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Entries in Salmon (37)


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.


War on Bass Heats Up in California; Your Help Needed

A new proposal to liberalize limits on largemouth bass and striped bass in the California Delta is a misguided attempt to conceal real threats to salmon fisheries, said B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland.

“This is another shot by the anti-bass groups in California to eradicate non-native predators from the California Delta,” Gilliland said. 

“Federal legislation has already been proposed to remove black bass and striped bass, both of which have co-existed with salmon in the Delta for more than 100 years. Now these groups are setting their sights on state regulations. Bass and stripers, both very popular sportfish, are being blamed for the demise of the salmon stocks. But bass are the scapegoat. 

“Water management is the issue and liberalizing the limits on stripers and black bass will have little to no effect on the recovery of the endangered species. Fishery experts agree that this is a foolish idea and furthers drive that wedge between angler groups when the real issue is water.”

The California Delta is home to a world-class black bass fishery, has hosted numerous Bassmaster tournaments and is the home water for many touring pro anglers. 

“Water managers who care little about the fishery, its economic impact or value for the quality of life it brings to the region want to eradicate all non-native species as a show of good faith towards the salmon anglers,” he said.

He urged B.A.S.S. members and other anglers to sign a Keep America Fishing petition and implore the California Fish & Wildlife Commission to reject the proposed length and bag limit changes on stripers and black bass The Commission meets soon to deliberate the rule change proposal. The petition must be delivered before August 11, he noted.


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.)