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Entries in Mississippi River (42)

Monday
Oct012012

Anglers, Boaters Getting 'Locked' Out

Starting this month, anglers and other boaters will find water access reduced --- in some cases, even eliminated --- at reservoir systems managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In a few cases, new restrictive policies already are in place.

Officials cite budget constraint as the reason. They say that aging infrastructure requires that they direct funding that normally would go to lower priority facilities and operations to those with higher priorities.       

Among the lowest priorities is lock service, especially on systems where commercial traffic has diminished or, in some cases, disappeared entirely. As a consequence, service has been or will be reduced and/or eliminated at 63 locks nationwide.

In West Virginia, that policy translates into lost access on the Upper Monongahela River, a popular bass fishery.

“With the proposed lock closings, recreational users will have extremely limited access to the two middle pools in West Virginia,” says Jerod Harman, conservation director for the West Virginia B.A.S.S. Federation Nation. “The Corps will basically shut down 13.4 miles of navigable waters, or approximately 1/3 of the fishable waters on the river in West Virginia.

“But, more importantly, this has restricted the thoroughfare from Fairmont to Morgantown. It would be kind of like the only bridge was lost on a major interstate highway. You can either drive on ‘that side’ or you can drive on ‘this side.’ But you can’t get there from here!”

The Alabama, Allegheny, Arkansas, Black Warrior, Chattahoochee, Cumberland, Mississippi, Ouachita, Red, Tennessee, West Pearl, and many other systems also will see locks service reduced or even eliminated for recreational traffic.

As a consequence, some fisheries, such as Hildebrand Pool on the Monongahela, no longer will have public access.

“It’s outrageous,” says Barry Pallay, vice president of the Upper Monongahela River Association (UMRA), which has been working with the Corps, communities, B.A.S.S., and others to maintain recreational access.

“Not only is there not access at Hildebrand, but the only access on the Morgantown Pool, Uffington boat ramp, gets silted in.”

With locks closed to recreational traffic, anglers also will be denied the freedom to fish several pools from one launch site, while larger pleasure craft won’t be able to cruise through a system, On the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF), for example, boaters can no longer go from Eufaula, Ala., to Apalachicola, Fla.

That’s because locks at Walter F. George (Lake Eufaula), George W. Andrews, and Jim Woodruff (Lake Seminole) rank as only a “1” in importance. Level 6 locks are manned 24/7, while level 1 locks are opened for commercial navigation by appointment only.

“We’d have to have at least more than a thousand recreational lockages to raise up to level 3, which involves someone manning the locks one shift per day,” says Bill Smallwood, ACF project manager.

The three locks had no commercial traffic in 2011, with recreational lockages numbered nearly 300 at Lake Eufaula and 140 at Seminole.

Out on the Ouachita, a new lock operation schedule means service reduced from 24 hours to 18 hours a day at two Louisiana locks and from 24 hours to 16 hours at two Arkansas locks.

"This could be the beginning of the end for this project," said Bill Hobgood, executive director of the Ouachita River Valley Association.

But the UMRA, B.A.S.S., and others are determined to protect and restore access for recreational use on these systems.

“I am working with Gordon Robertson at the American Sportfishing Association to set up a meeting with the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works to discuss the serious impacts that closure of 60 locks will have for recreational fishing and boating,” said Noreen Clough, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director.

UMRA, meanwhile, intends to find a solution, possibly one that can be applied nationally, and Pallay says that Corps officials, in turn, have been cooperative.

During a joint public meeting in July, officers from the Pittsburgh District said this in their Power Point presentation:

“As the federal government steps out, who steps in? We are willing to try anything; to explore any idea. Let’s set the example for the nation on how to do this right.”

UMRA has placed some of its recommendations in a resolution endorsed by communities along the Upper Monongahela. Among them: open the locks during recreation boating season, authorize use of part-time employees or even auxiliary volunteers as lock operators, and investigate innovative ways to fund operation of locks.

“We want to find ways to keep the locks open while we work on long-term solutions,” Pallay says. “And now we are ratcheting up the effort.

“We’re hoping that by April of next year we will be testing a pilot or demonstration project that can be replicated in other places.”

(Reprinted from B.A.S.S. Times.)

Friday
Sep072012

Close Canal to Stop Carp from Invading Great Lakes

Canal connection between Mississippi River basin and Lake Michigan. Photo by Gary Porter.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper agrees with me that the manmade connection between the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes should be closed.

In an editorial headlined “Let science prevail in Fight over Chicago canal,” it says the following:

“The Army Corps of Engineers is looking more like a guy who can smell smoke but won't admit there's a fire because he can't see flames. The smoke is rising from the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in the form of DNA evidence that the Asian carp is close to entering Lake Michigan, if it already hasn't done so.

“But with only two actual dead carp found - one on either side of an electrical barrier in the canal designed to stop the fish - Army Corps Maj. Gen. John Peabody isn't ready to do the obvious: close the canal that destroyed the natural barrier between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins when it was built in the 19th century.”

We must close that connection not only to keep Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes. We must close it because the canal is an open door for other invasions. For example, zebra and quagga mussels used that route --- as well as hitchhiking --- to spread into the Mississippi River and, from there, all across the country.

Read the editorial here

Monday
Aug272012

Four More Years Would Be Disaster for Recreational Fishing

 

Many in the outdoor media are critical of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives for cutting or attempting to cut funds for various federal conservation programs.

I’m not one of them.

Yes, I would like that funding to continue. Yes, I believe that we could continue to finance those programs despite the budget deficit --- if we could eliminate the billions in fraud and waste perpetrated by corrupt politicians who are so adept at spending other people’s money. But that is as likely to happen as teaching pigs to fly so that we can save shipping costs for ham and bacon.

Republicans elected to the House in 2010 --- many of them supported by Tea Party affiliates --- went to Washington, D.C., with the intent of shrinking government, reducing taxes, and cutting back on spending.

I support that agenda and, sadly, realize that enacting it will mean reduced budgets for all if we are to avoid the collapse of our economy because of insurmountable debt.

On the other hand, four more years of Obama will push us to the precipice of economic collapse, with Greece providing us with a preview of what could happen here.

Meanwhile, many of those same folks in the outdoor media have been ignoring the threat that four more years of this president also will pose for recreational fishing.

Let’s start with funding. States finance their fisheries programs primarily with license fees and money collected as excise taxes on tackle, equipment, and motorboat fuel through the federal Sport Fish Restoration Program. If the first four years are any indication --- and I believe that they are --- a second term would be catastrophic for our economy and, by extension, the fishing industry. That could mean less money for fisheries management, as anglers cut back on discretionary spending to make ends meet. 

The National Ocean Policy is the 500-pound gorilla in the room. By-passing Congress with an Executive Order, Obama has created a massive bureaucracy that will tell us where we can and cannot fish through a strategy called “marine spatial planning.” In reality, it is death by a thousand cuts for angling, as one fishery after another will be shut down by nameless bureaucrats.

Catch Shares is a second strategy pushed by this administration to limit access. Supposedly, it is being done for conservation. In reality, it is a scheme to privatize a public resource, as “shares” of an ocean fishery are allotted to individuals and/or companies. Right now, mostly it is directed at species harvested commercially. But if incorporated into “mixed” (commercial and recreation) fisheries, it will limit participation, as the sport sector will be limited to the same fixed amount each year.

The National Ocean Policy and Catch Shares are brought to us by preservationists from environmental groups that Obama has brought into his administration. Special interests aren’t just influencing public policy; they are setting it. 

If this President gets a second term, look for de-emphasizing of sport fisheries programs within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies, attempts to reduce access for anglers and hunters by establishment of land and marine preserves, and renewed boldness by anti-fishing groups that want to ban lead fishing tackle.

Also, look for this administration to continue “searching” for a solution that will keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, as it sides with Illinois in opposing the obvious solution --- closing the manmade connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin. Eliminating that entry/exit not only would help keep carp out, but it would prevent other invasives from moving between the two systems.

I don’t know if Romney/Ryan would be any better about policy regarding this last issue. But I suspect that they would, given that Ryan, now a representative from Wisconsin, is both an angler and a hunter and would have a better appreciation of the value of the Great Lakes sport fishery. He also is a member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.

What I do know is that this President is not a friend of angling. He might not be personally against it, but many in his administration either have no regard for it or they do oppose it. That, combined with four more years of economic hardship for this country, would be crushing for recreational fishing.

Please keep that in mind when you go to the polls in November.  And if you are an angler who usually does not vote, I hope that this will motivate you to do so. 

Friday
Aug242012

Carp Are Doing Damage Even When You Don't See Them

These bighead carp were damaging a Missouri pond without the owner even knowing they were there. USGS photo.

The Journal Sentinel offers an in-depth look about the search for techniques to track Asian carp. But first, it presents this anecdote that typifies damage that invasive species can cause with little or no realization of what’s going on:

A fish pond in Missouri reveals just how stealthy Asian carp can be.

Maybe an acre in size, the pond had been stocked with catfish, bass and bluegills. The owner was pumping it full of fish food, yet the fish appeared to be starving. So in early 2010 the owner called in a consultant. 

"They came out with electrofishing gear, caught some fish and looked at them," said Duane Chapman, one of the country's leading Asian carp experts and a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "The fish were emaciated and he didn't know why. He said, 'There's something wrong here. We need to start over again.' They brought in rotenone and completely killed the pond."

Over the next week, the rotting carcasses of about 300 bighead carp surfaced. The smallest were 20 pounds. The big ones were a border collie-sized 35 pounds. Poisoned Asian carp, Chapman explained, are different from many fish species in that they typically don't surface unless the water is warm enough for gases to build up in their bellies, a process that can take a week.

"It was quite amazing there could be that much poundage in one small pond," Chapman said.

It turned out that a decade earlier the previous property owner had stocked the pond with bighead. They had flourished right under the nose of the new owner, who had smelled trouble - but couldn't see a thing.

I found the story especially interesting because grass carp --- illegally introduced by lakefront property owners who should be arrested --- have done the same thing to the small lake behind my house. Those carp, most of them 20 pounds and more, make up the majority of the biomass.

And just as an acre of land can grow only so many bushels of corn, a lake can sustain only so many pounds of fish. As a result, the bass and catfish in my little lake grow slowly, if at all, with the bulk of the bass being 12 inches or less.

Will what has happened in that pond and my lake also occur if/when Asian carp move into the Great Lakes?

Do we really want to wait and see what happens, endangering a billion-dollar sport fishery? The time is long past due to close the manmade connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin. Right now, it provides an open door for invasive species to migrate from one system to another.

Friday
Aug172012

Carp Threat Spreads East

Asian carp aren’t migrating only north and west, threatening the Great Lakes and inland waters in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

They’ve also moving east, via the Ohio River system. The Pittsburg Post-Gazette reports that they invaders are reproducing in Kentucky’s Markland Pool, “almost midway between the Mississippi and Pittsburgh’s Point.”

Read the full story here.

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