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Entries in fisheries management (119)

Wednesday
Jul272016

Too Many Mouths to Feed and Not Enough Food

Sometimes, a fishery can have too much of a good thing--- including bass and other predators

That's the case for Greers Ferry Lake, prompting the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) to provide a supplemental feeding for all those hungry mouths.

“It was evident in the crappie, largemouth bass, walleye and hybrid striped bass we sampled that there was not enough forage to support the predator population,” said Tom Bly, fisheries supervisor at the AGFC’s Mayflower office.

 “There are many minnows and bream species in Greers Ferry, but gizzard shad and threadfin shad are the dominant forage species. Just about everything eats them.”

And there were not enough of them.

As a consequence, AGFC stocked 37,000 threadfin shad this past spring, both as an immediate food source and as brood stock for rebuilding the population of the baitfish. Cold winters during 2014 and 2015 caused high mortalities of these smaller shad, which die when water temperatures drop to the low 40s.

"Threadfin shad are a subtropical and southern temperate fish that prefer warm water," Bly added.

Often, threadfin can find refuge in deeper water, that but that wasn't the case this time. Biologists failed to find a single fish while sampling during 2015.

The biologist added that management strategy for Greers Ferry has shifted to bolstering the forage base, with threadfin stocking continuing from a commercial hatchery until the population shows signs of recovery. Additionally, nursery ponds will be used to grow minnows and bluegill, as well as threadfin.

"We also will not stock any predators until the forage population recovers," he said. "This includes largemouth, spotted, and smallmouth bass, walleye and hybrid striped bass. Once forage recovers, we will stock these species in a manner that lends itself to a more sustainable fishery."

Tuesday
Jul122016

The Best Bass Lake That You've Never Heard Of

Len Andrews caught this 13-12 largemouth at Kingsley Lake.Why are so many of the lunker bass entered in Florida's TrophyCatch program coming from little Kingsley Lake in the northeastern part of the state?

That's what biologist Drew Dutterer and other researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) hope to determine in a two-year study financed with a grant by the federal Sport Fish Restoration program. Information gained  during the two-year project also should help resource managers better understand big bass in general.

"It's an opportunity to learn some things about rare individuals in bass populations at one of the places that seems to produce a lot of them, Dutterer said.

"A lot" is an understatement. The 2,000-acre, semi-private lake (surrounded by private homes and Camp Blanding) has yielded 80 bass of 10 pounds or more since 2013 and a dozen that weighed 13 pounds or better since March of 2014. Last year, 5 of the state's 10 biggest bass came from Kingsley,  and anglers caught two 15-pound trophies in one week, including the state's largest fish of the year,  15-11.

“Trophy bass are a pretty big priority for our agency and for the state of Florida," the biologist said. " It’s one of the identifying characteristics of our Florida bass fishery, and one of the reasons a lot of people come over winter and take fishing vacations in Florida, the chance to catch a big fish."

One aspect of the study involves following the movements of 10 bass of 9 to 13 pounds that have been tagged with transmitters. This could be especially revealing because the lake is far deeper than most in Florida, with at least 300 acres that are 40 feet or more and a few places that drop below 80.

And deep means cooler water during the summer.

"Cooler water may allow bass to live and operate with a slightly lower metabolic rate," Dutterer said. "If Kingsley stratifies and there is cooler water available to the fish in the summer, then they could possibly have a lower metabolism and that could allow them to grow more during the year or it may allow them to live longer."

Additionally, FWC has asked anglers to help by snipping off a bit of a fin on bass of 8 pounds or more  and placing the samples in collection bottles available at the lake. "It's  a proof positive way that we can document that catch and release really does work and leads to increase to increased opportunities to catch trophy fish," the biologist said.

Monday
Jul042016

Northwest Bass Anglers Angered by Photos, Stories of No-Limits Harvest

 

Less than one full season in, we're a long way from knowing the long-term consequences of removing bag limits on  several Oregon and Washington Rivers, including some where smallmouth bass have been established for more than a century.

But one thing we do know is that bass anglers are irate over the photos that they are seeing on social media and the stories they are hearing about meat fishermen hauling out dozens of large pre-spawn females from the Umpqua, the Columbia, and its tributaries, including John Day, Snake, and Yakima.

"I wonder if those meat anglers--- also known as salmon fishermen--- are even thinking about the depletion of the fishery, or what they will fish for next year when the salmon runs are still low, and the smallmouth bass fishery has been decimated," said Lonnie Johnson, conservation director for the Oregon B.A.S.S. Nation. "Probably not, I would guess. Let's live in the moment and let tomorrow be damned."

And along with the anecdotal evidence, a creel survey from the lower Yakima stokes the anger. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that anglers harvested 6,721 bass  during the first week in May. Additionally, 41 anglers interviewed kept 362 fish, releasing only 13.

By the end of May, the agency said this, " Based on the current data over 20,000 smallmouth bass have been harvested in the Yakima River this spring. The data is preliminary. Final estimates will be calculated at the close of the salmon fishery."

By contrast, just 5,000 were harvested in all of  2015 from 132,000-acre Mille Lacs, where Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been liberalizing limits on bass to allow harvest, as it imposes restrictions on walleye, to help restore that sagging fishery.  Additionally, 74,150 smallmouths were released.

Bass angler Bill Roberts told the Yakima Herald about his encounter with some of those meat fishermen in a sporting goods store:

"Everybody's got a camera phone, and they started showing me all these pictures. These guys were averaging 35 to 40 smallmouth bass a day, all spawners ready to spawn. And they killed them all, and that never sets well with me.

"And they proceeded to tell me all their buddies fishing down in the Crow Butte area are having the same success. I'm thinking, 'Do you really have to keep 38 fish a day to make yourself feel good?

"And they're like, 'It's legal now. So why not?'"

Legal, yes, but management based on science?

"It's political. It has nothing to do with science," said Mark Byrne, past conservation director and president for the Washington B.A.S.S. Nation.

Although little scientific evidence supports the regulation change, both Oregon and Washington bowed to pressure from federal agencies, tribes, and native fish activists to remove regulations on "non-native fish" as a way of restoring steadily declining salmon, steelhead, and trout fisheries. In truth, the latter have suffered mostly because of habitat destruction, flow diversions for irrigation, and hydropower dams, which block migration and create ideal habitat for bass.

But in pressuring the states to wage war on bass, the National Marine Fisheries Service said that simply liberalizing limits, instead of removing them,  would imply a desire "to maintain a healthy population of non-native predators."

Yet it also admitted that damage done to native species "is difficult to quantify." And it said, "The extent to which a regulation change will affect the harvest of these species and thereby reduce predation rates on at-risk salmon and steelhead populations is uncertain."

Johnson and many others argue that bass make easy targets because they are  prominent and opportunistic predators, which do, on occasion, eat salmon smolts, although adult bronzebacks prefer crawfish.

"Those smolts are fast," said Roberts. "If one swims past, a bass might eat it, but it's not going to chase it down the river. We're talking about a lazy fish that's an ambush predator."

Not surprisingly, smaller smallmouths are the ones more likely to pursue 3-inch smolts of summer and fall Chinook that begin their migrations to the ocean in May and June. Thus, many wonder, why not remove bag limits for bass under 12 inches, but continue to afford some protection for those larger fish, which have made the Columbia  known the world over as a trophy bronzeback fishery.

"The deregulation will have almost no impact on the other species, but will destroy the bass fishery," said Justin Blackmore president of Central Oregon Bass club. "They decided what to do without any sound research performed. The result is overfishing of large fish, leaving only small, stunted fish that will not be wanted by people to eat."

And an easier life for the northern pikeminnow (squawfish). "The fact remains that the primary predator (for salmon smolts) is the northern pikeminnow, which is also prey to the smallmouth," said Johnson.  "By attempting to eliminate smallmouth, the ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) is, in fact, increasing predation on the smolts."

What Next?

As a long-time angler and fisheries biologist, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Gene Gilliland understands both sides of this thorny issue.

While sympathizing with angry fishermen, he added,  "Harvest of female bass in a huge open system is probably not going to damage the population because bass over-produce so much.  It takes so few successful nests to maintain a population. 

"What you may see over time, however, is a change in the size structure--- fewer large  bass and a gradual decline in overall size.  Numbers will probably not change much.  That's how the agency can say, 'Harvest away, you won't make a dent in the population.'  They look at it from the sheer numbers side, not the size structure which interests bass anglers."

The benefit of keeping some of those large fish, both as desirable trophies for bass anglers and as predators on the pikeminnow, "is a good argument to chase" in hopes of achieving a compromise with the state agencies, he added.

But, Gilliland cautioned, getting the feds to buy in "will be almost impossible. They have that 'all non-native fish are bad fish' mentality and are quick to throw the ESA (Endangered Species Act) at you. Dead smallmouths are the only good smallmouths as far as they are concerned and pictures of dead bass are just what they hoped to see."

Still, the conservation director hopes that bass anglers can work out an agreement with Washington and Oregon, "given the uproar that seems to be building among their constituents. Maybe we can convene a meeting of the sensible minds."

 

State Response

Here's what's going on to determine bass harvest numbers, according to Mike Gauvin, ODFW's program manager for recreational fisheries:

Bass in the Columbia are recorded as part of the spring/summer Chinook creel and this occurs in the reservoirs above Bonneville Dam. The creel information is collected by ODFW and the Washington Department of Fish and the creel data is then analyzed by WDFW and provided to Oregon.

Through the week of May 16, a cumulative estimate of 586 bass were harvested in the Dalles Pool (reservoir behind The Dalles Dam) and 2,980 were harvested in the John Day Pool (reservoir behind the John Day Dam). For comparison, in 2015 for the same time period, 596 bass were harvested in The Dalles Pool and 1,787 bass were harvested in the John Day Pool. 

Although Oregon do not have a specific creel in the John Day River, agency does conduct a bass survey to assess Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) and size frequency of bass from Service creek to Clarno (odd years) and Butte Creek to Cottonwood Creek (even years) on the John Day River.  This sampling has taken place since the mid 1980’s with some gaps due to low flows and/or poor weather. Survey will be conducted in early June.

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

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.)