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Entries in Salmon (23)


Providing Quality Fisheries Is Complicated Challenge

Photo by Robert Montgomery

Fisheries management often is an enigma wrapped inside a riddle, and the more we learn, the more we realize how much we don’t know. That’s why I respect fisheries biologists.

To provide us with quality fisheries, they must “manage” not only the fish, but the fishermen. Plus, they must factor in the effects of development, pollution, water degradation, introduction of exotic species, and many other variables.

Up in Minnesota, anglers and biologists have compiled some impressive statistics regarding the fragility of a fishery.

On a 160-acre private lake this winter, 97 northern pike have been caught and released 431 times. Additionally, 24 measured 30 inches or longer and had been caught an average of 6.83 times each.

“Now think about how long it takes a fish to grow,” said Dallas Hudson, one of the anglers who initiated the idea of not spearing or keeping northern pike caught on hook and line. “A northern in our lake will take six years to reach 24 inches and nine years to reach 30 inches and weigh 7 or 8 pounds.

“So it becomes pretty obvious what happens if people keep not only the bigger fish, but the medium-sized fish, say 24 to 30-inch northern. You end up with what we have in many Minnesota lakes: stunted fish.”

Fisheries supervisor Doug Kingsley added, “Dallas’ work shows us pretty clearly how vulnerable northerns, in particular, are to being caught. When you can catch the same fish 15 times over, and sometimes two times in the same day, it seems clear that in many lakes we need to limit the harvest of larger fish if we want bigger northern pike in our lakes.’’

For example, the work by Hudson and his associates clearly suggests that--- at least on smaller lakes--- larger northern pike can be overharvested. Still, many Minnesota anglers likely would oppose reducing the current harvest regulation, which allows three northern daily, with one longer than 30 inches. Plus, spear fishermen convinced the legislature to pass a law in 2011 that limits the establishment of length-based harvest regulations on 100 state lakes.

Arizona Game and Fish photo

Out in Arizona, fisheries managers are trying to figure out how to reign in an exploding population on non-native gizzard shad that threatens the health of bass and crappie fisheries at Apache and other Salt River impoundments.

In Lake Havasu, however, the combination of two introduced species seems to have ignited a premiere fishery for redear sunfish, also known as “shellcracker.”  Just recently, Hector Brito caught a 5.8-pound lunker, which likely will be declared a world record. In 2011, Bob Lawler caught the previous record --- 5.55 pounds--- also at Lake Havasu.

In the Northwest, meanwhile, champions of native species have been blaming bass for decades for the decline of salmon fisheries. In truth, dams destroyed salmon habitat and blocked habitat, while creating impoundments where bass have thrived.

Still, nature is resilient. That’s why this year’s projected spawning run of fall-run Chinook (king) salmon on the Columbia could be the largest since 1938. That was the year after the Bonneville Dam was completed, blocking their migration route and enabling the fish to be counted.

Fisheries managers suspect that the healthy run is attributable to good ocean conditions for the salmon while they are out at sea, as well as a mandated  water releases from spill gates at dams on the Columbia and Snake River dams, allowing small salmon to move downstream.


Lake Trout Recovering from Lamprey, Alewife Invasions

Lake trout photo by Robert Montgomery

Good news from Lake Huron, where lake trout seem to be reproducing --- finally.

First, sea lamprey migrated into the Great Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean and nearly obliterated them. Resource managers have managed to minimize the impacts of this blood-sucking invader, with millions of dollars spent on mitigation.

Then the alewife, another exotic species, complicated recovery.  As they fed on the prolific baitfish, lake trout sustained a vitamin deficiency that damaged reproduction. Supplemental stocking by the federal government did little to sustain the population.

But about a decade ago, the alewife population collapsed, probably because an overabundance of predatory salmon, yet another introduced species.

So, with lamprey minimized and lake trout now getting the nutrients they need from native forage, they finally are successfully reproducing and could be on the road to recovery, according to Michigan Radio.

 “I felt we were so completely stymied by one thing after another after another. The litany of challenges working against the reestablishment of a self-sustaining lake trout population seemed insurmountable,” said Jim Johnson of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  “But then, with the collapse of alewives, everything changed.”  

Read more here.


Inactive Anglers Are Embarrassment in Fight for Bristol Bay and on Other Issues

Sadly, environmentalists and fishermen, who are conservationists, don’t have much in common these days. That’s because of much of the environmental agenda is inherently anti-fishing. 

Much of that stems from enviros refusal to differentiate between recreational fishing and commercial fishing.

As a matter of fact, anglers were among the first “environmentalists” because of their concern for clean water and healthy fisheries. Today, they contribute hundreds of millions of dollars annually for resource management through license fees and excise taxes on fishing tackle. And, unlike commercials, they keep only a tiny fraction of what they catch.

But stopping Pebble Mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay is one thing that enviros and anglers--- both recreational and commercial-- agree on. Its creation would lead to the devastation of one of the world’s few remaining unspoiled salmon fisheries.

More than 925 angling and hunting groups, as well as related businesses, now are on record as supporting EPA’s assessment of the danger and asking that agency to take the necessary steps to deny permitting for the mine.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post newspaper reports the following:

“Almost all the comments urging the EPA to block the mine have been generated by major environmental groups . . .

“The Natural Resources Defense Council produced 83,095 comments, more than any other group in favor of EPA action, while the Pew Charitable Trusts came in second with 41,158 comments.”

Now here is where you come in. You have until June 30 to voice your opposition to the mine. Go here to do so, and, in the process, enter a contest to win a fishing trip to Bristol Bay.

Thus far, the enviros have done most of the heavy lifting in producing comments. As of May 18, only about 6,000 sportsmen had participated.

In a nation where 60 million people describe themselves as anglers, that’s beyond pathetic.

“Sadly, fishermen have lagged, but not by any lack of effort,” said Scott Hed, director of the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska. “Keep America Fishing sent out two notices to their massive list. Many other groups and businesses sent action alerts and posted to their Facebook groups, whose collective number of followers is in the millions.”

So, what all of this tells me is that sometimes enviros and anglers can agree on an issue, and that’s a good thing. Maybe one will lead to more.

But it also suggests that we’re going to lose when we oppose them on any issue that requires grassroots support. Almost certainly we outnumber them, but too many anglers are content to just go fishing and leave standing up for our sport to someone else.

Mark my words: Eventually, that’s going to bite us in the butt big time.


EPA Confirms Threat that Pebble Mine Poses to Alaska Salmon 

Those fighting to protect one of the world’s most valuable salmon fisheries are pleased with a recent assessment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Basically, the EPA found that, even without a major disaster, the proposed Pebble Mine would destroy up to 90 miles of salmon streams and up to 4,800 acres of wetland salmon habitat in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

“The science is clear: developing Pebble Mine will harm salmon and destroy streams even if nothing ever goes wrong at the mine,” said Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program.

“Pebble is far bigger and more threatening to renewable resource jobs than any other mine proposal in Alaska and it’s planned for the worst location possible: the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

"Clearly, the time for action to protect Bristol Bay under the Clean Water Act is now.”

Save Bristol Bay adds this:

Anglo American, a foreign mining company of luxury metals with a record as one of the world’s biggest polluters, forms half of the Pebble Limited Partnership, which has said it plans to file a permit application for the mine this year. Its partner, Northern Dynasty, filed detailed plans with the SEC to build North America’s largest open-pit mine and the world’s largest earthen dam in Bristol Bay, Alaska, home to America’s most productive salmon streams.

Several representatives from the Save Bristol Bay Coalition were in Washington this week to urge the EPA to quickly release its updated draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. They are part of an unprecedented, bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, more than 900 hunting and fishing groups and businesses, 26,000 retail food stores, 225 chefs and restaurant owners, and 22 jewelers like Tiffany and Co. that believe Bristol Bay should be protected.

Nearly 60% of Alaskans and 80% of Bristol Bay residents oppose the construction of Pebble Mine, particularly Alaska Natives who fear the destruction of their 8,000 year-old culture.

Go here to learn more about the assessment and comment.


BCI Helps Forge New Management Plan for Columbia River Salmon Fisheries

Photo from

Those who fish for warmwater species might be a bit perplexed by the concept of “redesigning” fisheries. That’s because user conflicts typically are not a consideration in management of bass, catfish, and crappie.

But out in the Northwest, where salmon are more prized than gold, it’s big news when a new allocation system is even considered --- much less implemented. That’s why what Oregon and Washington have agreed to do regarding management of salmon stocks in the lower Columbia River is historic.

“This is a big deal,” said Jim Martin, conservation director of the Berkley Conservation Institute (BCI). “It has been 40 years since the last major change in this fishery, and we have been intensely pushing this idea for more than 5 years. Finally, the governor of Oregon endorsed it and put new commissioners on the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. And now we have the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in agreement.

“When implemented, the plan will substantially improve the economics of sportfishing in the Columbia River area and will be better for the conservation of wild fish as well.”

Although commercial fishermen and their allies opposed and continue to rail against the redesign, strong popular support convinced state officials that it was time for a change. “I give a lot of credit to the Coastal Conservation Association,” Martin said. “It brought the issue to a head.”

Other BCI allies included Trout Unlimited, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, and Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

For BCI, a part of Pure Fishing, campaigning on behalf of the redesign was a natural. “For us, conservation is job No. 1 and the economy is job No. 2,” said Martin, former Oregon fisheries chief. “Any time that you can improve both, you do it.”

The conservation director added that this plan for the lower Columbia --- to be phased in by 2017 --- serves as an example of what can be done with red snapper, summer flounder and other mixed marine fisheries around the country.

"We are wasting economic value,” he said. “Why allocate half to outdated, obsolete fisheries?”

Martin pointed out that allocation between recreation and commercial fisheries always has been a difficult issue because of competing views regarding economics, efficiency, and fairness. “In my experience of 44 years in the fisheries management business, I have found few issues that are as potentially powerful in increasing net economic benefits to regional/national economics and supporting more jobs . . . and as universally avoided by managers,” he said.

What is the plan for the lower Columbia that could spark a sea change and why are four years required for full implementation?

“A couple of key assumptions have to be tested,” Martin explained.

First, the plan calls for commercial gill-netters to be moved off the main river channel and into the bays and sloughs, where almost half of their catch already occurs. Managers intend to increase the number of smolts stocked in those backwaters, and their harvest, when they return as adults, would compensate commercials for not fishing in the channel.

“They (commercial fishermen) are saying that it won’t work, and we are saying that it will. So we’ll test that assumption,” the conservation director said.

Additionally, purse seines and beach seines will be allowed for commercial harvest in the main river --- at least that is the hope. Their use already is legal in Washington waters, but Oregon still must pass a bill to legalize them. Decades ago, they were been banned, mostly because gill-netters, a powerful political force, viewed their use as competition and opposed them.

“The number of gill-netters has decreased tremendously over the years,” Martin explained. “There were 500 of them 20 years ago, but about 225 with legal permits now. Only about 125 are actively fishing and 30 to 40 make significant landings.”

Still, they enjoy support out of proportion to the economic benefits that they provide their communities. “For a lot of local communities, they are ‘their’ guys, while they see this redesign as being pushed by greedy sportsmen from Portland,” Martin said.

“In reality, they benefit more from the sportsmen, but they see commercials as having the real jobs and recreational fishing as a hobby. To get something like this done, you have to fight politics.”

You also have to work within the confines of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the hope is that this can be more efficiently achieved with purse and beach seines.

Under the ESA, a small percentage of mortality is allowed for protected species, such as spring Chinook. But once that “impact” target is reached, the fishery must be shut down.

“When that happens, not even hatchery fish can be caught, and so they go unharvested,” Martin said. “Right now, impacts are costing of millions of dollars annually (in lost revenue).”

Because they are not as lethal as gill nets, the seines will allow for selective harvest of hatchery fish, while protected wild fish that are captured inadvertently can be released unharmed. That means “impact” is not achieved as quickly and the season can be extended for sport fishing.

“Commercials say that this won’t work either. But we will test it to make sure that it does,” the conservation director explained.

An estimated 1.43 million hatchery-raised and wild salmon enter the Columbia each year. In 2011, about 200 gill-net boats caught 137,000 worth $4.72 million. By contrast, about 350,000 trips by recreational anglers resulted in 142,000 salmon caught, but with an estimated $22 million spent on food, travel, lodging, and tackle.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife predicts that by moving commercial fishermen to improved off-channel areas and increasing access to fall Chinook in the main river (with purse and beach seines), the value of their catch will increase by 15 percent during the next four years. Concurrently, it says, the number of angler trips will grow by 22 percent.

“This plan will increase sport fishing by 20 to 40 percent in the Columbia River,” Martin added. “Even though they don’t like it, commercials will be better off too.

“There are not many opportunities to do reallocations and redesigns to increase economic benefits that much and still be fair to commercials,” he continued. With this, we think that their benefits will increase.”

(This article appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer Magazine.)