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Entries in fisheries management (116)

Friday
Jul012016

New Bass Regs. in Effect for Florida

New black bass regulations now are in effect in Florida. Here's  a summary:

  • The previous three black bass fishing zones and 40 areas with special bass regulations have been eliminated.
  • All species of black bass are included in the five fish daily aggregate black bass bag limit. This is the same as the previous statewide rule.
  • Largemouth bass: Only one may be 16 inches or longer in total length per angler, per day, with no minimum length limit.
  • Suwannee, shoal, Choctaw and spotted basses: 12-inch minimum size limit, only one may be 16 inches or longer in total length.

Before developing proposals for amending current regulations, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) staff received input from thousands of bass anglers, and blended angler desires and opinions with decades of fish population research.

“We are confident that these new regulations meet the desires of our bass anglers, ensuring that Florida lakes will continue to produce high quality fisheries,” said Tom Champeau, director of FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries.

“Florida’s reputation for trophy bass is one reason we are known as the Fishing Capital of the World and these new regulations will help provide our anglers with unforgettable fishing experiences.”

Florida is home to five species of black bass: largemouth, Suwannee, shoal, Choctaw and spotted bass. Largemouth bass are the state freshwater fish and are found throughout Florida, while the other species are found only in rivers in the north central and northwest regions.

Visit MyFWC.com/fishing and click on “Freshwater,” then “Regulations” for a copy of the complete regulations.

One of the primary goals of the new regulations is to protect larger trophy bass desired by most anglers. The TrophyCatch program offers great prizes for anglers who document and release largemouth bass weighing eight pounds or heavier. Visit TrophyCatchFlorida.com for more details and to register for the program.

Thursday
Jun302016

Whether He's Keeping or Releasing, Respect The Other Guy

Back when Jack Wingate still owned and ran Lunker Lodge on Lake Seminole, a sign on the entrance road said, "You should have been here yesterday."  On one memorable trip, some friends and I were there "yesterday," a sunny, early spring day when big pre-spawn bass began migrating into the shallows.

We caught and released dozens of 4- to 7-pound bass, mostly on soft plastics. Back at the lodge, we saw that others had enjoyed similar success.

Only they hadn't released their fish. They were cleaning them. Everyone in our group was upset by this, but one was so enraged that we had to physically restrain him from confronting and possibly provoking a fight.

The meat fishermen at Lunker Lodge had broken no laws. They simply kept their limits and were taking them home to eat. But in doing so, they had raised the ire of other anglers, who practiced catch-and-release with an almost religious fervor.

That same passion remains with millions today. They would never think of keeping a bass for the table, especially a big pre-spawn female. It's sacrilegious, and they have little regard for those who do.

Much the same disdain is directed toward those who use live bait instead of artificials.

Up at Minnesota's Mille Lacs right now, catch-and-release bass fishermen are  agitated because the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has prohibited harvest of walleyes, as it attempts to revive that sagging fishery. As a consequence, the agency has redirected meat fishermen, often equipped with live bait,  toward the lake's world-class smallmouth bass fishery.

I share the distress of  anglers upset by this. While I do keep smaller largemouth and spotted bass for the table, I would never keep a smallie. Plus, up north, they're slow-growing, the spawning season short, and year-class success less a certainty than in more temperature areas. In other words, the quality of that bass fishery is more tenuous, not just at Mille Lacs but throughout the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes area.

Coincidentally, quite a few northern anglers use live bait to catch and keep bass, as well as walleye. It's a long-standing traditional way to fish and goes hand-in-hand with opposition to catch-and-release fishing, especially as it relates to tournaments. And they get just as mad at the "opposition" as my friend did at Lake Seminole.

Here's what one of them told me in a comment at my Activist Angler website: "Sport fishing to 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 . . . I am not alone, and I vote!"

My point in all of this? As anglers, we are divided, when we must be united if sport fishing is to survive. That's because it's under siege as never before by the ever-growing and aggressive animal rights movement, which garners much of its support from well meaning people who care about animal welfare, but have no connection to and no interest in fishing and hunting. In parts of western Europe, catch-and-release is outlawed because it's "cruel." Only fishing for food is acceptable.

Now, let's look at the science. Exploitation of the smallmouth bass population at Mille Lacs is only 5 percent, according to MDNR.  "That's horrible for die-hards, but really not that big a deal," said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. national conservation director.

"Limits are set in accordance with good science, to sustain fisheries," he added.

Most bass anglers today, he said, "are indoctrinated into a bass culture in which catch-and-release is the only way to go. But many states have other customers , along with other fish, and they have to listen to them too. If they don't, license sales go down and all species suffer."

Additionally, too much catch-and-release actually can be detrimental. When first popularized during the 1970s, when harvest was high, it  did, indeed, help sustain many fisheries. Now, though, the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that limits are almost irrelevant for fisheries management. Often, slot limits don't work because people won't keep small bass. Selective harvest would be much better for some fisheries than 90 to 95 percent catch-and-release.

So . . . let's calm down and remember that we're all in this together. Whether that guy in the other boat is using live bait and keeping fish for the table or competing in a tournament, as long as he's obeying the law, you should respect his right to be there, just as he should respect yours.

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

Thursday
Jun162016

Catch and Release is 'Cruel'; Yet Another Anti-Fishing Strategy

 

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 a 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.

(Go here to see what PETA is saying.)

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.  

Monday
Jun062016

Aussie Report Reminds Us We Must Do More Than Sink Brushpiles

An Australian fisheries scientist visited the United States recently to acquire strategies and techniques for improving reservoir fishing in his own country.  But recreational fishing Down Under won't be the sole beneficiary of his research.

What Dr. Andrew Norris learned from stops in Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina,  Oklahoma, and Texas likely will benefit reservoir bass fishing from coast t coast.

How can we profit even more from what's already being done here? We read Norris'  98-page report, "Increasing Australian Impoundment Fisheries Potential: Habitat Enhancement to Improve Angling and Productivity in Impoundments." He provides arguably the best overview and analysis of habitat work ever compiled for U.S. reservoirs, much of which was not documented in fishery literature.

For example, the report "can be very useful to us as an idea book for conservation directors, and clubs can look at for inspiration and ideas," said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. national conservation director (CD).

Additionally, it will serve as a reference for the Reservoir Fish Habitat Partnership, as it compiles a handbook on what works where and investigates what types of habitat simply attract fish and kinds might actually increase productivity.  Revelations also likely will  help the Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society Reservoir Committee produce a how-to manual.

"I feel like I got as much out of it (the visit) as Mr. Norris did," said Bill Frazier, B.A.S.S. Nation conservation director for North Carolina. "We chatted back and forth on a wide range of topics to start with and then narrowed it down to the details that he wanted for the report."

Frazier and the Australian scientist discussed the innovative Educational Fishing Trail at Oak Hollow Lake. It allows anglers to learn about habitat needs of bass as they fish a variety of cover placed sequentially according to season.

The North Carolina CD added that some similarities exist in the challenges that both nations face regarding management of fisheries in reservoirs, but Australia's challenges are more extreme. Water levels there can fluctuate hundreds of feet annually. And funding can be tough to come by.

"If they get stockings of anything, bait or bass, the anglers have to raise the money," Frazier said. "That is before they ever get to a discussion about the habitat to support and propagate it into a lasting resource."

Following is one little nugget from Norris that reminds us that if we want a lasting resource, we must do more than sink brushpiles. Every fishery manager and bass club should consider this before starting a project:

"A range of factors need to be considered when selecting where to install fish habitat enhancements in a reservoir to achieve the best success.

These include the biological and behavioral characteristics of the target fish species, habitat type, presence of existing structure, angler access, availability of materials, material transport, available deployment equipment, substrate type, water level fluctuation, sedimentation, thermocline depths, boat traffic and other recreational waterway use and water conditions." 

Also, Norris makes 29 recommendations regarding Management Structure and Planning, Habitat Location, Fluctuating Water Levels, Economics and Future Research. Here are three:

  • If natural materials are used, they should be as freshly cut as possible. Fresh vegetation has a higher moisture content, making it denser, and therefore requires less weight to sink and anchor in place. Additionally, if trees are felled for habitat, older and dead trees are more prone to explode when they hit the ground, reducing their effectiveness as habitat.
  • Careful consideration needs to be given to the size of the interstitial spaces in fish habitat structures and the types of fish that will utilize them. In general, structures with smaller interstitial spaces should be used to benefit small fish species or juveniles of larger species. More open structures are more suitable  for attracting large fish and are preferred to fish by anglers because they are less prone to snagging hooks.
  • The majority of habitat should be installed above the thermocline to ensure it can be accessed by fish throughout the year. Some structure can be placed in deeper water to provide habitat during winter when the thermocline is deeper or non-existent.

And here's something that both states and local communities should consider in regard to the benefits of habitat projects for the economy: "The cost of rehabilitation is often recovered after only a few years, but benefits continue to persist.

Gilliland agrees. "All of this fits together and will make future projects more effective and efficient and pay off with more fish on the end of anglers' lines," he said.

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

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.