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Entries in Salmon (39)


Bad News For Great Lakes Sport Fish: Prey on Decline

From 1978 to 2016, total prey fish biomass has declined in Lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan, according to annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).  Those species include cisco, bloater, rainbow smelt, alewife, and round goby.

What's going on? Michigan State University Extension said, "There were massive changes in the Great Lakes fish communities during the 20th century."

Introduction of more than 100 species of exotics were among those changes, with zebra and quagga mussels arguably the most notorious and harmful. Today, prey species are suffering a double whammy, as they are gobbled up by sport fish, while filter-feeding of plankton by the exotic mussels is depriving them of the food they need to sustain their populations.

Huron was the first to show dramatic decline, and now Michigan is following suit.

"The (Lake Michigan) picture looks very similar to what Lake Huron was like before it crashed," said USGS's Chuck Madenjian. "And nobody was prepared for how quickly it went over there."

In 2017, bottom-trawling data on Michigan showed lake-wide prey biomass of 13.3 kilotonnes, the fourth-lowest on record. All four have been recorded during the past four years.

States, meanwhile, have reduced stocking of trout and salmon in hopes of striking a better balance between predator and prey.

USGS findings include the following:

  • Round goby. Let's start with the good news. "Round goby biomass increased in Lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario during the 1990s or 2000s, then peaked, perhaps even decreased somewhat, and appears to have leveled off in all four lakes . . .  Round goby populations in Lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario now appear to be under some degree of predatory control as they are fed upon by smallmouth bass, lake whitefish, burbot, lake trout, brown trout, yellow perch, other fish and birds." 
  • Alewife. "Synchronous decline in alewife biomass during 1978-2016 . . . Predation has been the primary driver of alewife dynamics in Lake Michigan since the 1960s and it is likely the main driver of alewife dynamics in Lakes Huron and Ontario as well."
  • Rainbow smelt. Similar decline in Superior, Huron, Michigan, and Ontario. "In these four lakes, rainbow smelt was an important prey species before the mid-1990s and is now a minor prey species."
  • Coregonids, which includes whitefish, cisco, bloater. Also consistent decline, although "predation does not appear to be the primary driver . . ." Increased water clarity and climate change could be among other contributing factors.

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


What We Learned From The LMBV Scare

Bass infected with LMBV look normal, until the virus turns lethal.

Remember Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV)? If you’ve been a bass angler for more than five years, you certainly do.

Starting in 1995 and for about a decade, it killed fish, especially larger bass, and damaged local economies dependent on recreational fishing. It prompted concern --- and even fear --- among millions that we might be seeing the demise of North America’s No. 1 sport fish.

But that isn’t what happened. Instead, we discovered that the virus wasn’t going to have catastrophic consequences, although it likely would remain an enduring element in ecosystems, causing sporadic fish kills.

Now, here’s the rest of the story, the part that you don’t know about:

Widespread access and angling restrictions almost certainly would have been imposed in many states across the country had B.A.S.S. not stepped in to stem the panic in 2000.

That’s when Conservation Director Bruce Shupp initiated a series of annual workshops on LMBV. At these professionally facilitated events, state, federal, and university scientists and fisheries biologists shared evolving news and research regarding the virus. That invaluable information then was provided to fisheries agencies across the country.

“The situation easily could have gotten out of control,” remembers Shupp. “Overreactions were a real possibility, and that would have included stopping tournaments (which came close to happening in at least one state).”

But because of this cooperative process, anglers and resource managers more quickly learned about both the severity and the limitations of the virus, as well as how it could be spread and what seemed to trigger it from a dormant virus into a killer disease.

“This was the boldest and best thing that we ever did,” Shupp adds. “We let the states know what was going on so that they wouldn’t overreact, and we helped get this thing under control until it dissipated.

“This was a great example of how to deal publically with a major resource issue.”

Shupp is not alone in his assessment of the workshops.

“This was one of the best collaborative processes ever,” says Dave Terre, chief of management and research for Inland Fisheries at Texas Parks and Wildlife.

In fact, Terre and three others who attended those events later wrote a paper entitled, “Dealing with largemouth Bass Virus: Benefits of Multi-sector Collaboration.”

“Possibly the greatest benefit was the capability to quickly as­semble all available information, provide instantaneous peer re­view, and develop and disseminate consistent, scientifically valid outreach tools (e.g., fact sheets, news releases),” they wrote. “Based on declining public concern and fewer sensationalized media releases, these tools apparently were effective. The reality that LMBV was not just a local problem and was being addressed by a regional team also probably helped modulate public concerns.”

This prime example of what can be accomplished through cooperation stands in stark contrast to those who prefer conflict and lawsuits as their tactics for achieving a goal. That’s because making a political statement and/or imposing an ideology often is more important to these groups that protecting and/or improving the resource.

Those who want to ban lead fishing tackle profess to care about loons and other waterfowl. Really, they want to stop you from fishing. Why else would they continue to push for the bans when no evidence exists that lead tackle substantially harms wildlife?

Those who want to destroy Florida’s Rodman Reservoir insist that they care about nature and want to restore habitat for fish and wildlife. In reality, Rodman is as rich and diverse as any natural system, besides being a world-class fishery. Its detractors just want it out because it’s “manmade.”

Those in the Northwest who continue to bash bass because of the demise of salmon and trout --- when dams and habitat loss have done the damage --- will not accept the reality of altered ecosystems.

“There are some who are dead set against sensible management of any exotic species, no matter how useful they are in providing recreation, funding for conservation agencies, or recruiting young anglers,” says Jim Martin, director of the Berkley Conservation Institute.

“This issue of management of exotics is a place where sensible conversation about the bigger picture has usually led to a sensible compromise for good management of recreation and native species as well.”

Is cooperation and compromise always better than conflict and confrontation? I’m not saying that. In fact, I believe compromise on access issues can be catastrophic for the future of recreational fishing.

But when you really care about the well being of a resource, the best way to deal with problems related to it is cooperatively. Those who don’t come to the table are more concerned with imposition of their ideology than they are with doing what’s best for the resource.


Smallmouth Expansion With Climate Change Not All Positive

At a glance,  what's there not to like about milder winters and warmer waters for northern waters?

"Smallmouth bass, a popular recreational species, are expanding their range northward with climate change," said the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in reporting on findings that it compiled from reviewing 31 studies across the U.S. and Canada that document fish responses to climate change.

But, it cautioned, "one of the takeaway messages is that climate change effects on fish are rarely straightforward, and they affect warmwater and coldwater fish differently."

For example, an expanding smallmouth population  will result in new species interactions and altered predator-prey dynamics. That will  complicate life even more for coldwater fish species already stressed by milder conditions. Thus, managers will be tasked with both accommodating the desires of anglers who want to catch bass and  maintaining native species.

That means managing not only the fish but "the expectations of the stakeholders for fisheries changing with climate change," said USGS.

Fish most at risk are those living in arid environments and coldwater species, including walleye and trout, as well as prey species that these larger fish depend on for food. "Climate change can cause suboptimal habitat for some fish," the agency said. "Warmer water, for example, can stress coldwater fish. When stressed, fish tend to eat less and grow less."

Other climate change consequences:

  • Increased frequency and severity of droughts, especially in arid areas, will exacerbate the impacts of regulations on water flow and use for fish and aquatic systems, as well as people.
  • Altered migration times for some coldwater species will allow species that never spawned together before to hybridize. Native westslope cutthroat trout in the Rocky Mountains already are hybridizing with rainbow trout, a non-native species.
  • Abundance and growth of some coldwater species will be reduced. Changes in range, abundance, migration, growth, and reproduction already are occurring for sockeye salmon.

“Even though climate change can seem overwhelming, fisheries managers have the tools to develop adaptation strategies to conserve and maintain fish populations,” said Craig Paukert, a lead author and fisheries scientist at the USGS Missouri Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Missouri.

“Thanks to this synthesis, we can see the effects of climate change on inland fish are no longer just future speculation, but today’s facts, with real economic, social, and ecological impacts,” added Doug Austen, Executive Director of the American Fisheries Society.

 “Now that trends are being revealed, we can start to tease apart the various stressors on inland fish and invest in conservation and research where these programs will really make a difference in both the short and long term.”


Alaska's Greatest Outdoor Legends

Most of us never will go to Alaska. And none of us can time travel.

          But Doug Kelly enables readers to do both, at least vicariously, via his new book, Alaska's Greatest Outdoor Legends. Incorporating historical records, anecdotes, and interviews, he profiles 27 of them who hunted, fish, trapped, explored, settled, managed, and promoted "the last frontier" during the past century, right up to present day.

          Black and white photos  add spice to the tales of adventurous men and women who blazed trails for the millions who followed, either to fish and hunt or to live. For example, the cover features a shot of Charley Madsen, Kodiak Island's original professional bear guide, packing out a brown bear carcass on his shoulders.

          But so intriguing were the exploits of more than two dozen others, Charley didn't even merit a chapter of his own! In fact, Kelly said that "hundreds of other men and women could justifiably be included as legends of rod or rifle in Canada."

          Consider colorful Capt. Andy "Frosty" Mezirow, who has put clients on fish for 25 years, and continues to do so, with giant halibut his specialty. On one trip, though, what was supposed to be a halibut turned out to be a 250-pound salmon shark. In helping to subdue it, "Andy leaped on the shark's back like a rodeo rider and concussed it with multiple swings from an aluminum bat," recalled a friend who was on the boat that day.

          And within the chapters of many of those who are featured lie stories worthy of  adaptation as movies. Missourian Nellie Neal Lawing didn't make it to Alaska until she was middle-aged. But once there, she was an unstoppable force, as she operated way stations for anglers and hunters. In 1920, she drove her dog sled into the teeth of a blizzard to rescue a mail carrier. And then, knowing the importance of mail in frontier Alaska, went back for the pouches and delivered them on time to the train station.

          And as Nellie was making her mark, so too were hunters like Frank Glaser, Bill Pinnell, and Morris Talifson. The latter two awakened hunters in the Lower 48 to the allure of hunting on Kodiak Island with magazine advertisements and video presentations. Glaser started as a wolf hunter for the feds, but later became an important voice in debates about predator control in Alaska.

          If you like hunting, fishing, history, and colorful characters, you will enjoy Alaska's Greatest Outdoor Legends.


Anglers, Bass Win in California Delta Water War

An in-state attempt to wage war on black bass and stripers in the California (Sacramento-San Joaquin) Delta has been repelled  --- at least for now.

Led by agricultural groups, a coalition was calling on the California Fish and Wildlife Commission to changes in size and bag limits for these non-native species that have been established for more than a century.

Translation: They wanted all limits removed  on one of the world's best bass fisheries.

Why?  Native salmon and other fish are suffering because of  drought and growing demand for a limited water supply. But because bass are  predators and high-profile, they're easy to blame for the decline of native species.

The same thing has happened in the Northwest, where both Oregon and Washington wildlife agencies have made management decisions based on politics and science. Up there,  size and bag limits have been removed on the Columbia and other rivers. The feds are involved too, and on the wrong side, of course. Check out War on Bass Is Spreading.

But in California, the petition to wage war on bass was withdrawn by the petitioners before its scheduled review by the Commission. It had been vehemently and vocally opposed by B.A.S.S., California Sportfishing League, and other groups.

“Our coalition had science on our side and we were able to show the Fish and Wildlife Commission that all fish need water and this was simply a water grab that sought to make striped bass and largemouth and smallmouth bass the scapegoats for the status of salmon stocks, said Scott Gudes, vice president of Government Affairs for the American Sportfishing Association (ASA).

Representing millions of sportsmen and women nationwide, including tens of thousands in California, the coalition engaged  supporters who sent a clear message to the Commission that this was a water issue, not a fish issue.
 "This is a real victory for anglers. But we need to be vigilant. No doubt the agricultural industry that pushed this proposal will be back. Anglers need to stay unified," added Gudes.

These are the groups that targeted bass:

The Coalition for Sustainable Delta, California Chamber of Commerce, California Farm Bureau Federation, Kern County Water Agency, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Northern California Water Association, San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, Southern California Water Committee, State Water Contractors and Western Growers were the petitioners.

These are the groups that spoke up for bass and anglers:

American Sportfishing Association, B.A.S.S., California Sportfishing League, Coastal Conservation Association California, Coastside Fishing Club, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Fishing League Worldwide, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and Water4Fish.