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Entries in FWC (74)

Tuesday
Jan022018

Cormorants, Bears, and Acknowledging Reality

In 2014, hunters killed 11,653 double-crested cormorants on Lakes Marion and Moultrie (Santee Cooper) in South Carolina. Such an event would have been unthinkable just a decade ago. That’s because cormorants are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

But in recent years both federal and state resource managers recognized that these fishing-eating birds are causing problems for our fisheries, as their populations explode. Vocal, angry anglers played no small part in that recognition.

More recently, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) allowed a limited hunting season for bears, in the wake of an increasing number of  incidents in which bears damaged property, killed pets, and injured people.

What do these two incidents have in common? They highlight who we are as a species and what we must do if we are to share land and water with other species.

We are beings who alter our environment to meet our needs. We clear the land to farm and to build cities, homes, and highways. We erect dams to control floods, irrigate formerly arid lands, and generate hydropower.

And when we do those things, we take away the habitat of other species, such as black bears in Florida.

Many think that we manage only domestic animals. In truth, if we are to have healthy populations of most wildlife species, we must manage them as well.

And that means sometimes that we must kill some of them because their numbers are too great to be sustained in their remaining habitat and/or they pose a threat to us.

As they were relentlessly hunted and their habitat destroyed, buffalo, deer, and turkey nearly disappeared. But enlightened management has brought them back, and now regular hunts keep their numbers at sustainable levels for their available habitat.

The cormorant is an interesting exception to the rule. That’s because it habitat has not been diminished by us, but rather greatly expanded by the reservoirs behind all of those dams that we’ve built. That’s why it has become such a nuisance species. Many no longer migrate, but instead stay year-around, feasting on fish and expanding their numbers.

Of course, many of those who call themselves animal lovers do not want to hear such rational arguments. They did not like the killing of so many cormorants in South Carolina. Also, they were relentless in their verbal attacks on the FWC, one of the best wildlife agencies in the nation. So much so that the agency cancelled plans for a second hunt.

These people want us to either ignore the problem or attempt to solve it in an impractical way.

For example, the Missouri Department of Conservation decided to do something about the overpopulation of deer in suburban St. Louis awhile back. Its first choice was to have a managed hunt. But bowing to pressures from animal lovers, it went with the much more expensive option of trapping and moving the deer.

The agency later discovered that most of those transplanted deer starved to death because their new habitat contained little to none of the types of plants that they were accustomed to eating in the suburbs.

Moving bears won’t solve the problem in Florida either. Suitable bear habitat in the state already is at peak population. Otherwise the animals wouldn’t have moved in so close to humans in the first place.

Additionally, those that have ventured into civilization now grow fat as they scavenge garbage around homes or are intentionally fed by these same animal lovers who have exacerbated the problem with their compassion. In other words, the bears now associate humans with food and if trapped and moved, they’ll just head for the nearest subdivision.

The reality is that we must live with the consequences of our actions as a species that alters its environment, and one of those consequences is that we must manage the other species that share our land and water.

Wednesday
Dec202017

Florida's TrophyCatch Celebrates Five Years

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) TrophyCatch program celebrated five years of bass conservation at its annual Hall of Fame ceremony held at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Orlando. In the past five seasons, TrophyCatch has awarded prizes for the catch and release of more than 6,868 largemouth bass.

“We want to thank all of our partners and anglers for their commitment to conservation,” said Tom Champeau, FWC’s Director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.

“We now have 47 Hall of Fame anglers in the TrophyCatch program, and this event honors their skill in catching a bass of a lifetime and submitting their data to the FWC to assist in the management of our trophy bass fisheries.”

Sixteen Hall of Fame anglers were recognized for their catch and release of a largemouth bass weighing 13 pounds or heavier in Florida. The Hall of Fame anglers each received Bass Pro Shops gift cards, Spiderwire merchandise, a custom fiberglass replica mount made by New Wave Taxidermy and a plaque from American Registry commemorating their catch.

The Season 5 Champion, Dominic Montalto, received the TrophyCatch trophy for catching and releasing the heaviest bass of the season at 16 pounds, 12 ounces, caught in a neighborhood pond in Lee County.

The TrophyCatch “Big Bag Prize” was awarded to Arthur Jackson for his catch and release of the most bass with the heaviest combined weight in Season 5. He caught and released 16 bass with a total combined weight of 141.625 pounds. Jackson received a Shimano prize pack, along with a Lake County Tourism prize pack of a three-day, two-night stay in Lake County with a guided fishing trip with professional angler Tim Frederick.

TrophyCatch is a partnership between FWC biologists, anglers and fishing industry leaders such as Bass Pro Shops, that rewards the catch, documentation and release of largemouth bass weighing 8 pounds or heavier in Florida. In order to be eligible for prizes, anglers are required to submit photos or videos of their catch to TrophyCatch.com, showing the fish’s weight on a scale, before releasing it back into the water.

FWC biologists use TrophyCatch data for bass research, to make informed decisions about the management of Florida bass fisheries and to promote the catch and release of trophy bass. TrophyCatch is supported by many generous partners, such as Bass Pro Shops.

The FWC encourages anglers to join TrophyCatch as citizen-scientists that assist in fisheries management and the conservation of Florida’s lakes and rivers. A new TrophyCatch mobile app is available for download on both Apple and Android devices

Tuesday
Nov212017

Florida Shoal Bass Record Broken . . . Again

A 14-year-old angler from Alabama now owns the latest Florida shoal bass record, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  

Sheldon Grace of Headland, Ala., caught the 5.95-pound fish while kayak fishing on the Chipola River near Altha. It measured 22.4 inches long.

“I fought him for about 30 minutes and then when I got him close to the kayak, the jig popped right out of his mouth,” said Sheldon. “I quickly reached into the water and grabbed him because he was the biggest I’d caught all day.”

Sheldon and his father often fish for shoal bass, one of the five black bass species in Florida.

“You can definitely tell that the quality and quantity of the shoal bass in the Chipola River are getting better,” said Sheldon. “I had caught about six or seven 2- to 3-pounders and then right at the end of the day, I caught the record.”

The former state record shoal bass weighed 5.20 pounds and was caught in 2016 by Jimmy Ray Tice on the Apalachicola River.

The Chipola River is a spring-fed system with a unique range of habitats and is the only water body in Florida with is a population of naturally reproducing, genetically pure shoal bass. The FWC has implemented several conservation projects to enhance this unique fishery. A video highlighting the charm of the Chipola River and the partnerships forged to protect it can be viewed on YouTube by searching “FWC Chipola River.”

To properly certify a new Florida state record, a FWC biologist must identify the fish species and witness its weighing on a certified scale. Anglers can check current state records at BigCatchFlorida.com by clicking on “State Record,” and should notify the nearest FWC regional office if they believe they have caught a record fish. Contact information for FWC regional offices can be found at MyFWC.com/Contact by clicking on “Contact Regional Offices.”

The FWC recognizes other memorable freshwater catches through its Big Catch program, which provides certificates commemorating trophy catches of 33 different freshwater species. Largemouth bass catches are recognized by the TrophyCatch program, which is a citizen-science program that partners with industry leaders, such as Bass Pro Shops, to offer rewards for the catch, documentation and release of largemouth bass weighing 8 pounds or heavier.

Monday
Nov132017

Florida Bass Fingerlings Receive Survival Training

Because of unique survival training that they received as fingerlings, more stocked bass are reaching catchable size in Florida's waterways.

"Previously, fingerlings went from indoor ponds, where they had food dropped in to them, to lakes," said Nick Trippel, a fisheries biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). "They didn't know to run from bigger fish and birds."

As a consequence, telemetry studies using radio tags the size of a grain of rice revealed that survival rates for stocked bass at Lake Carlton on the Harris Chain was far lower than for fish spawned in the wild. Researchers discovered that hatchery bass tended to wander away from cover more often than wild bass. Failure to avoid predators, including birds, was apparent from the tags that turned up on shore under nests, in neighboring Lake Beauclair, and even inside a live double-crested cormorant.

"Hatchery fish didn't know how to use habitat or run from predators," Trippel said. "Wild fish knew to hunker down."

Also, study of fingerlings in experimental ponds, "with everything found in real lakes," showed that most mortality occurred within two weeks of stocking.

So biologists from the Eustis Fisheries Research Laboratory teamed up with researchers at the Florida Bass Conservation Center to see if they could educate young bass about the dangers of life in the wild. Turns out, they could.

"For conditioned fish, the survival rate was 60 to 65 percent," Trippel said. "It had been just 30 percent for naive fish."

Researchers educated the bass by moving them from indoor tanks to outdoor ponds 10 days before stocking. Plus, they added seven mature bass and seven bowfin to each pond.

"We wanted the fish to see their brothers and sisters eaten and know there was danger," the biologist said.

By contrast, fingerlings moved to outside ponds with no predators managed only 35 percent survival. Exposure to predators seemed to make the big difference.

Following that success, biologists tried adding mature bass to indoor tanks, which had habitat for the young bass to hide it. That type of conditioning improved survival as well.

Also, the number of fingerlings lost during conditioning was minimal in terms of impact to overall production. "Keeping them inside, we lost fish to disease," Trippel said.

Now, FWC is working on incorporating these strategies into its statewide stocking program.

"We don't have enough ponds to move all the fish outside," the biologist said. "But we can add predators to the raceways inside. Also, it's less stress on the fish because we don't have to move them.

"Right now, we're able to do this with smaller scale stockings."

 

Monday
Nov062017

Anglers Voice Concerns About Florida Aquatic Plant Management

Herbicide treatment of plants on Lake Okeechobee. Photo by Robert Montgomery

Saying that they've seen enough, Florida anglers are going public with their concerns, hoping to prompt improvement in the way their state manages invasive aquatic vegetation.

"The situation is that they spray, spray, spray, until nothing's left," said Stephen Bishop, one of the founders of Save Florida Lakes and Waterways (SFLW), a recently formed non-profit.

"They claim to only be after the invasive species like the hyacinth, but the facts are they nuke everything. In most areas the hyacinths are all we have left. Our water quality is suffering tremendously. Finding clean water has become extremely difficult.

"We're not saying 'no spray' is the answer," added the tournament angler who grew up on the St. Johns River.  "We're saying there is a middle ground. And we need someone to get out here, actually own what's happened, and re-program how we maintain our waterways."

To help spread the word and build support, SFLW has set up a Facebook page where anglers and others who are concerned can network, as well as post photos that show the aftermath of herbicide spraying.

Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), which coordinates the spending of about $20 million annually to manage invasive aquatic plants, are sympathetic to these concerns. But they counter that the reality is much more complicated than photos of dead and dying plants.

"Florida is a unique state because of the amount of aquatic vegetation we have and the higher degree of invasive plants," said Ryan Hamm, fisheries administrator for the Northeast Region. "We have 400 plus water bodies that require invasive plant management."

Last year, that management included treatment of 34,000 acres of floating invasives, including water hyacinth, water lettuce, and Cuban bulrush (burhead sedge). Capable of growing 6 inches laterally a day, hydrilla is the fourth target species in the program.

"Floating plants can double in size in two days," Hamm continued.  "With them we use a maintenance control philosophy, treating at the lowest feasible levels.  If we get behind, it could create a crisis and be costlier both financially and environmentally. These plants can take over and shade native plants."

Bishop argues that so many plants have been killed in some waters that organic buildup on the bottom prevents navigation "and wildlife rarely travels there because of it."

But Hamm says that hyacinth and lettuce are "like trees. They grow foliage and they drop it. That can accumulate more than treating and killing plants. We try to keep the (treatment) areas small."

Matt Phillips, a B.A.S.S. member who oversees the FWC's plant management program, acknowledges that sometimes native vegetation is killed. "When plants are mixed, we do have some damage," he said.  "We try to keep it minor.

"And we're selective in our herbicides. For example, 2, 4-D will kill hyacinths, but it also will kill bulrush. So we don't use it around bulrush."

Diquat, he added, is a contact herbicide that "will brown whatever it touches," and that frequently leads to the mistaken belief that the treatment has killed everything, not just invasives.

"But it doesn't kill the roots (of native plants).

"You can't treat lettuce and not hit spatterdock," Phillips explained. "The lettuce is killed and falls out. The spatterdock turns brown. Three days after treatment,  all you see is the brown spatterdock. But we use University of Florida science to follow these treatments. Research shows browning comes back in as little as three weeks."

Bishop agrees that the spatterdock pads do come back. "But the problem is that fish use those pads 100 percent more when combined with another form of vegetation. I think that a large part of that is because the spatterdock pads don't filter the water like eel grass and hydrilla," he said.

"When we find these other forms of vegetation, it's like a switch has been flipped, and you have clean, transparent water, multiple species of wildlife visually active, and high catch rates.

"Yes, they believe that the plants brown and then come back. But I don't. Adjacent eel grass, hydrilla, and dollar pads disappear and never come back."  

Bishop added that he thinks biologists "rely too much on what they study in the lab, and not the real world scenarios. I'd be willing to bet I'm on the water here more than anybody. I study the fishery profusely. To give you an idea, last year I won 20 tournaments on the St. Johns, and finished top three in 20+ others. I genuinely study our fishery day to day."

Hamm thinks such expertise can helpful in managing Florida's invasive aquatic plants. "If you're concerned, get involved in the planning process," he said. "More meetings and more dialogue will be beneficial.  Continued dialogue and building trust will go a long way.

"We biologists are not in it for the money. We want to provide a healthy environment and meet the needs of our stakeholders.  But we always can do a better job and we can do that with better understanding from both sides."

How It's Done 

"Trying to make everyone happy is an impossible task," said FWC's Matt Phillips.

But it's attempted, nevertheless, through the public outreach component of the  aquatic plant management program. That includes public meetings, especially for large public waters, as well as posting work plans for the year at myfwc.com.

Hydrilla typically is treated is in late winter and early spring, while floating plants are managed year around because in Florida's nutrient-rich waters they can double in weight in 7 to 10 days.

"We want to meet stakeholder needs and not impact native habitats," said Phillips, a long-time bass fisherman. "And we also recognize hydrilla's benefits."

Plants are sprayed  by a mixture of government and private operators all of whom must be certified by the state Department of Agriculture. And Phillips insists that "dumping" of excess herbicide is myth, not reality.

"Herbicides are provided by us, or they (applicators) are reimbursed," he said. "The profit is in their time on the water. We want them out there on the water, hunting and pecking, looking for small concentrations."

But Steven Bishop, spokesman for Save Florida's Lakes and Waterways,  doesn't believe that applicators always follow the official strategy of focusing on small areas of invasive plants.

"We're not seeing them follow their own guidelines," he said. "I'm not sure if it's the actual applicators, the ones directing the applicators, or the next level up.

"The ones that we've come in contact with seem to have no problem bending the truth about what they are doing instead of actually addressing our concerns. It's like a blame game that no one takes ownership of."

Phillips acknowledged that "any group has bad apples. But because of training, we don't have bad applicators. And we have biologists directing them. We decide what and when. We might have a bad application, but not a bad applicator.

"Applicators are accused of not caring," he continued. "But they live in the community. They love the outdoors too."

FWC receives "lots of questions" about how aquatic plants are managed, Phillips said. "And we have the conspiracy guys who think that we're treating at night.

"We try to be as transparent as possible. But maybe we could do a better job of communicating what we do. "

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