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Entries in invasive species (226)

Wednesday
Dec302015

Our Right to Fish Is at Risk

At the bank the other day, the teller told me that I had shortchanged myself a thousand dollars on my deposit slip.

I know why it happened. Each of the checks that I was depositing included a fraction of a dollar. I was so concerned about getting the pennies correct that I neglected to devote sufficient attention to the dollars.

In other words, I focused too much on minor details and completely missed the big picture.

That’s an easy thing to do. Most of us have done it at one time or another, and, fortunately, consequences usually aren’t catastrophic. We have spouses, friends, and friendly tellers to set us straight.

But too many of us are missing the big picture right now regarding the future of recreational fishing, and consequences could be catastrophic.

As the administration leads the country in a direction that the majority of Americans oppose, those who dislike recreational fishing or, at best, are indifferent to it, are using their White House alliances to push for massive federal control of public waters. And here’s the dangerous part:

As conservationists, anglers believe in sustainable use of fisheries, while protecting habitat, opposing pollution, and preserving the resource for future generations to enjoy.         

By contrast those pushing an anti-fishing agenda are preservationists who believe in “look but don’t touch.” They assert that humans exist apart from nature, rather than as a part of it. They think that we act immorally when we manage or alter it in any way.

Consequently, the big picture is that a concerted effort is underway to deny us access to a public resource, and, in so doing, to deny and destroy a significant portion of our history, culture, and economy --- not to mention our right to enjoy a day on the water with friends and family. Granted, the movement is only now gaining momentum. Chances are, if you live inland, you might not see any closures in your life time. But the snowball has begun to roll downhill.

Arguably, it began when environmentalists convinced President George W. Bush to designate two remote areas in the Pacific as marine reserves. It has strengthened with President Obama's National Ocean Council, which has been given authority to zone uses of our oceans, coastal waters, and Great Lakes, as well as the option to move inland to rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.

Also, it’s taking shape via a “catch shares” management strategy in which recreational participation would be capped.

And as preservationists seek to “protect” oceans from anglers, lake associations want to do the same on inland waters. Knowing a good excuse when they see one, they insist that closures of public access areas are needed to prevent spread of invasive species.

Inland access might seem unrelated to the ocean management. But they are two fronts of the same battle.

You need only look to California to see what is coming our way. Fisheries are falling one after the other, like dominoes, as emotion trumps science-based fisheries management. Mostly the closures are coming under the auspices of the state Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). But they’re also occurring through local regulations. In 2010, four out of five members of the Laguna Beach City Council supported a five-year moratorium on recreational fishing along its seven miles of coast.

“There’s no such thing as a five-year moratorium,” said dissenter Kelly Boyd. “You turn something over to the state and you’ll never get it back.”

Dave Connell, an angry angler, added, “We’re fighting a fad, an environmental extremist wacko fad about closing the ocean. I do not know what their agenda is, but it is not to save the fish. It is not to keep the ocean clean.”

Starting to see the big picture yet?

Sunday
Dec202015

Noise Could Be Way to Slow Spread of Silver Carp

Anglers and other boaters already know that silver carp don't like noise, and arguably that's not a good thing. That's because huge schools of these exotic fish go airborne as they flee the sounds of outboard engines, often damaging boaters and injuring people.

But this aversion to noise also could provide a silver lining in the quest to slow the spread of silver carp, according to scientists with the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).    

“Our complex noise findings suggest that certain sounds could be used to divert silver carp away from strategic points on waterways or herd them into nets,” said Brooke Vetter, a UMD researcher and graduate student.

After placing speakers at the ends of outdoor concrete ponds, scientists tested carp response to pure sounds, which resemble a dial tone, and more complex noises. The fish quickly adjusted to the pure tones, never swimming away more than two consecutive times. But they continuously fled the more complex sounds.

Now researchers are testing complex noise as a way to control silver carp in the Illinois River.

“Silver carp threaten many waterways in the Great Lakes basin by competing with native species,” said USGS's Mark Gaikowski. “Understanding silver carp behavior is critical for determining effective techniques to minimize the ecological and economic damage of this invasive species."

Wednesday
Nov042015

Asian Carp Already Damaging Fisheries

Leaping silver carp on Illinois River. Photo by Nerissa McClelland, Illinois Department of Natural ResourcesMost bass anglers realize that Asian carp pose a threat to the nation's sport fisheries. But they know that because of what they have read and heard, not because of what they've seen and experienced. For them, the danger is theoretical, especially since most of the focus has been on possible consequences to the Great Lakes  if/when these large and prolific exotics gain entrance there.

Bighead and silver carp, however, already are damaging bass fisheries and showing up in frightening numbers in others. In southern Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee, the invasion has begun and casualties are mounting.

"Once you needed 12 to 20 pounds to win a tournament on the Kaskaskia (Mississippi River tributary south of St. Louis)," said Rick Brynes, who runs the Angler's Choice Tournament Trail. "But now that's gone, and we're starting to see the same thing on the Smithland Pool (Ohio River). During the past three to four years, the weights have dropped dramatically.

"It's a crisis, and not enough anglers see it," added the Illinois fisherman who has been pressing officials and agencies for action and sounding the alarm to everyone who will listen. "We're going to lose our fisheries. It's just going to take longer in some places than others."

Juvenile Asian carp. Photo by Ben DuncanIn Kentucky, guide Jim Perry said that "zillions" of young-of-the-year carp are showing up along the shorelines below both Kentucky and Barkley dams. "Plus there are schools of them above those dams all around the intakes, where the water goes down to the generators," he added.

Steve McCadams, another guide, added crappie anglers are worried about carp eating up all of the zooplankton and algae that young-of-the-year typically feed on. "Our overall crappie fishery has experienced some declines the last few years as to catch rates and recruitment," he said.

Kentucky fisheries chief Ron Brooks pointed out that little data exists regarding the impacts of Asian carp on native species.  "We have ancillary information concerning their effect on paddlefish," he said, adding that Illinois has evidence of harmful impacts to buffalo, and pelagic sport fish, such as sauger, in the Illinois River.

"We also are seeing fewer shad and skipjack in our tailwaters in western Kentucky," the fisheries chief said. "The real problem with measuring impacts of Asian carp in fertile waters is that they may be very subtle until a certain point of density is reached when a system is finally depleted, or nearly depleted, of algal and invertebrate forage. We are hoping to avoid reaching that threshold."

Arguably thresholds already have been reached on portions of the Missouri and Illinois Rivers, where net sampling has revealed Asian carp now comprise more than 95 percent of the biomass. In other words, those waters contain less than 5 percent native species by weight. Notorious for leaping when frightened, the silver carp also has made boating hazardous in these places, especially in the Illinois River below Peoria.

Riverine fish in their native China, silver and bighead carp spread in every direction after escaping Mississippi Delta aquaculture facilities because of flooding during the 1970s. Prolific, voracious, and fast-growing, they overwhelmed those Midwest waters first. They did so by gobbling up phytoplankton and zooplankton, which is critical forage not just for shad, paddlefish, and buffalo, but for fry of sport fish, including crappie and bass.

"Between 1994 and 1997 commercial catches of bighead carp in the Mississippi River increased from 5.5 tons to 55 tons," reported the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. "Today, commercial fishers in the Illinois River regularly catch up to 25,000 pounds of bighead and silver carp per day.

Asian carp harvested from Kentucky Lake. Photo by Jim PerryAnd while most attention was focused on the fear that the invaders might migrate into the Great Lakes via a manmade connection between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, they quietly pushed east into the Ohio. That gave them entrance to the Tennessee River and Kentucky Lake, as well as Lake Barkley and the Cumberland system. Now, their numbers are exploding in those reservoirs, even as they have been found as far up the Cumberland as Old Hickory and as far up the Tennessee as Watts Bar.

"Personally, I think it's too late to fully save the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The quantity of carp in both those rivers is unimaginable, although, sustained fishing does help," said Ben Duncan, a commercial fisherman, as well as high school mathematics teacher. "If we don't start soon, the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers will soon follow."

Duncan added that he already sees how native fish have changed their behavior because of the carp invasion. "I think it's even influenced the crappie population and spawn on Kentucky Lake," he said. "Commercially, we catch way fewer fish in the bays than we did seven to eight years ago, especially buffalo, a fish that competes with Asians for food."         

Even more concerning, they are growing to sizes never before seen, even in their native China. Earlier this year, Bill Shroeder foul-hooked and landed a 106-pound silver carp in Kentucky Lake. Fisheries experts say the maximum weight for that species should be about 60 pounds.

What's being done to protect sport fisheries in these imperiled waters? Not enough, stressed Byrnes, who has pressed the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies to explain why they are not more aggressively exploring and implementing strategies to manage Asian carp.

"Things could be done to eradicate them that are not being done," he said, adding that lack of funding seems a contributing factor.

"We're 25 years into this, and we need some action now," the Illinois angler said. "Asian carp can take over and change our fisheries forever."

Science

While resource agencies aren't responding to the Asian carp threat as quickly as some would like, they are working on control methods, according to Michael Hoff with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"It is unlikely, in my experience, that any technology will be the end all," he said. "That is why we, in the U.S. agencies, are researching and developing a variety of containment and control technologies that are feasible now, and may be implemented within the next few years."

Any strategies, he added, must take into account "a variety of scientific, social, political, and environmental constraints."

Genetic modification is one option. It would require stocking hundreds of thousands of altered carp to breed with the existing population to cause reproductive failure, reduced fertility, or ineffective recruitment. But concerns about  the effects of genetically modified animals on the environment and humans makes this option less likely. Variations that do not require modification of the nuclear genome also are being explored, but they likely would work only where densities are low.

Distribution of "microparticles" that only silver and bighead carp would eat seems a more likely strategy.

"Those microparticles are being developed to kill only Asian carp," Hoff said. "I am hopeful that the microparticle technology will be approved for use within the next several years."

Photo by Nerissa McClelland

Harvest

As research continues on methods to control Asian carp populations, Kentucky and Tennessee have followed the lead of Illinois in promoting commercial harvest. The mild-flavored fish is highly prized for food in Asian, and slowly is growing in popularity in the United States. Additionally, meal made from carp can be used in livestock food, as well as fertilizers.

Kentucky fisheries chief Ron Brooks said that Riverine Fisheries International, LLC has retrofitted a salmon processing ship to accommodate carp and now is towing it to his state from New Orleans. "The owner has a very aggressive plan of attack concerning fishing the carp and expects to eventually haul in about 150,000 pounds of Asian carp daily," he said, adding that he knows of at least two other processors.

"The good thing about the larger companies is their interest in Asian carp in Kentucky and Barkley Lakes," Brooks added. "The carp grow faster and are more robust in those reservoirs than they are in the rivers. They pose immediate threats not only to the fisheries, but boaters as well."

Tennessee, meanwhile has no major processors as of yet, but the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) "proposes to use commercial fishing methods to remove large volumes of bighead and silver carp in established populations such as Kentucky, Barkley, and Cheatham Lakes."

First, a few carp will be caught and then tagged.

"Silver carp tend to stay in large groups so biologists could track the tagged fish to larger groups of silver carp," it said. "Biologists or commercial fishermen could then set nets in areas of known silver carp concentrations and remove them."

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

Thursday
Oct292015

National Policy Needed to Help Stop Spread of Grass Carp

This grass carp was illegally stocked in a lake where it wasn't needed, and the health of the fishery has suffered as a consequence. Photo by Robert Montgomery

Although grass carp have been found in every one of the Great Lakes except Superior, resource managers don’t believe that the exotic fish have established a self-sustaining population.

But the Mississippi Interstate Resource Association (MICRA) recently warned that “state grass carp regulations are varied and inconsistent, and a national policy strategy is needed to effectively minimize the risks of additional fertile and sterile grass carp introductions into the Great Lakes.”

MICRA reached that conclusion as result of a study funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to look at grass carp use, production, and regulations. It also made recommendations to help minimize risk not only to the Great Lakes, but other waters not yet infested by unintentional introductions of this aquatic invader.

Those recommendations include the following:

  • Production, shipment, stocking, import, and export of diploid (fertile) grass carp should be prohibited except by licensed facilities.
  • States that allow production of triploid (sterile) grass should develop a set of minimum standards, permit requirements, and recordkeeping for diploid broodstock.
  • States that allow importation of triploid carp should adopt consistent regulations that allow only FWS-certified fish.  Also, increase random inspections and enforcement of regulations in these states.
  • FWS should work with states, producers, and other partners to develop testing procedures for quality controls and law enforcement in support of random inspections.

Grass carp, a species of Asian carp, were first imported into the U.S. in 1963 as a tool to manage nuisance aquatic vegetation, including exotic hydrilla, in ponds and impoundments. But flooding allowed many to escape into rivers and streams and, by 1970, they were reported in the Mississippi River basin.

Sunday
Oct182015

Banning Fishing Won't Save Coral in Biscayne National Park

Too many in this country, especially anglers, fail to recognize that the anti-fishing movement is strong and going stronger, not only in private organizations such as PETA, but in federal government. Right now, anti-fishing elements in both groups are strategizing together about how to establish National Marine Monuments that would prohibit recreational fishing off the New England coast

The National Park Service (NPS)  already has closed portions of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and now it's going after a recreational fishing ban on part of Florida's Biscayne National Park, under the pretense of protecting coral.

 But because its decisions affect just one part of the country at a time, outrage regarding its actions usually is limited to those personally affected by the loss of access and the fishing industry in general, which tries its best to awaken anglers to this threat.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen exposed how anti-fishing proponents have corrupted NPS management in her recent critique of its proposal.

"Putting a no-fishing zone at the forefront of Biscayne’s coral-protection strategy would seem to suggest that NPS believes fishing is the primary threat to our reefs," she said.

"But scientists have determined that poor water quality and periodic extreme water temperatures are responsible for most coral losses in Biscayne over the last two decades. Furthermore, overfishing is just one of five major threats to Biscayne’s coral reefs that NPS has identified, including reduced freshwater flows into Biscayne Bay, invasive species, water quality/pollution and climate change.

"Knowing this, how can NPS propose that eliminating fishing in 7 percent of park waters will vastly improve the state of park reefs?"

She also correctly contrasts that political move to impose an preservationist ideology with how NPS managers at Everglades National Park properly developed a management.

" Everglades’ GMP (general management plan) has gone through the same tortured process that Biscayne’s has, yet when the final plan was recently released, it was rightly praised by fishermen and environmental groups alike because it was grounded in a consensus-based plan that balanced ecological protection and public access. The plan vastly expands pole/troll zones across Florida Bay to protect vital seagrass beds from boat motors while allowing folks to enjoy fishing and boating in their public waters via dozens of new, marked access routes."

That plan, she correctly pointed out, supports both fish habitat and fishing.

"In Biscayne, the plan lays out a false choice between fish habitat or fishing," she said. "It’s not too late for the Park Service to develop a GMP for Biscayne that can actually deliver the conservation benefits it’s designed to provide, and do so with the support of all stakeholders in our community — the type of GMP that neighboring Everglades National Park recently proposed."