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Entries in Salmon (33)

Monday
Jul042016

Northwest Bass Anglers Angered by Photos, Stories of No-Limits Harvest

 

Less than one full season in, we're a long way from knowing the long-term consequences of removing bag limits on  several Oregon and Washington Rivers, including some where smallmouth bass have been established for more than a century.

But one thing we do know is that bass anglers are irate over the photos that they are seeing on social media and the stories they are hearing about meat fishermen hauling out dozens of large pre-spawn females from the Umpqua, the Columbia, and its tributaries, including John Day, Snake, and Yakima.

"I wonder if those meat anglers--- also known as salmon fishermen--- are even thinking about the depletion of the fishery, or what they will fish for next year when the salmon runs are still low, and the smallmouth bass fishery has been decimated," said Lonnie Johnson, conservation director for the Oregon B.A.S.S. Nation. "Probably not, I would guess. Let's live in the moment and let tomorrow be damned."

And along with the anecdotal evidence, a creel survey from the lower Yakima stokes the anger. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that anglers harvested 6,721 bass  during the first week in May. Additionally, 41 anglers interviewed kept 362 fish, releasing only 13.

By the end of May, the agency said this, " Based on the current data over 20,000 smallmouth bass have been harvested in the Yakima River this spring. The data is preliminary. Final estimates will be calculated at the close of the salmon fishery."

By contrast, just 5,000 were harvested in all of  2015 from 132,000-acre Mille Lacs, where Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been liberalizing limits on bass to allow harvest, as it imposes restrictions on walleye, to help restore that sagging fishery.  Additionally, 74,150 smallmouths were released.

Bass angler Bill Roberts told the Yakima Herald about his encounter with some of those meat fishermen in a sporting goods store:

"Everybody's got a camera phone, and they started showing me all these pictures. These guys were averaging 35 to 40 smallmouth bass a day, all spawners ready to spawn. And they killed them all, and that never sets well with me.

"And they proceeded to tell me all their buddies fishing down in the Crow Butte area are having the same success. I'm thinking, 'Do you really have to keep 38 fish a day to make yourself feel good?

"And they're like, 'It's legal now. So why not?'"

Legal, yes, but management based on science?

"It's political. It has nothing to do with science," said Mark Byrne, past conservation director and president for the Washington B.A.S.S. Nation.

Although little scientific evidence supports the regulation change, both Oregon and Washington bowed to pressure from federal agencies, tribes, and native fish activists to remove regulations on "non-native fish" as a way of restoring steadily declining salmon, steelhead, and trout fisheries. In truth, the latter have suffered mostly because of habitat destruction, flow diversions for irrigation, and hydropower dams, which block migration and create ideal habitat for bass.

But in pressuring the states to wage war on bass, the National Marine Fisheries Service said that simply liberalizing limits, instead of removing them,  would imply a desire "to maintain a healthy population of non-native predators."

Yet it also admitted that damage done to native species "is difficult to quantify." And it said, "The extent to which a regulation change will affect the harvest of these species and thereby reduce predation rates on at-risk salmon and steelhead populations is uncertain."

Johnson and many others argue that bass make easy targets because they are  prominent and opportunistic predators, which do, on occasion, eat salmon smolts, although adult bronzebacks prefer crawfish.

"Those smolts are fast," said Roberts. "If one swims past, a bass might eat it, but it's not going to chase it down the river. We're talking about a lazy fish that's an ambush predator."

Not surprisingly, smaller smallmouths are the ones more likely to pursue 3-inch smolts of summer and fall Chinook that begin their migrations to the ocean in May and June. Thus, many wonder, why not remove bag limits for bass under 12 inches, but continue to afford some protection for those larger fish, which have made the Columbia  known the world over as a trophy bronzeback fishery.

"The deregulation will have almost no impact on the other species, but will destroy the bass fishery," said Justin Blackmore president of Central Oregon Bass club. "They decided what to do without any sound research performed. The result is overfishing of large fish, leaving only small, stunted fish that will not be wanted by people to eat."

And an easier life for the northern pikeminnow (squawfish). "The fact remains that the primary predator (for salmon smolts) is the northern pikeminnow, which is also prey to the smallmouth," said Johnson.  "By attempting to eliminate smallmouth, the ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) is, in fact, increasing predation on the smolts."

What Next?

As a long-time angler and fisheries biologist, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Gene Gilliland understands both sides of this thorny issue.

While sympathizing with angry fishermen, he added,  "Harvest of female bass in a huge open system is probably not going to damage the population because bass over-produce so much.  It takes so few successful nests to maintain a population. 

"What you may see over time, however, is a change in the size structure--- fewer large  bass and a gradual decline in overall size.  Numbers will probably not change much.  That's how the agency can say, 'Harvest away, you won't make a dent in the population.'  They look at it from the sheer numbers side, not the size structure which interests bass anglers."

The benefit of keeping some of those large fish, both as desirable trophies for bass anglers and as predators on the pikeminnow, "is a good argument to chase" in hopes of achieving a compromise with the state agencies, he added.

But, Gilliland cautioned, getting the feds to buy in "will be almost impossible. They have that 'all non-native fish are bad fish' mentality and are quick to throw the ESA (Endangered Species Act) at you. Dead smallmouths are the only good smallmouths as far as they are concerned and pictures of dead bass are just what they hoped to see."

Still, the conservation director hopes that bass anglers can work out an agreement with Washington and Oregon, "given the uproar that seems to be building among their constituents. Maybe we can convene a meeting of the sensible minds."

 

State Response

Here's what's going on to determine bass harvest numbers, according to Mike Gauvin, ODFW's program manager for recreational fisheries:

Bass in the Columbia are recorded as part of the spring/summer Chinook creel and this occurs in the reservoirs above Bonneville Dam. The creel information is collected by ODFW and the Washington Department of Fish and the creel data is then analyzed by WDFW and provided to Oregon.

Through the week of May 16, a cumulative estimate of 586 bass were harvested in the Dalles Pool (reservoir behind The Dalles Dam) and 2,980 were harvested in the John Day Pool (reservoir behind the John Day Dam). For comparison, in 2015 for the same time period, 596 bass were harvested in The Dalles Pool and 1,787 bass were harvested in the John Day Pool. 

Although Oregon do not have a specific creel in the John Day River, agency does conduct a bass survey to assess Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) and size frequency of bass from Service creek to Clarno (odd years) and Butte Creek to Cottonwood Creek (even years) on the John Day River.  This sampling has taken place since the mid 1980’s with some gaps due to low flows and/or poor weather. Survey will be conducted in early June.

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

Wednesday
Jun152016

PC War on Fisheries Continues With Bill to Eradicate Bass in California Delta

The attempt by bureaucrats to politicize fish and wildlife management to appease pressure groups and avoid dealing with the real issues continues in Washington, D.C. and California with Senate Bill 1894, which would mandate eradication of  nonnative bass and stripers from the California Delta, where they have been established for more than a century.

As in the Northwest (See PC Insanity Infects Management of Fish, Wildlife; Our Outdoor Heritage at Risk), these popular sport fish are being blamed for the demise of native salmon and other species. The reality is dams, pumps, irrigation, and development are the real reasons. Nonnative species thrive in these altered habitats, while natives decline.

Please sign the petition to get this provision of the "drought" bill removed:

Purposely hidden in section 202 of the 147 page bill SB 1894 is the planned eradication of nonnative species in the California Delta and its tributaries to include largemouth, smallmouth, striped bass, crappie and catfish. The inclusion of these species in this bill MUST be removed. They are being made the scapegoats for the demise of the salmon and Delta smelt when in fact the pumps are the largest non discriminate predator in the Delta.

This eradication mandate will decimate the natural balance that has existed for 140 years, while doing NOTHING for the drought that is what the bill is supposed to address. It will decimate sport fishing on the California Delta, as well as adversely affect many businesses that rely on income directly generated from Delta fishing, i.e., bait and tackle stores, hotels, restaurants, tackle manufacturers etc.

Thursday
Apr142016

As Expected, Washington Joins Oregon in Removing Limits on Bass in Columbia

As expected Washington state joined Oregon in removing limits on bass, walleye, and catfish in the boundary waters portion of the Columbia River.

Inexplicitly, though, the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) did not mention the measure in the regulation changes endorsed by the Washington Wildlife Commission (WWC). And because it wasn't listed as approved, bass anglers and others mistakenly believed that the commissioners had declined to approve it.

"This whole business gave me a day of hope," said Lonnie Johnson, Oregon B.A.S.S. Nation conservation director. "Unfortunately it was just a pipe dream."

One publication even praised the WWC for refusing to "jump on the band wagon and follow Oregon's fuzzily thought-out elimination of daily bag limits . . . "

But upon investigation, B.A.S.S. Times discovered that the commissioners did approve the DFW recommendation. It becomes effective July 1.

"Unfortunately, we didn't do a very good job of publicizing it, so I can understand the confusion," said a public affairs spokesman for the agency. "We should have included it in the news release."

The commission received 23 written comments in favor of removing limits on the non-native species that have been in the Columbia for more than a century,  but just 12 from those opposed to the measure.

As salmon and steelhead fisheries have diminished over the years because of habitat loss and altered flows, warmwater species have flourished, especially in the impounded waters behind hydroelectric dams. Although evidence indicates predation by these non-native species has contributed little to this decline, an anti-bass bias has persisted. And in recent years, the federal government joined in putting pressure on both Oregon and Washington to remove limits, despite a lack of science to support the move.

Bass anglers, meanwhile, argue that they also finance fisheries management by buying fishing licenses and that this strategy shows disregard for them as a constituency and will do little to diminish the smallmouth population of the Columbia River. Most of them will continue to practice catch and release.

Tuesday
Apr052016

War on Bass Is Spreading

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.)

Sunday
Jan032016

Oregon Bass Anglers Work to Prevent Illegal Introductions

In the Pacific Northwest, salmon, trout, and steelhead are taken care of first, then the remainder follow along. Meanwhile, warmwater (bass, walleye, crappie, catfish) folks are thought to be responsible for the majority of illegal fish introductions.

Oregon B.A.S.S.  Nation, The Bass Federation, and Oregon Black Bass Action Committee founded the Turn In Illegal Introductions (TI3) program to counter this image and prevent the spread of non-native species.

Founded four years ago, it has evolved into a mainstream program, which helps prevent illegal transporting by all anglers, not just those who fish warmwater.  And it shows that bass fishermen are willing to put their money where their mouth is.

Oregon State Police Game Enforcement has embraced the program, and has allowed TI3 to use the same telephone number  used by the TIP (Turn In Poachers), a program introduced and funded by the Oregon Hunters Association.

Thus far, no reward has been paid out. The money is held in escrow, and the desire is that any convicted offender be charged with the responsibility of repaying any funds expended in his conviction.