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Entries in invasive species (209)

Friday
Sep262014

Battling --- And Besting --- The Big One

Once again the huge fish bulled for deeper water. And once again I pumped and reeled to regain line.

If frogs croaked or birds sang on this cool evening in early fall, I didn’t hear them. The only sounds that I remember are the “Whap! Whap! Whap!” of the monster’s broad tail as it slapped the surface of the still, shallow water, and the “Zsst! Zsst! Zsst!” of the drag on my spinning reel as it protected my 12-pound line from breaking.

The fight lasted 15 minutes at least, probably more. I knew that I had to weaken the grass carp to have any chance of wrestling it ashore, but I also realized how perilous our connection, with light line and small hook. That’s why I eased off on the drag each time I brought it close to my dock. At close range, one hard headshake from a fish that size, even a tired one, would part the line.

Finally, I judged it ready to be landed, knelt on one knee, held the rod with my right hand and scooped with my left. Only my net was far too small to get much more than its head in it. And as I belatedly realized that, a barb on the little treble snagged in the mesh. Now, a foot or so below the side of the dock,  I had the huge carp half in and half out of the net, and there was no way I could lift the fish with one hand, even if it all did fit.

Suddenly, the once tired fish became manic, thrashing wildly, and I all but acknowledged that I had lost the fight.  I was certain that the line would break as the carp jerked against the resistance of the hook embedded in the net.

Hook on right is the one that I removed from carp and net.

But I pushed the net as deep as I could, and the fish bolted farther into it instead of away from it. Nearly simultaneously, I dropped the rod, grabbed the handle with both hands and heaved.

And finally there it was, a 40-pound-plus grass carp half in and half out of the net on my dock. Somehow, someway, I had managed to land the beast with a net that likely was better suited for butterflies than fish of this size.

I know that it was 40 plus because it was far heavier than my previous best, which had bottomed out a 30-pound scale.

During the nine years that I’ve lived on this 10-acre semi-private lake, I’ve caught about 20 of the illegally stocked grass carp, which have suppressed the bass, bluegill, and catfish populations and degraded the water quality.

Aquatic vegetation never has been a problem in this normally clear, spring-fed lake, but ignorant property owners stocked the carp, thinking that they were filter feeders that would improve the water quality. One of them actually told me that.  In truth, grass carp are the equivalent of aquatic cows, adding to the nutrient load as they grow to massive size, and contributing to algae blooms as they stir up the bottom.

But they are fun to catch, fighting a lot like big redfish, and I’ve perfected the technique --- at least for my little lake. I fish only for the carp that I can see. Once I’ve spotted one, I toss a bread ball under a bobber in front of it. Sometimes, I have to increase the depth of the bait to get the fish to take. Last night, I had to do that three times.

When I go back out there this evening to look for the three others that saw with the one that I caught, I should have it at the proper depth on the first try.

And I will have a larger net.

To read about the 30-pound carp that I caught and learn more about why grass carp generally are bad news for sport fisheries, go here. I'm not suggesting that grass carp can't be used to manage aquatic vegetation in certain circumstances, but they're tools that only fisheries biologists should consider.

Tuesday
Sep232014

Time to Begin Limited Harvest of Goliath Groupers?

 Photo by Robert Montgomery

Count me as one who favors a limited permit system for harvest of goliath groupers by recreational anglers.

The large, predatory fish have made a remarkable recovery in Florida waters, with fishermen frequently tangling with them as they pursue other species. And sometimes the goliaths eat those other species as they are being reeled in.

A legitimate concern, though, is how an exploding population of exotic lionfish will affect the population. The invaders are notorious predators on juvenile fish of many species, goliaths included.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will consider management issues when a new stock assessment is completed next spring.

Overharvest by commercial and recreational fishermen nearly pushed the goliaths to extinction by the mid 1980s. But during the 25 years since harvest was banned, they’ve rebounded in dramatic fashion.

The News-Press reports the following:

In a University of Florida survey, 1,518 recreational hook-and-line fishermen, 574 recreational spear fishermen, 697 commercial fishermen and 352 sightseeing divers answered a series of questions about goliath grouper.

Among the findings:

  • Commercial fishermen: 68 percent were interested in harvesting goliath grouper; 32 percent said goliath grouper encounters were desirable; 42 percent said the goliath grouper is a nuisance species.
  • Recreational hook-and-line and spear fishermen: 78 percent were interested in harvesting goliath grouper; 52 percent said goliath grouper encounters were desirable; 20 percent said the goliath grouper is a nuisance species.
  • Sightseeing divers: 87 percent said goliath grouper encounters were desirable; 9 percent said the goliath grouper is a nuisance species (these divers were not asked about their interest in harvesting goliath grouper but did express support for keeping the fishery closed to harvest). 

Some hook-and-line fishermen and spear fishermen consider goliath grouper a nuisance because they steal hooked and speared fish.

Sightseeing divers, on the other hand, like seeing and photographing goliath grouper, which can grow to 8 feet in length and weigh 800 pounds.

"We learned from the survey and anecdotal information that the difference is the individual's goals," said Florida Sea Grant agent Joy Hazell, co-author of the report on the survey. "If a diver sees a big, giant fish that he's spent money to see, it's a good experience. If a fisherman has a good fish hooked and loses it to a goliath grouper, the perception is he's lost money. As the goliath grouper population has increased, there's a perception for some people that it's becoming a problem,"

Spearfisherman Zachary Francis of Fort Myers is all for a well managed goliath grouper harvest.

"They should have a bag limit, like one per boat per day, and a slot size," he said. "The fact is that they're overpopulated. Any dive you make, you'll see five or six. They can be very aggressive. They're the premier predatory fish on the reef, and they're eating all the other groupers."

While goliath grouper will aggressively go after speared and hooked fish, studies show that its main diet is crabs and other crustaceans and slow-moving fish.

Brent Argabright, owner of Dean's Dive Center in Fort Myers, is also interested in a managed harvest.

"I don't think they should just give people free rein or just have a 10-day season," he said. "If the state wants to raise money as well as clean out a few of them, they could do like they do with alligator and sell permits."

Wednesday
Sep032014

Dirk Encourages Anglers to Sink Teeth into Asian Carp Problem

Dirk grills Asian carp burgers.

Dirk Fucik has no illusions that he can turn back the Asian carp invasion that threatens the Great Lakes. But by making, selling, and even offering free samples of “carp burgers,” his Dirk’s Fish & Gourmet Shop in Chicago has been encouraging fellow anglers and others to slow the spread of these exotic species one bite at a time.

“We have been promoting the eating of Asian carp for about five years now,” said Fucik, a longtime member of B.A.S.S.

“We give out free samples every week at the shop, have worked with Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and Army Corp of Engineers to give away carp burgers at the Taste of Chicago, and we are partnered with the Shedd Aquarium in promoting the use of Asian carp.

“It’s a great-eating fish,” he added. “We just have to get past the bones and the stigma of carp.”

At Taste of Chicago, an annual food festival, Fucik typically gives away 800 burgers in two hours, with 90 percent of those who try them approving.

“When Americans think of carp, they think of German carp,” he said. “And that fish is a bottom feeder. It is a dark-fleshed meat, and it’s strong in flavor and bony.”

By contrast, Asian carp are plankton eaters, and their meat is white, resembling cod. But they are bony. To solve that problem, Fucik extracted the large bones and then ran the meat and small bones through a meat grinder.

“It’s similar to burger meat,” he said.

And at about $6 a pound, it’s much cheaper than salmon burgers at $18.

“We should all embrace the use of Asian carp for food purposes,” he said. “It is a great lean, low-fat protein and, being a problem invasive species, eating it is a great solution.”

Asian carp burgers with tomato jalapeno chutney.

Dirk's  Carp Burgers:

2 pounds Asian carp fillets, ground
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs( this is optional)
2 tablespoons fresh garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
4 teaspoons dry oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh oregano
4 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine all ingredients except panko crumbs. Grind the fish twice to make sure there are no more bones and to blend the spices. Add panko crumbs and form into patties or choose not to use breading. The burgers will be a little softer but just handle with care.

If you want to add cheese, use a soft cheese. Form a small ball of cheese and insert into the center of the burger. Form the burger around the cheese.

Cook for about 5 minutes per side on a hot grill, the cheese will start leaking out when they are almost done.

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

Wednesday
Aug062014

Maryland Launches Campaign Against Invasive Catfish

Photo from Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has launched a statewide campaign to minimize the impact that invasive blue and flathead catfish are having on state fisheries.

“Increasing in population and range, both blue and flathead catfish now are abundant in the Chesapeake Bay, threatening the natural food chain of our ecosystem and causing concern among fisheries manager,” said DNR Deputy Secretary Frank Dawson.

The new outreach strategy will help anglers identify and catch these invasive species, and, resource officials hope, will encourage them to keep the fish instead of releasing them. As a part of the campaign, more than 150 education/cautionary signs will be placed at access areas and kiosks across the state. Additionally, the state will help promote Maryland’s fledgling commercial catfish fishery.

“Blue and flathead catfish are long-lived, voracious predators,” added Tom O’Connell, DNR fisheries chief. “They grow to enormous size, have many offspring, and dominate other fish populations wherever they take hold.

“We want everyone to aware of this significant problem and to know that it is illegal to transport these fish between bodies of water in Maryland.”

Both species were introduced by anglers into the Chesapeake Bay watershed during the 1970s and 1980s. Today, blues are in most of the bay’s major tributaries. Flatheads are in the Lower Susquehanna and the Occoquan Rivers and recently were identified in the non-tidal Potomac near Willamsport. The state record blue, weighing 84 pounds, came from the Tidal Potomac in 2012.

And they are present in huge numbers. Biologists conducting a survey for stripers in Mattawoman Creek found their nets clogged with catfish. A Port Tobacco commercial fisherman collected 300,000 pounds in one haul.

Also, stomach sampling reveals that the catfish will eat just about anything that they can swallow, including blue crabs.  “Looking in the guts of these fish, we find really astounding differences in the range of species they consume, suggesting that, if left unchecked, they could potentially start to impact our ecosystem,” said Peyton Robertson, director of the Chesapeake Bay office for the National Oceanic and  Atmospheric Administration.

Tuesday
Jul292014

Florida's New Regulations Help Combat Lionfish Invasion

Florida is known as a tourist-friendly state, but starting Aug. 1, one visitor will no longer be welcome: the invasive lionfish.

Introduced into Florida waters in the late 1980s, lionfish populations have boomed in recent years, negatively impacting native wildlife and habitat.

Go here to learn about the threat that they pose to native fish species.

Several management changes go into effect Aug. 1 that will help the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) combat the growing problem by making it easier for lionfish hunters to remove the spiny predators and limiting further introduction of the species into the waters.

Changes include:

  • Prohibiting the importation of live lionfish;
  • Allowing lionfish to be removed via spearfishing when diving with a rebreather, a device that recycles air and allows divers to remain in the water for longer periods of time (currently, you cannot spear any fish when using a rebreather); and
  • Allowing participants of approved tournaments and other organized events to spear lionfish or other invasive species in areas where spearfishing is not currently allowed (such as certain state parks or refuges). This will be done through a permitting system.

See or catch a lionfish? Report a sighting by downloading the new Report Florida Lionfish app on a smart device or by visiting MyFWC.com/Fishing and clicking on “Recreational Regulations” (under “Saltwater”) and then “Lionfish.”

To learn more about lionfish, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Lionfish.”