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Entries in Salmon (25)

Wednesday
Feb042015

War on Bass Heats Up in Northwest

Washington state has joined the campaign to eliminate smallmouths like this from Northwest rivers.

For years, individuals and non-government groups in the Northwest have waged a war on bass, pushing for removal of limits and even bounties on the fish that have been established in some waters for more than a century. They blame predation by the warm-water species for the general decline of salmon and steelhead, even though evidence suggests that is true only in limited and isolated cases.

Many fisheries biologists, meanwhile, have been sympathetic to the cause, while state agencies mostly have treated bass and other nonnative warm-water species with benign neglect, instead of open hostility.

Until recently.

The cold-water war against bass has heated up, as Washington State has removed size and bag limits for bass and walleye in the Columbia and Snake Rivers and their tributaries above McNary Dam on the Washington/Oregon border. The big question now is what will happen on the lower 300 miles, which serve as a border between Washington and Oregon, as the former seems intent on pushing for removal of limits there as well.

Traditionally, the two have tried to manage with the same regulations on this river that is world famous for its hefty smallmouths.

“Previously, it was NGOs (non-government organizations) pushing for removal of limits. But now the mindset seems to have changed in Olympia (Washington state capital),” says a biologist, who wishes to remain anonymous.

“Now, I’m pretty sure that Washington will propose taking the rest of the regulations off.  If Washington does it, will Oregon go along?” he asks. “They (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) said that they wouldn’t rubber stamp it, that they’d have to see the biological benefits of doing so. But I’m skeptical.”

Additionally, now that a state has joined the war, its advocates might enlist the aid of Indian tribes as surrogates to sue both states for removal of limits.

The feds already have sided with the anti-bass faction, and, in fact, pressured Washington state to conform. The state also was considering taking off the bag limit, but requiring that only three bass per angler could be more than 15 inches.

In response, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) said that option “would imply a desire by WDFW (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) to maintain a healthy population of large, non-native predators.”

Yet the agency also admitted that quantifying the damage done to salmon and steelhead by bass “is difficult to quantify.” And it admitted, “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 . . .”

Still, even if limits on bass are removed all the way to the mouth of the Columbia, anglers likely won’t see a big change in the population. That’s because most of the fishermen who target smallmouths release them.

So, even if smallmouth predation were having a significant impact on salmon and steelhead generally --- and it’s not --- removing limits would do little to remedy that.

“On the main stem of the Columbia, increasing spill (dam discharges) instead of storing water for hydropower, would be more helpful,” says the biologist. “It would make the Columbia more like a river again, fish wouldn’t bottle up, and water temperatures would lower, meaning predators wouldn’t feed as aggressively.

“But spill is money, while bass are low-hanging fruit that are easy to target.”

Social implications, however, could be significant, with relationships becoming even more strained between warm-water anglers and state wildlife agencies. When resource managers remove limits on a species, they are saying that it has no value. Yet thousand of anglers annually pay licenses and fees to fish for smallmouth bass. In return, they want a return on their investment.

And they have the right to expect that.

Additionally, their financial contributions benefit all fisheries, both warm-water and cold, as they enable the states to qualify for matching funds from the federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.

Before removing size and bag limits on smallmouths, Northwest resource managers would be wise to remember that.

If they truly wanted to revive native species, they would insist on blowing out the dams that have impeded their migration and spawning, while creating hospitable habitat for bass and other warm-water species.

But those dams also provide hydropower and water for agriculture, benefitting millions of people. Consequently, they will stay too, while bass remain low-hanging fruit that are easy to target by private groups, and now, it seems, at least one state government.

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

Thursday
Oct232014

Pikeminnow Bounty Program Helps Anglers Find Smallmouth Bass

While many anglers fish for pikeminnows in the lower Columbia and Snake rivers in hopes of collecting bounties, they also catch plenty of other fishing, including smallmouth bass.

“I always thought it (catch statistics) could be of some use to anglers fishing the Columbia and Snake who are not obsessed with only salmon and steelhead,” said Eric Winther, pikeminnow manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Typically, fishermen catch the greatest number of warmwater species at the Columbia Point station in the Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland). During the week of July 7-14, they boated 949 pikeminnows and 601 smallmouths, with Greenbelt and Lyon’s Ferry yielding more than 1/3 of the bass.

In 2013, pikeminnow anglers landed nearly 9,000 smallmouth bass, along with more than 4,000 sturgeon and nearly 1,500 channel catfish.

Operating from May 1 to Sept. 30, the program pays $4 to $8 for each pikeminnow caught that measures 9 inches or longer.

Formerly called northern squawfish, the pikeminnow is a native species that resembles a walleye. Impoundments on the rivers have enabled it to become a much more effective predator of young salmon and steelhead.

Since 1990, more than 4.2 million pikeminnows have been removed through the bounty program.

 

Tuesday
Feb252014

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.

Monday
Jan132014

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.

Thursday
Jun202013

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.