with no thought given to harvest.  But for 2016, at least, meat fishermen can't keep their preferred species. Yet they can take home bass.

As a consequence, bass anglers fear irreparable harm to the smallmouth population.  Concurrently, many resorts and other businesses around the lake fear the ban on walleye harvest will do damage local economies, as anglers go elsewhere, where they can keep the fish that they prefer to target.

While a state legislator introduced an ill-fated bill to negate the ban on walleye harvest, the Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation (MBN) joined forces with the newly formed Mille Lacs Smallmouth Bass Alliance (MLSBA) to launch an awareness campaign about the importance of catch and release for sustaining the lake as a world-class bass fishery. They intend to post signs at private ramps around the 132,000-acre lake.

"We want to educate fishermen and businesses too that catch and release, not catch and kill, is the way to go," said Mickey Goetting, conservation director of the MBN, which has started a GoFundMe page to raise $2,750 for the effort.

MBN posted this message on the page: "Smallmouth have become the target as a replacement for walleye table fare. Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation is concerned that increased fishing pressure and a substantial increase in harvest could adversely impact the world-class Mille Lacs smallmouth bass fishery. Smallmouth bass grow very slowly and we need to protect them."

DNR, however, steadfastly maintains that is not sacrificing bass or trying to reduce bass populations to reduce predation on walleye. Rather, its intent is to "provide alternate harvest opportunities, preserve quality sizes, and maintain quality catch rates."

Last fall's gill net survey "showed the highest catch we've ever seen (for smallmouth bass)," Jensen said. "Since 1998, the trend has been steadily upward."

Additionally, 74,150 smallmouth bass were released in 2015, while only an estimated 5,000 were harvested. "Not everyone is keeping bass," he added.

Sadly, the walleye population has been declining for nearly a decade. Causes are uncertain, but potential causes could be the same ones contributing to increasing numbers of hefty bronzebacks. "A lot has been going on at the same time," the biologist said.

That includes increasing water clarity, which benefits bass, primarily sight feeders. Walleye prefer darker conditions. Also, clearer water means less productivity in the form of phytoplankton and zooplankton at the bottom of the food chain for prey fish to eat. "Walleye eat mostly fish, and there's not as many fish," Jensen explained. "Smallmouth also eat crayfish."

With warming water possibly contributing, these changes began even before the introduction of  invasive zebra mussels and spiny water fleas. But they seem to have accelerated as the exotics proliferated, gobbling up zooplankton and filtering out much of the lake's energy.

In a nutshell, not enough young walleye have been surviving to maturity and replenishing the population since at least 2008, with numbers being at a 40-year low in 2015. But hope is on the horizon, thanks to a strong year class in 2013, which DNR wants to protect via the ban on harvest.

"As walleye get to 14 inches, they are more desirable and that 2013 class is moving into that size now," Jensen said. "It's strong and it looks like it's going to contribute to spawning biomass. Females grow much larger than males and, in another couple of years, they will really start to contribute."

But bass anglers fear what will happen, as meat fishermen turn their focus to the smallmouth population while walleyes slowly recovers.

"This is a very special fishery with national significance to bass anglers everywhere," said Jim DaRosa, president of the alliance. "Mille Lacs needs to be protected. It may take several years to restore walleye to the levels they once were. We want to be proactive and make sure the smallmouth are healthy and sustainable while the walleye population is being restored."

Bass Regulations History for Mille Lacs

Before 2000: 6 fish, smallmouth and largemouth bass.

2000: 1 fish, 21 inches minimum length.

2013: 6 fish,  with one longer than 20 inches. Protected slot of 17 to 20 inches.

2014: 6 fish,  with one longer than 18 inches. Season opens with walleye. No fall catch-and-release restriction. 

2016 Regulations for Bass, Walleye, Northern Pike

 Bass:  4 fish, with one longer than 21 inches. All bass between 17 and 21 inches must be released immediately. 

Walleye:  From May 14 to Dec. 1, anglers targeting walleye must use artificial bait and immediately release all walleye caught. Night closure beginning May 16, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and continuing through Dec. 1.

Northern Pike: 5 fish with only one longer than 40 inches. all pike 30 to 40 inches long must be immediately released.