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Entries in Louisiana (27)

Wednesday
Dec172014

Vanishing Paradise Champions Gulf Coast Restoration

The Gulf Coast was imperiled even before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.  

That’s because erosion and saltwater intrusion are destroying wetlands and marshes in the Mississippi River Delta and have been for decades, mostly because of manmade alterations and degradations. In 2009, that realization prompted the National Wildlife Federation and Ducks Unlimited to unite to awaken Congress and the nation to the crisis through the Vanishing Paradise (VP) coalition.

As a result of that serendipitous timing, fish, waterfowl, sportsmen, and coastal communities have a champion in their corner today as BP pays billions for damage inflicted upon the Gulf. With more than 800 fishing and hunting businesses and organizations supporting its mission, VP wants that money used to restore and enhance those wetlands and marshes, as well as mitigate the environmental damage done by the oil spill all along the coast.

“We engaged heavily to get anglers and hunters to Washington, D.C. to talk to their legislators and help pass important legislation,” said Steve Bender, VP director. “And it worked. We delivered the RESTORE Act.”

A volunteer Advisory Council and Conservation Pro Staff deserve much of the credit not only for passage of the act but for promoting the campaign and educating the public about the coastal crisis, he added.

The 2011 RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act allocates a portion of the funds equally to the five Gulf Coast states for ecological and economic recovery, and establishes the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to develop and fund a plan for recovery. It also establishes an endowment that includes funding for fisheries stock assessments and ecosystem monitoring.

“Since then, we’ve been focusing on restoration,” Bender continued. “We’ve been asked to expand our scope (from the Delta) into the Gulf.

“Louisiana already had a master plan. And now that other states are receiving dollars, we are working on getting that money spent on coastal recovery and economic restoration. We have policy specialists in those states, and we’re going to expand angler and hunter outreach.”

Ground Zero for protection and restoration work, however, remains the Delta at the mouth of the Mississippi River on Louisiana’s coast. This vast wetlands area is critical as spawning and nursery grounds for fish and overwintering habitat for much of the nation’s waterfowl. And since the 1930s, an estimated 1,880 square miles of habitat has been lost.

“Given the importance of so many of south Louisiana’s natural assets --- its waterways, natural resources, and unique culture, and wetlands --- this land loss crisis is nothing short of a national emergency, one that takes a daily toll on the lives of coastal residents,” said the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which developed the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.

In Louisiana, what it all boils down to is trying to stop the destruction and implement a system that mimics, as much as possible,  the natural process interrupted by development --- a system that will restore wetlands and marshes for fish and wildlife, while providing protection for coastal communities from saltwater intrusion.

Why is this needed? The reasons are many, according to VP, but one of the most significant is that the Mississippi River “has been straitjacketed with huge levees as part of a national program to ‘control’ the river and protect communities and economic infrastructure from flooding.”

But wetlands were built and sustained by sediment delivered by the river, and cutting them off with levees stopped new growth, allowing for saltwater intrusion that kills them.

“Without land-building deposits from the river, the Delta is doomed to continue sinking beneath the water, endangering the people, wildlife, and jobs that depend on these healthy resources,” VP said.

According to the master plan, restoration and protection projects will focus on sediment diversion, marsh creation, bank stabilization, structural and shoreline protection, and hydrologic, barrier island, and ridge restoration. Unfortunately,  proposed diversions have generated opposition from some, who otherwise support the plan. That’s because sediment-carrying sediment, which will rebuild marshes, also will move saltwater species back toward the Gulf.

It’s easy to understand their point of view: They don’t want to surrender any of their fishing grounds, including those created by man’s interference with a natural system. But such a view is short-sighted, since the continued health of both freshwater and saltwater fisheries is dependent on freshwater and sediment. If saltwater continues to encroach, nearly all nursery habitat will be lost and redfish and trout will decline, along with bass and catfish.

“The problem in Louisiana is we’re addicted to salt because that salt brings tremendous benefits in fisheries,” explained Robert Twilley, a coastal scientist at Louisiana State University.

Every year, he cautioned, that artificial fishery moves closer to the river than nature ever intended.

Along the Mississippi at Buras, a stark contrast highlights the importance of using freshwater diversions, explained Ryan Lambert, a VP supporter and owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures. On the west side, which receives little to no freshwater, only open water and dead marsh grass remains. On the east side, where freshwater flows, the wetlands are alive and thriving.

In that area, he added, “bass fishermen and redfish fishermen go to the same place to catch fish. From Buras down to the mouth of the Mississippi is the best fishing in North America.

“You can’t just pump in sediment,” he said. “You have to have freshwater too (for sustained fisheries).”

Lambert pointed out that the Davis Pond Diversion, where Kevin VanDam won the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, is no longer a viable fishery because diversion flow has been reduced. “Saltwater has come in and killed the grass,” he said. “There are no bass, no brim, no crappie, no catfish, and no duck habitat. And it’s all because they want to grow oysters there.”

As work goes forward, Bender emphasized that the master plan is not just about diversion and VP wants to work with all stakeholders, including those who oppose that aspect. “We want to limit the impacts on folks who might be hurt,” he said. “We need to find a way to work together.

“But we also feel strongly that you have to let the river do what it does naturally.

“Gov. (Bobby) Jindal has been very supportive of restoration, and we’re hoping that the new governor coming in will be the same,” Bender said. “We have more partnerships on the horizon and a new campaign coming up in Louisiana soon.”

(This article appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer.)

Monday
Oct062014

More Anglers Choosing Kayaks; Here's Why

New Jersey kayak angler Richie Moschella

Unless you are one of a small but growing number who fish from a kayak, chances are that what you think you know about the little craft is wrong.

You think that they are too unstable? Not anymore. Now you can stand up to fish.

You think that they are too uncomfortable? Not anymore. How does a swivel seat sound?

Want electronics? You can have that too.

And, hey, you don’t even have to paddle if you don’t want to. Some fishing kayaks now have pedal drive systems. That means you can move backward as well as forward, with both arms free, and cast as you go.

“Ten years ago, you had to fish out of a touring kayak,” said Richie Moschella, a longtime B.A.S.S. member, kayak fishing veteran, and host of the Reel Deal Fishing Show out of New Jersey.

“But, in the last two years, kayak fishing has just exploded. Today, some (fishing industry) companies are even starting kayak fishing pro staffs.”

Statistics from the Outdoor Industry Association reflect that “explosion.” In 2009, kayak fishing participation wasn’t even surveyed. Today, nearly 1.8 million anglers say that they fish from these lightweight, easily portable craft.

 For fishermen, at least, those first-generation kayaks were unstable and uncomfortable, and they were not suited for adding options. Rather than providing the means to better enjoy another outdoor activity such as fishing, they were intended solely for what their name implies--- touring. Just casting from one of those could be perilous because of their tendency to tip with the slightest shift in weight.

“I never liked canoes after tipping one,” said T. Chad Montgomery, a Georgia angler. “When I found Freedom Hawk, I could stand, which is how I prefer to fish, and the stability gave me peace of mind. I was hooked immediately for something I said I’d never be into.”

The Freedom Hawk provides a perfect example of how touring kayaks have evolved into man-powered fishing machines. It features an outrigger system that can be extended into a Y shape for stand-up fishing. It also offers a casting brace to lean against.

Down in Louisiana, meanwhile, Russ Pylant now fishes from a top-of-the-line Hobie Pro Angler 14, a pedal-powered craft with lots of bells and whistles that retails for about $3,000. And at 6-5 and 260 pounds, he can stand and fish comfortably in it.

“You give up some speed and maneuverability for stability and standing capacity,” he explained.

But Pylant began with a more modest vessel. 

“I started out with a Bass Pro Ascend (about $500),” he said. “It only took me a few months to see this hobby was going to stick and I upgraded to a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 (about $1,200).

Moschella, who gives seminars on kayak fishing, added that an angler should pay at least $500 for his first kayak, while a “decent kayak setup” likely will run $700 to $1,200.

“I know so many who buy cheap,” he said. “I tell people that what they pay is the experience that they will have.”

The New Jersey angler explained that he experienced some of that when he started kayak fishing in 2007. “Some of them were cheap and bad,” he said. “They took on water. They sat too low. They didn’t move true in the water. Yeah, they might weigh less, but you get what you pay for.”

His choice today is a Native Watercraft, 12-foot, sit-on-top that weighs about 75 pounds and retails for about $1,200. “It’s so comfortable that it’s almost like sitting in a chair. Nine hours seems like nothing,” he said. “Native Watercraft really thought about fishermen when it made this kayak.

Russ Pylant. Photo by Casey Brunning of FiN Crazy. Click photo for more information.

One of the most important steps in the evolution from touring to fishing has been development of the sit-on-top kayak. Typically, sit-in varieties are more difficult to get into and launch and are more prone to tipping. Additionally, angler movement is more restricted.

Besides allowing the fisherman to stand in some models, the sit-on-top also offers better leverage for a hookset, even when the angler is seated. Still, it’s a good idea to exercise caution, even in kayaks designed for fishing. Before moving into deep water for the first time, practice casting and reaching around you in the shallows to gauge your stability. In general, you’ll want to use your arms more and cast with a little more finesse than you would from shore or in a bass boat.

“If the water favors it, many kayak anglers side straddle their kayaks, meaning they sit side ways while their legs dangle in the water,” said Austin Kayaks. “Keeps you cool but also provides a general feeling of balance and many find it a bit more comfortable of a position, especially if paddling and fishing for long periods of time. A general rule of thumb is to always keep your body upright and your head centered over your kayak.”

Another advantage of the sit-on-top are the scupper holes, which make the vessel self-baling.

Aside from a drainage system and a comfortable seat, what else should an angler have to start kayak fishing? A paddle and a personal flotation devices are basics. Also, he probably will want rod holders and a storage system. Other options include a rudder, anchor, electronics, and safety light for after-dark fishing. Pylant keeps a floating net and measuring board for tournaments.

“The possibilities are endless,” Moschella said. “You can have video/GoPro (camera) holders too. You can just keep building on.

“You can find bundle packages too,” he added. “Some of the kayak fishing stores will install things for you, and the online stores might too. Most of them are owned by people who love the sport and want to pass it on.”

What’s to love about kayak fishing? That’s easy, according to Moschella, Montgomery, Plant, and many others: It’s much less expensive than the bass boat option, with virtually no cost for fuel or upkeep, and it allows you into places that larger and/or motorized craft can’t access. Also, kayaks are easy to transport, either on top of a car, in the bed of a truck, or with a lightweight C-Tug cart that can be dismantled and stowed in the vessel.

“I can’t think of a better way to fish,” Moschella said. ‘You can get into that pad field that a bass boat can’t get into. You can paddle right up to a (fallen) tree and see the submerged branches. You can use map services to find ponds that only you can get into. It’s like fishing unpressured, private waters.”

 Kayak Tournament Fishing

 Many like kayaks for fishing because of the serenity aspect, exploring remote backwaters with no outboard to scare the fish or disturb the peace. But as fishing kayaks evolve, so do how they are used. Those who can’t afford bass boats and don’t want to fish out of the back now have another option.

“Tournaments are really spiking,” Moschella said. “You see them mostly in salt right now, but they’re becoming more popular in fresh.

“In New Jersey, we’re seeing it in small tournaments. You take photos and measurements. It’s the honor system.”

He hopes that aspect will expand. “I’d like to see a pro tour, maybe with B.A.S.S. involved,” he said. “But we’re not at that point yet.”

Heroes on the Water

Fishing from kayaks also has a therapeutic quality, according to this organization, which arranges trips for veterans.

“What looks like a day trip of paddling and fishing is, in fact, something much deeper and long-lasting,” it says on its website. “Our unique kayak fishing program allows the participants a chance to decompress from the stresses associated with combat and the physical rigors of rehabilitation. Warriors enjoy these benefits while on guided fishing trips held in local communities around the country.”

One soldier called the outings “triple therapy,” since they provide physical by paddling and fishing, occupational through learning a lifetime sport/activity, and mental by relaxing in nature with no distractions or expectations of performance.

Kayak Fishing Statistics

1.8 million people participated in kayak fishing in 2013 for a three-year growth rate of 20 percent.

1 in 38 kayak anglers are female.

1 in 5 kayak anglers cast their lines in Florida.

(Source: Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Recreation Participation Report 2014, and 2013 YakAngler.com Survey)

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

Friday
Sep052014

Judge Rules BP Grossly Negligent in Gulf Oil Spill

BP could be fined the largest penalty ever levied under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).

That’s because U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier recently ruled that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico occurred because of the company’s gross negligence, meaning BP could be liable for as much as $18 billion in pollution fines.

 That amount is far more than the $3.5 billion that the company had set aside and, according to the Wall Street Journal, “would easily exceed the biggest previous fine under the statute.”

That amount was based on BP’s belief that the court would rule the company liable for simple negligence. But a verdict of gross negligence means a fine of as much as $4,300 for each barrel of crude oil spilled in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The judge could decide on lower penalties per barrel, but still the amount is likely to surpass the previous CWA record of $1 billion paid by Transocean Ltd, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

“More than four years after the BP oil disaster, today’s ruling is a vital step towards restoring important waterfowl and fishing habitat for the next generation of sportsmen and women,” said Vanishing Paradise, a coalition of about 800 hunting and fishing organizations advocating for restoration of the Mississippi River Delta and the gulf.

“The oil spill tarnished hundreds of miles of coastline and marshes important to fresh and saltwater fishing and waterfowling. The areas most damaged by the spill cannot wait any longer for restoration to begin. Recreational fishing is a critical component of the Gulf economy generating $8 billion annually.

“In Louisiana alone, some 10 million ducks, geese and other waterfowl winter along the coast and depend on healthy marshes. We must invest penalty monies in real restoration projects that clean up and restore the waters and coastal habitat that are the backbone of the Gulf region’s economy.”

Wednesday
Aug132014

Stocking Helps With False River Recovery

Photo from The Advocate

Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation volunteers helped  the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (DWF) with the next stage of recovery for False River this spring, as they used their boats to distribute 6,000 Florida-strain fingerlings.

“This is just one phase of an ongoing rehabilitation project that includes spawning habitat improvements, dredging, island building, and minimal water level fluctuation,” said Alex Perret, state conservation director.

Mike Wood, director of Inland Fisheries, added, “This is what a lot of anglers have been waiting for, and we’re working for them. We’re stocking the lake with Florida-strain bass because they have the genetic potential to be larger-sized fish.”

Recovery began in 2012 with adoption of a plan by resource managers to address the decline of the oxbow fishery. Its ailments included silt buildup, diminished water quality, and overabundance of aquatic vegetation, with the loss of fish spawning and nursery habitat.

One of the first steps was to lift the ban on commercial fishing, in hopes of reducing the population of carp and other rough fish that have thrived in the degraded lake. Last fall, 60 tons of gravel was spread to create six spawning beds, each 30 feet wide and 4 inches deep.

“We did these in shallow parts of the lake so the sun can reach the bottom,” said Wood. “All of this is just a small part of a much bigger project. None of these things individually can fix the river on its own.”

Tommy Bryan, one of the fishermen from Twin Rivers Anglers who helped stock bass, added, “You can’t imagine the economic impact this lake will have on the community if it gets its quality back. There used to be dozens of boat launches all over the river. But when the fishing fell off, the boat launches sort of just went away.”

Next, DWF plans to build island terraces to reduce improve habitat, as they reduce runoff and turbidity.

“The siltation issues haven’t gone away,” Wood explained. “This is really going to have to be a long-term project, a compilation of a lot of different things to get a healthy False River.”

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

 

Wednesday
May282014

How About Hippos?

If you think that we’ve made a mess of our lands and waters through intentional and unintentional import of exotic plants and animals, you are correct. For example, we now spend billions of dollars annually to control and mitigate the damage done by just four recently introduced species: bighead carp, silver carp, quagga mussel, and zebra mussel.

And in attempts to minimize problems, the government often has made them worse. During the 1940s, the state of Louisiana touted the South American nutria as a way to control water hyacinth, a fast-growing exotic that was crowding out native vegetation in wetlands. Today, the nutria is eating away those same wetlands, contributing to saltwater intrusion and coastal erosion.

In the early 1960s, the states of Alabama and Arkansas allowed import of grass carp to control aquatic vegetation in aquaculture ponds. By 1970, escapees had established populations in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Today, these troublesome grazers are established in at least nine states and have been sighted in more than 40. Ask just about any bass angler, and he will tell you that the grass carp is public enemy No. 1.

And speaking of carp, we have the federal government to thank for one of the worst management decisions ever in regard to our fisheries. In 1877, the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries began intensively cultivating and stocking common carp. In fairness, it was prompted to do so both by public pressure and by overharvest of native fish stocks. By the turn of the century, however, it already was regarded as a nuisance.

“Moreover, their rapid spread appeared to threaten both water quality and native species, as commissioners nationwide noted a deterioration of formerly clear and fertile lakes and waterways upon the arrival of carp,” says the National Park Service.

But you don’t know the half of it. Actually, things could be worse. Much worse. Instead of nutria eating away those Louisiana wetlands, we could have hippos. And who’s to say that these massive “water horses” which can weigh up to 4 tons and eat up to 100 pounds of vegetation a day, wouldn’t have spread east, west, and north?

They are “relatively tolerant of cold conditions,” says the Glen Oak Zoo, which also points out that “many individuals live to 40 years.”

Oh yeah, they also are generally believed to have killed more people in their native Africa than another animal, including lions and crocodiles.

All things considered, I’ll take the nutria, thank you. It tops out at about 12 pounds and is not as likely to charge me at the launch ramp.

But in 1910, Frederick Russell Burnham, a famed American scout and world adventurer, proposed replacing our nation’s depleted wildlife population --- we had hunted deer, turkey, and buffalo nearly to extinction --- with animals that he had encountered in southern Africa.

His proposal lined up nicely with the search for a solution to the growing problem of water hyacinths in Louisiana waters, as well as America’s need for more meat. Writing about this little known piece of American history, Jon Mooallem in American Hippopotamus, says that Rep. of Robert Foligny of New Iberia “liked to plug up problems with big solutions.”

Thus, Foligny introduced H.R. 23261, also known as the “Hippo Bill,” to “appropriate $250,000 for the importation of useful new animals into the United States.” The Washington Post assured readers that they would see shipments of hippos within a few years.

Fortunately for all us, a boatload of hippos never docked in New Orleans. But it wasn’t because of the unexpected discovery of good judgment in Congress. Rather, one representative said that the beasts should not be introduced because unscrupulous hunters would sneak onto the farms and hunt them for trophies.

Yeah, that’s the reason not to import aggressive animals that boast 20-inch teeth and can run at speeds of more than 20 miles per hour.

What turned the tide, though, was that the Department of Agriculture decided to transform swamps and other undeveloped areas into agricultural land to grow more beef cattle.

Thank goodness. Otherwise, we might we watching “Hippo Die-Nasty” instead of “Duck Dynasty” on television.

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