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Entries in Mississippi Delta (3)

Wednesday
Jan152014

Anglers Divided Over Diversion to Restore Mississippi Delta

Vanishing Paradise staffer Ben Weber

The campaign to protect and restore the wetlands and marshes of the Mississippi Delta has been fractured. Sadly, anglers now are pitted against anglers regarding the strategy for coastal Louisiana, with the future of fish and waterfowl, as well as their habitat, in the balance.

“It breaks my heart to see this fragmenting,” says Ben Weber, a Louisiana native and staffer for Vanishing Paradise, a coalition endorsing a comprehensive plan for rehabilitation of the Mississippi Delta. “Opposition is not based on science, and bass fishing is taking a hit.”

“This is the greatest environmental disaster in our country and no one knows about it,” adds Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures. “We have to get bass fishermen involved in the fight.”

In short, manmade alterations in the river’s natural flow during the past 70-plus years, mostly for flood control, have allowed saltwater intrusion. That has killed vegetation and prompted erosion and loss of about 1,900 square miles of wetlands.

As this habitat for bass and waterfowl has been destroyed, a multitude of saltwater species, including redfish, flounder, speckled trout, shrimp, and crab, have enjoyed an expanded range. Not surprisingly, some commercial fishermen, charter captains, and local communities  want to maintain the status quo.

Their Save Louisiana Coalition supports restoration, but opposes freshwater diversion, one of the most effective tools for doing so. That’s because this sediment-carrying water, which will rebuild marshes, also will move saltwater species back toward the Gulf.

As an angler, 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 they also are short-sighted. Freshwater diversion is vital to the continued health of both the fresh and saltwater fisheries in the Delta. If saltwater continues to encroach, nearly all nursery habitat will be lost and redfish and trout will decline, right along with bass and catfish.

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

But every year, he cautions, that artificial fishery moves closer to the river than nature ever intended.

“In 15 years, I’ve seen 80 percent of the marsh near our camp (Leesville) vanish,” says Weber. “There are cemeteries in bayou communities with just one or two headstones left (above water). We fish in the cemeteries for trout.”

Along the Mississippi at Buras, a stark contrast highlights the importance of using freshwater diversions, adds Lambert. 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, the Louisiana angler notes, “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 says. “You have to have freshwater too (for sustained fisheries).”

He also points out that the Davis Pond Diversion, where Kevin VanDam won the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, is no longer a viable fishery because flow has been reduced. “Saltwater has come in and killed the grass,” he says. “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.”

Freshwater diversion is but one of several tactics that will be used to revitalize the Delta. Others will include vegetation planting, dredging and placement of sediment, and protecting shorelines and barrier islands.

But reconnecting the river to the Delta is of paramount importance.

Only by restoring the natural process as much as possible can we achieve a solution that will benefit both freshwater and saltwater species.

 “Sportsmen and women have always had an eye towards long-term conservation,” says Steve Bender, Vanishing Paradise director. “That is what this is all about ---  the long term. To do it any other way is shortsighted and will not ensure that future generations will have the hunting and fishing opportunities we have all come to enjoy.”

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

 

Thursday
Jun062013

Rodent Invader Adds to Decline of Delta Wetlands

Photo from Greg Lasley Nature Photography

Most anglers know that Asian carp are harming this nation’s fisheries, from the Upper Midwest down to the Gulf Coast and eastward through the Ohio River watershed.

What many do not realize, however, is that another exotic also is doing severe damage. It doesn’t receive as much publicity because its range is more limited.

But down in Louisiana, the nutria, a large rodent, is devouring the wetlands, destroying spawning and nursery habitat for a multitude of important sport fisheries. In fact, the state estimates that damage at any given time is about 46,000 acres, as about 5 million of the web-footed animals with large, orange teeth feed on the roots and stalks of aquatic plants.

The good news is that damage has been lessened since Louisiana implemented a nutria control plan in 2002.

Still, this is one more blow to the Mississippi Delta, which already is under siege from decades of habitat degradation and mismanagement, most of it originating from development and water diversions. As a result, erosion and saltwater intrusion are crumbling away the equivalent of a football field every hour.

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its aftermath added to the peril of an ecosystem that is critical for sustaining the food web of the Gulf of Mexico.

Fortunately, the spill also provided impetus for passage of the RESTORE Act, which provides a rare opportunity to restore and enhance the Delta and its wetlands. Guiding that restoration is a multi-state, multi-agency group known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

And a coalition known as Vanishing Paradise is working to make sure that Council members remember the importance of habitat restoration, which can drive and support economic recovery.

“The people, business, communities, and economy of this region are undeniably reliant upon a healthy and productive Gulf, and ecosystem restoration should be the top priority in drafting and finagling the Council’s comprehensive restoration plan,” said spokesman Ben Weber.

To learn more about Vanishing Paradise and its efforts, go here.

And to learn more about the nutria in Louisiana, go here.

Thursday
Feb092012

Your Help Needed to Ensure Restoration of Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi Delta

As we know all too well, politicians love to spend money --- other people’s money.

Right now, some in Congress are looking enviously at money that should go to restoration of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Delta. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, that’s why BP and other companies paid more than $20 billion, and that’s where the money should be spent.

Yet some representatives and senators would like to put that money into the general fund, which is a black hole of waste and political favors. During these tough economic times, and especially during this election year, these politicians are more concerned about their own careers than they are about doing what’s right.

We can’t let that happen.

That’s why leaders from sportsmen’s groups across the country are going to Washington, D.C., and that’s why your help is needed.

Before our spokesmen get there next week to meet with politicians, please contact your elected representatives and senators, asking them to support the bi-partisan RESTORE Act, which will ensure funds are spent on Gulf and Delta restoration.

“We want to ring their phones and raise awareness for this issue so that when the one-on-one meetings happen next week, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, I’ve been getting calls on this,’” says Recycled Fish’s Teeg Stouffer, one of those going to Washington.

The Vanishing Paradise website can provide you with more information about this. Click “Take Action” for assistance with sending a message or making a phone call.

Also, check out these videos:

Why the RESTORE Act and Gulf restoration are important, no matter where you live.

Fish Schtick interview with Vanishing Paradise spokesmen.

Restoring the Mississippi River Delta.