Following a disappointing decision by fisheries managers, Oregon bass anglers are considering their options--- and sounding off about the removal of limits on smallmouth bass in the Columbia, John Day, and Umpqua Rivers.
The ruling by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, they argue, was based more on politics than science.
"Needless to say, it's very frustrating," said Lonnie Johnson, conservation director for the Oregon B.A.S.S. Nation, who believes that the decision was pre-ordained because of pressure by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, neighboring Washington, tribes, and preservationist groups who do not like the "non-native" fish.
"To me, it devalues the resource,” added Bud Hartman, a long-time member of the Oregon Bass and Panfish Club. “It says to the angling public that these fish don’t mean anything.”
B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland attended the commission meeting to voice the organization's opposition to removing limits. In the aftermath, he said this: "In my opinion it sends a poor message, that warmwater species are of little value and that the agency's priorities are so focused on native species (i.e. endangered salmon stocks) that even a world-class smallmouth bass fishery can be sacrificed."
And writing in the Oregonian newspaper, veteran outdoor writer Bill Monroe theorized that the move threatens "a long history of support from about a quarter of their constituency."
Johnson acknowledged that support for the Department of Fish and Wildlife by warmwater anglers likely will be damaged, because they're paying license fees to an agency that disrepects them. At a meeting following the decision, he said, "At first the consensus was that we needed to separate ourselves from ODFW permanently. Just walk way.
"But as the initial visceral response eased, the rhetoric eased also. My feeling is that, however distasteful, it is easier to work from within the system than from outside. Several folks probably will step away, but most will grit their teeth and persevere."
Gilliland, meanwhile, hopes to rebuild a relationship with the agency, while making it clear "that a great deal of trust was lost during this process and both sides will need to work at it."
Preservation and native fish groups have been pushing for removal limits on bass and other warmwater non-native species for some time, arguing they are harming native salmon by predation. But little evidence supports that. Habitat loss and degraded water quality are the primary causes of declines in these coldwater species. Consequently, ODFW framed its action as "simplifying" regulations.
“There are lots of confusing regulations and conservation needs,” said Mike Gauvin, recreational fishing program manager. “First and foremost, though, we’re doing this to simplify and streamline the regulations.”
But on behalf of bass anglers, Johnson offered an option that was just as simple: Make the statewide bag limit 5, with one over 15 inches.
Of course, the recommendation was rejected, as the commission removed limits for bass, walleye, and catfish. As it did so, though, Johnson said that one commissioner acknowledged that the action was going to anger a large constituency. Gauvin responded that it sends a good message to the salmon recovery community.
"That sort of wraps the whole thing into a single sentence," said Johnson.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)