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Entries in fisheries management (123)

Tuesday
Aug232016

Tropical Fish in South Dakota Highlight Danger Posed by Exotic Species

Imagine buying 3-inch fish for an aquarium, with no idea that they have the potential to reach the size in the photo above. That happens time after time all over the U.S. when hobbyists buy pacu, which resemble their smaller piranha cousins.  They have impressive dentures of their own, but their teeth are flatter and used mostly for cracking nuts and seeds.

And every summer, the consequences of those purchases play out, as anglers report catching pacu released into public waters by irresponsible aquarium owners. For example, this year, two were caught in Michigan's Lake St. Clair and another in the Port Huron area.

Standard response from both anglers and the public in general when this happens is "Well, they wouldn't have survived the winter anyway." In most cases, this is true.

But not always, as I reveal below in a story that I first wrote for B.A.S.S. Times and Activist Angler three years ago.

And one of these days, pacu or piranha, maybe both, just might find welcoming waters where they too can survive in a climate far too cold for them under normal conditions. Those areas might be springs or perhaps warm-water discharges from power plants.

*    *    *    *

What resource managers long have feared would happen because of irresponsible fish hobbyists has become reality: An exotic species has established itself in a waterway far north of where it should be able to survive.

Earlier this summer, biologists confirmed that the Jack Dempsey, a South American cichlid related to the peacock bass, is reproducing in South Dakota’s Fall River.

How it that possible?

“The hot springs in the river makes it perfect for cichlids,” said Mike Smith, aquatic nuisance species coordinator for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “We first found a Jack Dempsey there in 2009. Then, two weeks ago, we found multiple-year classes.

“And there’s no way that the fish could have gotten there except aquarium release.”

Water nearest the springs stays at about 70 degrees year around, which allows the exotic fish to survive brutal South Dakota winters.

In this case, the Jack Dempsey’s impact on native species likely will be minimal. Few other predators live in the shallow water, and forage species gobbled up by the aggressive cichlid can be replenished from populations outside the range of the hot spring’s influence.

But the discovery is significant because it confirms that exotics can use thermal refuges provided by springs or warm-water releases from power plants to survive in cold climates.

Jack Dempsey and another popular aquarium species, the red-rimmed melania snail, now live in the hot springs of South Dakota's Fall River because of irresponsible aquarium owners. Photo courtesy of South Dakota Game, Fish & ParksCould the piranha be the next exotic fish to become established? Or its much larger cousin, the pacu? Every summer, media across the country report catches of both fish in ponds, lakes, and reservoirs. For example, a pacu was caught in Illinois’ Lake Lou Yaeger in June. And at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, piranha captures have been reported several times since 2007.

Fish hobbyists also have contributed to troublesome infestations of plants such as Brazilian elodea, parrot feather, yellow floating heart, and even hydrilla.

“At a lot of our lakes, people just dump their aquariums to get rid of whatever they don’t want anymore,” said Tim Banek, invasive species coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Bill Frazier, conservation director for the North Carolina B.A.S.S. Federation Nation, also has seen evidence of aquarium dumping while serving as monitor of water quality for the city of High Point. He thinks the time is long past for directing blame primarily at anglers, especially bass fishermen.

Much of the problem, he insists, lies squarely with aquarium hobbyists and the pet industry that supplies them, as well as with nurseries that sell exotic aquatic plants.

“I haven’t seen a single trace of any invasive (plant) at the ramps, transferred by boat in 28 years,” he said.

“I know the overall perception is that weeds can be spread by anyone with a watercraft. I am not denying this pathway,” Frazier continued. “I just do not believe it as significant as everyone would have you believe.”

The North Carolina water expert has found parrot feather upstream of a submerged roadbed, where boats can’t go. He has discovered water hyacinth just downstream from a farmer’s market that featured the exotic in a water fountain. And he has seen a discarded aquarium underneath a parrot feather infestation, where the shoreline borders a large apartment complex.

“Some time later, a bank fisherman caught a skillet-sized pacu there,” he added.

And while anglers and the fishing industry pay license fees and excise taxes to finance management of aquatic resources degraded by aquatic invaders, these special interests are allowed to escape responsibility for the damage they do.

“This is what we need to be attacking and taxing,” he said.

Wednesday
Aug172016

Anglers Help Stock Florida Bass at Mississippi's Ross Barnett

Concurrent with a recent regulation change, anglers recently helped improve the gene pool at Mississippi's Ross Barnett Reservoir, as they assisted with the stocking of 101,000 Florida-strain largemouth bass fingerlings.

"We're not trying to increase catch rates by stocking bass," said Ryan Jones, a fisheries biologist with Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. "We're trying to maintain that gene in the population. What you have in the Florida strain is a fish that has a longer grow period, so they grow bigger, faster."

For this third stocking in three years, fish were transported from the agency's Turcotte Fish Hatchery to two ramps on the 33,000-acre Pearl River impoundment. Then anglers used their boats to transport them in ice chests filled with water to backwater areas, in hopes of improving survival rates.

"Before, we dropped them at the ramp and they (bass) to disperse from there," Jones said. "Now, you're talking about dropping them everywhere.

"I can't tell you what the survival percentage is, but I can tell you it's better than dropping them at the ramp. It's a much better process. It's just great to have the anglers."

The minimum size limit, meanwhile, has been raised from 12 to 14 inches, after fisheries managers noted a decline in the number of bass between 15 and 20. "It's been in decline for about four years," Jones said.

"It could be a natural change in the population, but we want to be on the front end of it in case it's not natural."

Tuesday
Aug162016

Nearly 10,000 Lionfish Harvested in Florida Waters

With little more than a month left to go in Florida's Lionfish Challenge, divers have removed 9,216 of the exotic predator from state waters.

Since the May 14 kickoff, 68  have participated in the program that rewards divers for taking 50 or more lionfish. Of those, 23 also qualified for the Panhandle Pilot Program, which rewards participants for every 100 lionfish removed from Escambia through Franklin counties, where lionfish densities tend to be higher.

 David Garrett is in the lead for the Lionfish King title, with 1,262 harvested so far, followed by John McCain at 380.

Why the war on lionfish? Although about 18 inches is the maximum size in its nonnative range, the lionfish is a versatile, voracious predator that is gobbling up smaller native species, as well as juveniles of highly prized sport fish species. Additionally, as its population grows, it crowds native species out of their habitat.

Lionfish Challenge

Remove 50 or more lionfish between Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day (May 14, 2016) and the end of September to enter the Lionfish Challenge.

Rewards include the following:

  • a commemorative coin to mark membership
  • an event T-shirt
  • Lionfish Hall of Fame recognition on the MyFWC.com website
  • being entered in drawings to win prizes including fishing licenses, lionfish harvesting equipment, fuel cards and dive tank refills
  • and, the person who “checks in” the most lionfish will be crowned Florida’s Lionfish King or Queen and will receive a lifetime saltwater fishing license, have his or her photograph featured on the cover of the FWC’s January 2017 Saltwater Regulations publication, be prominently featured on MyFWC.com’s Lionfish Hall of Fame, and be recognized at the November 2016 FWC Commission meeting

How to Enter

Email photos of your first 50 qualifying lionfish to Lionfish@MyFWC.com and include the name of the harvester, the date harvested, your signature in the photo (written on a piece of paper next to the fish, for example) and your mailing address. You can also submit your first 50 at an FWC-approved checkpoint.

Go here to learn more.

Wednesday
Aug102016

Alabama Team Planting Aquatic Vegetation to Improve Bass Production in Reservoirs

 

With hundreds of fish attractors in place, Alabama's new Habitat Enhancement and Restoration Team now is looking at improving spawns and fry survival.

"Since the program started (2015), we've put out a little more than 1,000 structures," said Kyle Bolton, habitat coordinator for the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF). "Most of those have been used for fish attraction as opposed to fish production. We are starting to move into fish production enhancement things like planting native vegetation."

Efforts include test plantings of buttonbush in Lake Martin, Logan Martin, Smith Lake, and Weiss Lake.

 "They're all over Smith Lake, but we're trying to plant them in areas where they're void of them," Bolton said.

Additionally, WFF partnered with Alabama Power to transplant water willows on Lake Martin.

"We're shooting to do that again this year on both Smith and Martin," the habitat coordinator explained.  "Water willow provides refuge for all types of juvenile fish. Hopefully that refuge will allow those fish to recruit to catchable size."

Fish attractor projects for 2016 include deploying 100 spider block structures each in Lewis, Smith, Little Bear, and Cedar Creek.

Attractors already in place include bamboo structures in West Point, Weiss, Jordan, and Logan Martin, with plans to also add them to Upper Bear Reservoir on Bear Creek. The Weiss project included assistance from Alabama Power, Weiss Lake Improvement Association, and Cedar Bluff High School Bass team.

Volunteers are a critical part of the team because of funding limitations. "We try to get bass clubs, schools, local homeowners, and boat owners associations involved in these habitat enhancement projects," Bolton said. "A key aspect in any habitat program is developing partnerships."

The federal Sport Fish Restoration program provides most of the financing, with money from sales of freshwater fishing license plates also assisting.

Fish attractors are not pinpointed with buoys or other markers. But their locations are available through GPS coordinates that can be accessed on Outdooralabama.com's interactive map.

"It will also tell you how many fish attractors were put out, the depth, and the date the attractors were installed so you can tell if they have been in there long enough to attract fish," Bolton said. "It usually doesn't take long."

Update on Fish Attractors

"We just put out 100 spider blocks at Smith Lake, and next week we're putting another 100 each at Cedar Creek and Little Bear Reservoirs in north Alabama," Bolton told Activist Angler on Aug. 4.

"One-hundred-fifty porcupine fish attractors each are bound for Martin, Yates, Mitchell and Smith Reservoirs sometime in the next couple of months! We're staying busy."

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."