If you fish for bass outside the Midwest and Southeast, chances are that you are catching "non-native" fish.
"So what?" you ask. I'll tell you.
In the wake of the state of Washington joining Oregon to remove limits on bass on the Columbia River, Congress has just painted a big, red bull's eye on North America's most popular game fish outside its native range. Since it has established populations in 49 states, that covers a broad area--- including Texas.
Following a hearing entitled “The Costly Impacts of Predation and Conflicting Federal Statutes on Native and Endangered Fish Species" in Washington, D.C., you can bet that environmental groups across the country also will look to portray non-native fish in general, and black bass specifically, as Public Enemy No. 1 in issues related to protection of native aquatic species. It's the old "monkey see, monkey do" corollary.
To put it mildly, B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland was irate in the aftermath, pointing out that those chosen to testify clearly favored "the native species crowd."
An "expert" who received the most speaking time said, "Bass species are good for the sole purpose of sportfishing and this isn't a good reason to keep them around," according to Melanie Sturm of the American Sportfishing Association.
Additionally, Will Stelle from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration (NOAA) proved be a "strong proponent that predators (sea lions and birds, along with non-native fish) are a huge problem," Sturm said. She added that Stelle argued "control programs should swiftly be implemented and NOAA welcomes legislation to do that."
And here's the exclamation point: "A lobbyist for ASA talked to Pelosi (House Minority Leader Nancy) face-to-face and she told him these non-native fish have got to go . . . Period," Gilliland said.
In the real world, meanwhile, the black bass' only crime is its adaptability. But its high profile makes it a convenient scapegoat for opportunistic politicians catering to frustrated native fish advocates and a multitude of other interests who demand that something--- anything--- be done to stop the demise of native species and/or deal with complicated water management issues.
For years, Ground Zero for this issue has been the West Coast. But the groundwork was laid decades before, when the needs of salmon were given little consideration as more and more water was diverted from the California Delta to irrigate farm fields and supply cities and as the Columbia and other Northwest rivers were dammed for hydropower and irrigation.
Additionally, bass and other warmwater species were stocked by both the states and federal government, and, as they thrived, salmon declined. Today, an argument actually could be made that salmon are the non-natives in these highly altered systems, which more closely resemble the warm waters and lake environments where bass evolved.
Do bass prey on young salmon? Yes, they do, but the numbers are insignificant in the "big picture" of declining salmon stocks. Study after study shows it. And they do so only because altered ecosystems facilitate the predation.
"I suppose the numbers can say whatever you want them to say if you put on your 'bias pants' when you go to work," said Lonnie Johnson, conservation director for the Oregon B.A.S.S. Nation. "Is there predation. Yes. Is it significant? Highly questionable."
Those in Congress who now want to wage war against bass in a futile attempt to bring back salmon would be well advised to acquaint themselves with Peter Moyle, a professor in the University of California- Davis’s Wildlife Fish and Conservation Biology Department and an honest broker on this issue.
"The historic Delta ecosystem cannot be restored," he said. "The Delta of today bears almost no resemblance to the Delta of 100 years ago. . . Only three percent of the historical wetland acreage exists today. About the only familiar features would be the main sloughs and river channels, and even they have high levees on both sides."
Although specific alterations are different, the same is true for the Columbia and other rivers of the Northwest.
Preserving native species requires intensive management of human-dominated ecosystems that contain a mixture of native and non-native species, Moyle added. "We humans decide by our actions which of these species are desirable and worth preserving often without making a conscious choice.qqq"
That's exactly what happened during the early 20th century, when governments and developers decided irrigation, water supply, and hydropower were more important than healthy salmon runs.
But that won't stop the bass blame-game by native fish and environmental groups and the politicians who are all too eager to curry their favor.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)