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Entries in fisheries management (74)

Friday
Apr102015

Grass Carp Gobble Up Lake Austin's Grass, Reputation

 

Gut contents of a Lake Austin grass carp. Photo by Brent BellingerAs grass carp gobbled up all the aquatic vegetation in Texas’ Lake Austin, they also obliterated the reservoir’s reputation as one of the nation’s top bass fisheries.

“When the grass was around 400 to 500 acres for a couple of years, the bass fishing really took off,” said John Ward, marketing director of the Texas Tournament Zone (TTZ). “The fish were fat and healthy. We had a great sunfish and crawfish population, and plenty of ambush spots for the big girls to grab them.

“Now sunfish and crawfish numbers are significantly down. You see more schools of bass chasing shad balls instead. The worst feeling is when you finally get a big girl, and it’s a 10-pound head with a 5-pound body. They just can’t eat like they used to.”

Understandably frustrated anglers blame mismanagement and/or the powerful influence of lakefront property owners who don’t like hydrilla. For example, one said that Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) “grossly overstocked this lake with grass carp.”

He continued, “In less than a year, we have seen complete devastation of this great fishery. The grass is 100 percent gone. Reeds that used to line the lake in places have been uprooted and chewed off at the stalks.”

But the reality is more complex and less malevolent. What happened was the inevitable result of an unavoidable set of circumstances involving weather, two exotic species, and reservoir management priorities.

“This trophy fishery was maintained along with grass carp stockings for many years,” said Texas biologist Marcos De Jesus.

“This extreme drought scenario has thrown a monkey wrench in our management efforts, but we are learning from this experience to avoid a similar outcome in the future.”

Managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority, Austin is a 1,599-acre riverine impoundment on the Colorado River. During normal times, cool discharges into the flow-through fishery combine with a sustained population of grass carp to keep hydrilla in check. Also, less problematic Eurasian watermilfoil thrives, serving as another control. But starting in 2011, drought diminished flow, allowing water to warm and igniting an unprecedented growth spurt in hydrilla. By spring 2013, hydrilla covered nearly a third of the reservoir.

If not kept in check, hydrilla can block flow, pushing water onto highly developed shorelines, De Jesus explained. Consequently, more dramatic control was required, and it could only be done with grass carp. Herbicides are not an option for Austin, which also serves as a municipal water supply.

A stocking of 9,000 carp in May 2013 supplemented 17,000 introduced in 2012, providing 55.5 fish per acre of hydrilla. And, as anglers watched in dismay, the fish quickly gobbled up all of the lake’s aquatic vegetation, except for shoreline plants protected by cages.

“Now we are in a situation where the carp are keeping everything at bay,” said the biologist. “Every time it’s been down to zero, though, it bounces back. We’re now looking at creating habitat (brushpiles) and doing some carp removal.

“Fishing always has been our priority,” he continued, pointing out that electrofishing revealed bass still are plentiful.

“But they’re now suspended in deep water, and people will have to transition to other fishing styles. We were all spoiled. We all loved that lake, and this change was not one that we wanted.”

Brushpiles will help, said Ward, who added that TTZ will help organizes anglers to assist. “But nothing can replace natural habitat. As long as you have 20,000-plus grass carp in a 1,600-acre lake, grass will not grow.

“It’s the aquatic vegetation and the healthy habitat it provides that brings out the potential for big bass in Lake Austin.”

(This article was published originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Monday
Mar302015

Will Alaska Sacrifice Wild Salmon for Coal?

Photo by Bill Roth, Alaska Dispatch News

Up in Alaska, politicians are being lured to surrender a wild salmon fishery to a coal company. It promises that it can remove the stream to mine 300 feet down and then, once strip mining is done, put it back together again as good as new, with  functioning surface and groundwater systems.

A former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game insists that it can’t be done.

“I can tell you from my experience and the experience of stream restoration efforts throughout the Pacific Northwest, this proposal to remove the Middle Fork of the Chuitna River for 25 years and then put it back together as a wild salmon stream is a pipe dream; it will not work,” Frank Rue says unequivocally.

Furthermore, he adds, if PacificRim Coal is allowed to proceed, it will signal that Alaska intends to follow the Pacific Northwest, New England, Canada, and Europe in replacing its wild salmon runs with artificial propagation in the name of progress.

“If the decision is made to mine the site, we can assume that the mining company’s restoration will eventually stabilize the land and the drainage patterns, and maybe leave behind lakes and wetlands with pike and stickleback, but the lost wild salmon productivity of the Middle Fork will be permanent. Is that where Alaska wants to go?”

He adds, “This paradigm shift will shape resource decisions across the state for generations to come. It’s Alaska’s choice: Do we reserve water in our streams to support our wild, sustainable salmon, or do we sacrifice our wild salmon habitat for a one-time use of a non-renewable resource and follow the lead of others who have decimated their wild salmon?

Alaskans have until April 9 to weigh in on the debate with the Department of Natural Resources. Comments can be sent to kimberly.sager@alaska.gov.

Thursday
Mar192015

Still No Plan to Address Susquehanna's Sick Smallmouth Bass

Despite evidence that smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River are ill, state and federal officials refuse to categorize the waterway as “impaired.” And until it receives that designation, a plan can’t be developed to address the problem, which probably is pollution.

"We are absolutely certain that the smallmouth bass population of the middle Susquehanna River is sick, based upon the continuing presence of lesions and tumors in young and adult bass," said John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fishing and Boating Commission (PFBC).

"We've been collecting data since 2005, and believe that these fish health issues are causing a decline in the population, which means the river is sick. It is not necessary to know the exact source or cause of the sickness before the Commonwealth declares the river as impaired."

Yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency supported the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in its decision to exclude nearly 100 miles of the Susquehanna in its 2014 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report.

In 2012, PFBC asked DEP to declare that section of the river from Sunbury to Holtwood Dam, near the Maryland border, as impaired. Both then and in 2014, DEP asserted that it lacked sufficient data to make that determination.

Now the earliest that the river could be declared impaired is 2016.

Update

Arway recently spoke to the game and fisheries committee of the state House of Representatives about this issue. According to Triblive.com, here's what happened:

He also continued his call to have the Susquehanna River officially declared “impaired.” Once the premier flowing smallmouth bass fishery on the East Coast, it's been in decline in recent years, with smallmouth bass populations shrinking and more and more fish showing up sick, he said.

The commission, state Department of Environmental Protection and federal Environmental Protection Agency are doing a study to determine what's causing the problems, he said. A report is due by September.

After that, action needs to be taken, he said. Sick bass have been showing up since 2005, but no one's done anything but collect data since, Arway said.

An impaired designation would set the stage for a corrective plan, he added.

“We know the fish are sick. The (Department of Environmental Protection) admits the fish are sick. The question is, why are they sick and what are we going to do about it? And we haven't started down that road yet,” Arway said.




Thursday
Mar192015

Volunteers Once Again Improving Habitat at Lake Havasu

As volunteers lead a resurgence in the Lake Havasu Fisheries Improvement Program, anglers are being surveyed to help determine the success of the 20-year effort.

“We’re trying to find out what people are catching, how many fish they are catching,” said David Bohl, president of the Lake Havasu City chapter of Anglers United, who suspects that smallmouth bass are becoming the dominant species.

 “We want to see if they are satisfied. Hopefully, they’re catching a lot of fish.”

Extending into next fall, the project is financed with a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with a goal of 5,000 responses. Surveys are available at a half dozen access locations around the 20,000-acre impoundment on the Colorado River.

The original $27 million program to add a variety of habitat and increase access began in 1993 for the reservoir that was built during the 1930s for water storage, and since has become one of the most popular fisheries in the arid Southwest. Effort lagged a bit at the end of that 10-year program, but volunteers since have revived it.

Between 100 and 200 brush bundles are dropped monthly during summer, with much of the work being done by members of the Lake Havasu Marine Association (LHMA). Along with Anglers United, other partners include the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation, Arizona Game and Fish, and California Fish and Wildlife.

“It’s one of the best places where every arm of government, volunteers, and nonprofits are working together to get something done,” said BLM’s Jason West, who coordinates the program.

As an example of the cooperative effort, area landscapers provide tree branches and other brush, which are bundled with rope, weighed with sand bags and sunk in coves, where they are believed to provide habitat for about seven years, as they slowly decompose.

At least anecdotally, the fishery has benefitted from the long-term effort, with both size and quantity improving, according to BLM biologist Doug Adams. Program advocates hope the survey will provide more definitive evidence.

Wednesday
Mar182015

States Agree on Plan to Manage Gulf Red Snapper Fishery

In a move long-awaited by the recreational fishing and boating community, the directors of the state fish and wildlife agencies from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas have agreed on state-based management of Gulf of Mexico red snapper, which in recent years has experienced increasing privatization of this public resource and decreasing recreational fishing opportunities.

 The announcement was greeted with strong enthusiasm from the recreational fishing and boating community, which has supported greater state control of Gulf red snapper.

 “Throughout the country, states have proven to be highly successful at fish and wildlife management in a way that conserves natural resources while allowing for reasonable public access,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “The Gulf states are among the nation’s leaders in marine fisheries management, which is why we have continued to look to them as the vehicle for managing Gulf red snapper going forward to get us out of the current mess created by federal mismanagement.”

 Gulf of Mexico red snapper is presently managed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, under the National Marine Fisheries Service. The states’ agreement is predicated on Congress transferring management authority away from the Councils.

 “Coordinated management among the states is the only solution to an unaccountable federal system of fisheries management,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President Jeff Crane. “Faced with an untenable situation, the states have risen to the challenge and collectively identified a clear path to a more balanced fishery.”

 Under this management structure, each state would have authority to manage red snapper out to 200 miles off its coastline. Each state would be responsible for developing and implementing a red snapper management plan for its waters, which would be approved by the rest of the states.

 “We have long pushed for the states to take over Gulf red snapper, but until now, we haven’t had a detailed plan for what state-based management would look like,” said Patrick Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “Under this approach, we are confident that management outcomes will begin to align with the health of the resource and anglers’ access to it.”

“Gulf red snapper is incredibly important to the economy of coastal communities throughout the Gulf of Mexico region, and attracts anglers from all across the country,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. “It’s abundantly clear that the states are best equipped to manage this valuable fishery. It’s time we give them that opportunity.”