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Entries in Great Lakes (110)

Wednesday
Oct012014

Commercial Fishing Is Ally for Anglers in Battle Against Asian Carp

Kentucky Lake Asian carp. Photo by Steve McCadams

A recent study by University of Notre Dame researchers suggests that  consequences of an Asian carp invasion into the Great Lakes may not be as catastrophic as many fear.

“If bighead and silver carp were to establish in Lake Erie, local fish biomass is not likely to change beyond observations recorded in the last three decades,” the university said in a press release about the findings.

Scientists pointed out, however, that the study mainly highlights the uncertainty, adding that the walleye population could decrease by as little as 10 percent or as much as 40.

“The range of possibilities concerning walleye biomass shows that the potential effect to this species is highly uncertain,” said Roger Cooke, one of the study’s authors.

But what’s happening right now in Kentucky Lake and many more of the nation’s bass fisheries along major rivers is not theory. It’s reality.  The exotic fish are there in massive numbers. For example, a first-of-its kind commercial tournament on Barkley and Kentucky Lakes last year netted 82,953 pounds of bighead and silver carp --- that’s more than 40 tons--- in just two days.

And this reality does not bode well for the future of sport fishing.

“If we don’t do something, bass fishing will be over with in five to ten years. You won’t be able to run a bass boat on many of these waters,” said J.D. Johnson, owner of Gulf Pride Seafood.

“If people don’t wake up, we might as well hang it up.”

Working with Carp Management Group of America LLC, Johnson is at the forefront of an effort to garner both angler and financial support for commercial harvest of carp. And he’s not alone.

B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland also supports the effort, as do fisheries chiefs in Kentucky and Tennessee.

“Fishermen need to get behind this idea of commercial netting,” Gilliland said. “It’s the only viable solution until someone develops a magic pill.”

“We have to do something now before our lakes and rivers become so over-populated with Asian carp that our native fish never will be able to make a comeback,” said Tennessee’s Bobby Wilson.

“We may not be able to eliminate Asian carp by this method. But the goal is to reduce their numbers so that they will not have a significant impact on our native species of fish.”

Kentucky’s Ron Brooks added that the carp pose a dire threat to “the very base of the aquatic food pyramid” because they feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton, primary forage for newborn bass, crappie, and other sport fish.

The invaders pose that threat because of their massive appetites and huge numbers. A carp eats 5 to 20 percent of its body weight each day as it grows to an average weight of 30 to 40 pounds. A female can lay hundreds of thousands of eggs at a time, and she can do so multiple times annually.

Even knowing all this, however, some bass anglers likely are shaking their heads and saying that they don’t want nets in their waters. But Gilliland said commercial harvest does not harm sport fisheries --- even when gillnets are used.

Most significantly, however, gillnets aren’t the best way to harvest Asian carp, according to Johnson. “We call it ‘strike fishing’ and we’ve done it for years with mullet,” he said.

Schooling fish are encircled by net, driven inward, and quickly harvested. No nets are left unattended to snag whatever swims by.

“I can put 900 feet of net down to 200 feet in less than a minute,” Johnson said.

He added that he could send 575 metric tons of carp to Asian each year, if only the facilities were available to process them. Right now, though, harvested carp are used mostly for fertilizer and silage, and that’s not profitable enough to sustain an aggressive commercial fishery.

“In Tennessee, things are moving at a snail’s pace regarding commercial harvest, processing, and marketing of Asian carp,” Wilson said.

“Funding is the major issue, as it is with almost every venture.

“We know that commercial fishermen can catch them, and we know that there is a market for them overseas, as well as within the United States. The missing pieces are the processing plants and the price per pound for commercial fishermen.”

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

Thursday
Aug212014

Sky Isn't Falling, But Dead Zones Are Real

The Mississippi River dead zone is overloaded with nutrients from upstream sources. This photo shows the color change between the hypoxic (brown) and oxygen-rich (blue) waters. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Climate change occurs naturally. It always has, and it always will vary from day to day, week to week, season to season, year to year, decade to decade, and century to century. Possibly humans play a role in that change in some way, but no verifiable evidence supports that. Even if it did, we, as one nation, could do little to nothing about it because our contribution is miniscule compared to what’s happening in China, India, and the rest of the world.

The billions of dollars wasted on this sky-is-falling hysteria could be far better spent on providing food and clean water to the millions who need it.

By contrast, dead zones pose legitimate threats to our fisheries and oceans and could be minimized if we changed our ways.

LiveScience.com reports the following:

“Agricultural practices are the biggest culprit for dead zones in the United States and Europe. Rains wash excess fertilizer from farms into interior waterways, which eventually empty into the ocean. At the mouths of rivers, such as the Mississippi, the glut of phosphorous and nitrogen intended for human crops instead feeds marine phytoplankton.

“A phytoplanktonic surge leads to a boom in bacteria, which feed on the plankton and consume oxygen as part of their respiration. That leaves very little dissolved oxygen in the subsurface waters. Without oxygen, most marine life cannot survive.”

In the United States, the most notorious dead zone occurs each summer in the Gulf of Mexico, spreading out from the mouth of the Mississippi River. This year, it consumes more than 5,000 square miles, slightly smaller than last year. On average, it is estimated to cost $82 million annually in diminished tourism and fishing yield.

More than 150 dead zones have been identified in this country, most of them along the coasts. A few occur inland, notably the Great Lakes.

Some of them have been cleaned up through improved management of agricultural runoff and sewage. But as fertilizer and factory farming both increase, LiveScience.com warns, “the United States is creating dead zones faster than nature can recover.”

More than 400 dead zones have been identified worldwide, covering about 1 percent of the area along continental shelves.  But likely many more than that exist, since portions of Africa, South America, and Asia have yet to be studied.

Thursday
Apr032014

Great Lakes Ice Good for Water Levels, Fisheries, But Could Mean Loss of Wetlands

NOAA photo collage

By mid February, ice coverage of the Great Lakes was at 87.3 percent, as scientists predicted that it would reach record proportions--- more than 94.7 percent--- before the spring thaw.

That can be bad for commercial navigation. But in general, the ice is good for the lakes and their fisheries.

“When you have more ice formation, you have less direct contact with the atmosphere, less opportunity for evaporation and that keeps the water levels up, said Alan Steinman of the Annis Water Resources Institute.

For years now, the lakes have suffered from low water, with Lake Michigan falling to record lows just last year. More water retained will mean more shoreline habitat later.

Yet that also could mean the loss of wetlands gained during the low-water years. From 2004 to 2009, wetlands increased by 13,610 acres in the eight-state Great Lakes region, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That was the only portion of the country to show an increase, as the rest of the nation’s coastal wetlands shrank by 360,720 acres.

Before ice coverage started reaching record proportions, Donald Uzarski of the Institute of Great Lakes Research explained how the increase occurred.

“As the shoreline moves away from the upland, the wetland essentially follows it,” he said.

“Usually, the amount of wetlands stays the same over the years as water levels rise and fall because wetlands move where the shoreline is. But we’re seeing low levels that have rarely happened in the past.”

Going into spring, water levels likely will be higher than they would have been following a mild winter, thanks to that ice coverage. It increased from 77 to 87.3 percent during the second week of February and was forecast to reach the highest percentage since records started being kept in 1973. Coverage of 94.7 percent was recorded on Feb. 19, 1979.

By Feb. 12, Lake Superior, the most northern of the lakes, was at 95.3 percent coverage. It last was 100 percent ice covered in 1996.

Climate for Lake Erie is a bit milder, but the lake also is shallow compared to its counterparts, meaning it is more likely to freeze in winter. It was at 95.9 percent, on its way to the full coverage that also occurred in 1973, 1978, 1979, and 1996.

By contrast, coverage of Lake Ontario was just 32 percent. One reason for that, scientists theorize, is that the lake doesn’t freeze as easily as the rest because it has a greater capacity for “heat storage.” In other words, it is deep, like Superior, but has far less surface area, where the heat is lost. Also, moving water from Niagara Falls helps keep ice from forming.

Tuesday
Apr012014

Invasive Species Top List of Tourism Concerns in Michigan

Invasives species, including Asian carp, rank at the top of concerns by Michigan tourism professionals.

Tourism industry professionals in Michigan were asked to “identify key issues facing and threats to the integrity of Michigan’s tourism resources.” Since Michigan is a Great Lakes state, the results are not surprising: Invasive species rank as the top threat.

The tourism folks know what they’re talking about, not only for Michigan, but for much of the rest of the country as well.

As a matter of fact, I think that they correctly have identified the top four for many of the states, and they have appropriately placed climate change and increasing the number of wind farms where they belong--- at or near the bottom.

Sadly, a good number of them have bought into the environmental left’s hatred of fracking, when no evidence supports the notion that it poses a threat to our lands and waters. In fact the former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, said unequivocally that her agency has found no evidence of contamination.

  • Spread of invasive species (aquatic & terrestrial) – 65.2 percent
  • Lack of/limited funding for resource protection/maintenance – 59.5 percent
  • Declining water quality of our lakes, rivers and streams – 42.7 percent
  • Declining water levels of our lakes, rivers and streams – 41.3 percent
  • Diversion of water from the Great Lakes – 39.3 percent
  • Reduction in historic preservation tax credits – 28.9 percent
  • Closure of Department of History, Arts and Libraries – 25.1 percent
  • Fracking – 24.5 percent
  • Need for better/faster adoption of technology at tourism sites – 20.8 percent
  • Under-appreciation of Native American history and culture – 20.0 percent
  • Climate change – 16.8 percent
  • Spread of infectious diseases – 8.5 percent
  • Increasing number of wind farms – 7.7 percent
Friday
Mar282014

Mapping the Invasion

This screen shot shows zebra and quagga mussel invasion as of 2006.

Nature Conservancy has produced some great interactive maps showing how invasive aquatic species have spread out across the country from their point of introduction.

Featured species include bighead and silver carp, zebra and quagga mussels, Eurasian ruffe, round goby, sea lamprey, and black carp.

Also, in late 2012, the organization released a report saying that aquatic invasive species “cost businesses and consumer in the Great Lakes region hundreds of millions of dollars annually in direct costs and even more from indirect costs related to removal, maintenance, and management of those species.

“Meanwhile, state and federal governments are currently forced to spend additional millions as they attempt to control the impacts and prevent the spread of AIS (aquatic invasive species).”

According to the report, the largest industry affected by AIS in the Great Lakes is tourism and recreation, which is responsible for employing more than 90,000 people in the region, generating $30.3 billion annually in revenue. Costs range from monitoring and controlling AIS to lost revenue from beach closings affecting hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses.