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Entries in South Carolina (6)

Monday
Jun302014

Hunters Reduce Cormorant Population on Santee Cooper System

Photo by Robert Montgomery

Nearly 12,000 fewer cormorants are eating fish in the Santee Cooper system.

That’s because the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) granted permits to 1,225 hunters to shoot the birds Feb. 2 to March 1 on Lakes Moultrie and Marion. Forty percent of those reported back, with a final tally of 11,653.

The agency said the hunt was necessary to reduce predation on forage, including herring, shad, and menhaden, as well as on juvenile game fish and catfish.

“In addition, cormorant harassment has been linked to significant winter kills of adult redear sunfish too large to swallow,” it said. “Permanent damage to flooded bald cypress and tupelo trees used for roosts has also been documented.”

For decades the birds were protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and their numbers exploded as resident populations established themselves on large lakes and impoundments. Recently, though, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has granted states permission to reduce their numbers.

Mostly only agency personnel have been involved in these efforts. But South Carolina decided to enlist public assistance to reduce shoot the birds that anglers love to hate. Permits were granted to those who attended a training session and agreed to follow the strict rules.

“The taking of cormorants will be restricted to the legal boundaries of the Santee Cooper lakes and will be allowed only in areas where waterfowl hunters can legally hunt waterfowl,” SCDNR said.

While many were pleased with the state’s first cormorant hunt, some were not.

“When I requested scientific evidence from SCDNR to justify this proposed hunt, none was provided,” said Norman Brunswig of Audubon South Carolina. “I strongly suspect that none exists. Rather, as I’ve said, I believe that the SCDNR has been pushed and bullied into an unnecessary slaughter of a native non-game bird, by fishermen, fishing guides, and a few powerful but misguided politicians.”

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

Friday
Apr252014

Fish Back Tournament Set for June 7

 

Activist Angler note: Teaming with Fishiding, PotashCorp introduced a conservation component to its benefit tournament last year and plans to include it again on Saturday, June 7. I hope that other tournament organizers will take note and follow the leader because these kinds of projects actually could improve fisheries.

A few have had competitors release fry during one of the competition days, but all that really does is provide an opportunity for promotion of the event. It does little or nothing to help the fishery. If bass have sufficient habitat, they will reproduce just fine on their own. If they don't, adding more fish to compete for already limited forage and cover is pointless.

The following is a variation of an article about the event that ran in the April issue of B.A.S.S. Times:

In regard to bass tournaments, Joey Bruyninckx had a better idea.

“I wanted to do something that benefits charity, kids, and the environment,” said the environmental specialist for PotashCorp, who added that he likes to fish and has ties to fishing. “From there, it just all came together.”

Thus was born the PotashCorp Fish Back Tournament, set for Saturday, June 7, at Clarks Hill (also known as J. Strom Thurmond Reservoir) on the Georgia-South Carolina border.

Last year’s two-day tournament, with a $12,000 payout for first place, was a “huge success,” said the employee of the world’s largest fertilizer company. With 135 teams competing, $6,000 was raised for the Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance and $4,000 for the North Augusta Fishing Team, a youth organization. Volunteers from the latter performed much of the labor, including returning bass to the lake.

What made this event different from most others, meanwhile, was the conservation component. On Day One, each team placed habitat in the reservoir on its first or second stop.

“I was worried that there would be a lot of fussing and grumbling,” the environmental specialist said. “But afterward, a number of them told me how much they appreciated what we were doing. There were way more positive comments than negative.”

Had competitors been asked to load a brushpile with cinder blocks onto the deck of their bass boats, the reaction might not have been so positive. But instead PotashCorp provided them with self-contained habitats made from reclaimed vinyl siding by Fishiding (a supporter of Activist Angler). All anglers had to do was unfold and drop the “Safehouse,” which boasts a 7-foot diameter when opened.

Fishiding owner Dave Ewald said the units “sink to the bottom and land upright to resemble a bush. The wide limbs create maximum shade, often preferred by bass and forage fish. Nutrients then stick to the vinyl and start the food chain.”

Bruyninckx sought and received approval from Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) before implementing the habitat-improvement component of the tournament. Orginally, he had considered having each team release bass fry, but DNR biologists convinced him that adding habitat would be more beneficial.

The same is planned for this year’s event, which its creator hopes will have more sponsors. PotashCorp donated $25,000 last year and is expected to increase that to $30,000 this year.

 

Tuesday
Apr152014

Birds, Bears, and Balance

Cormorant photos by Robert Montgomery

Early this spring, hunters killed 11,653 double-crested cormorants on Lakes Marion and Moultrie (Santee Cooper) in South Carolina. Such an event would have been unthinkable just a decade ago. That’s because cormorants are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

But in recent years both federal and state resource managers recognized that these fishing-eating birds are causing problems for our fisheries, as their populations explode. Vocal, angry anglers played no small part in that recognition.

More recently, Florida Fish and Wildlife killed five black bears after a woman was attacked at her home in central Florida.

What do these two incidents have in common? They highlight who we are as a species and what we must do if we are to share land and water with other species.

We are beings who alter our environment to meet our needs. We clear the land to farm and to build cities, homes, and highways. We erect dams to control floods, irrigate formerly arid lands, and generate hydropower.

And when we do those things, we take away the habitat of other species, such as black bears in Florida.

Many think that we manage only domestic animals. In truth, if we are to have healthy populations of most wildlife species, we must manage them as well.

And that means sometimes that we must kill some of them because their numbers are too great to be sustained in their remaining habitat and/or they pose a threat to us.

As they were relentlessly hunted and their habitat destroyed, buffalo, deer, and turkey nearly disappeared. But enlightened management has brought them back, and now regular hunts keep their numbers at sustainable levels for their available habitat.

The cormorant is an interesting exception to the rule. That’s because it habitat has not been diminished by us, but rather greatly expanded by the reservoirs behind all of those dams that we’ve built. That’s why it has become such a nuisance species. Many no longer migrate, but instead stay year-around, feasting on fish and expanding their numbers.

Of course, many of those who call themselves animal lovers do not want to hear such rational arguments. They did not like the killing of so many cormorants in South Carolina, and I’ve no doubt that Florida Fish and Wildlife will endure sharp criticism for killing so many bears.

These people want us to either ignore the problem or attempt to solve it in an impractical way.

For example, the Missouri Department of Conservation decided to do something about the overpopulation of deer in suburban St. Louis awhile back. Its first choice was to have a managed hunt. But bowing to pressures from animal lovers, it went with the much more expensive option of trapping and moving the deer.

The agency later discovered that most of those transplanted deer starved to death because their new habitat contained little to none of the types of plants that they were accustomed to eating in the suburbs.

Moving bears won’t solve the problem in Florida either. Suitable bear habitat in the state already is at peak population. Otherwise the animals wouldn’t have moved in so close to humans in the first place.

Additionally, those that have ventured into civilization now grow fat as they scavenge garbage around homes or are intentionally fed by these same animal lovers who have exacerbated the problem with their compassion. In other words, the bears now associate humans with food and if trapped and moved, they’ll just head for the nearest subdivision.

The reality is that we must live with the consequences of our actions as a species that alters its environment, and one of those consequences is that we must manage the other species that share the land and water.

Monday
Apr142014

Strategies Improve for Controlling Hydrilla; Giant Salvinia Grows as Threat to Fisheries

Hydrilla has joined Eurasian milfoil as an invasive exotic plant that threatens northern fisheries. It now has been found in Kansas and Missouri, and the Nature Conservancy is reporting “a number of populations on the doorstep of the Great Lakes.”

Giant salvinia, meanwhile, has emerged as a significant danger to some southern waters, especially in eastern Texas and Louisiana.

Yet much of the news these days is good for anglers in regard to troublesome aquatic plants, particularly hydrilla. Resource managers assert that they have learned from past mistakes and now strive to control this fish-attracting invasive, rather than obliterate it.

“We’re not trying to wipe it (hydrilla) out anymore,” said Howard Elder, aquatic plant biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife. “We’re trying to find a happy median.”

Bill Caton, leader of the Invasive Plant Management Section at Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, echoed the sentiment, emphasizing that “spot treatment” is preferred.

“It’s like treating weeds in a flower bed,” he said. “It’s much better if you don’t let it get out of control. If you do, then it costs you more, you have to use more herbicides, and you have more dead vegetation to deal with.”

Caton acknowledged that sometimes the aftermath of a herbicide treatment for hydrilla and other invasives still “can look bad” to anglers.

“But the public is just looking at the immediate impact of the treatment and not thinking about the results,” he said. “Treatments are like prescribed fires. They can look bad, but they’re often the only alternative that we have for providing good fish and wildlife habitat and preserving places for people to fish.”

Mechanical harvesting, he added, “is too expensive and destroys everything,” including fish and invertebrates trapped in the plants.

Grass carp, meanwhile, are an option in some states, including Texas and South Carolina.

“We knock the hydrilla back with herbicides and then use grass carp for control,” Elder said.

For the massive Santee Cooper system, the exotic grass-eaters are the preferred primary tool, and Chris Page, manager for the aquatic plant program at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, believes  balance has been achieved with this method as well.

“We do maintenance stocking of one fish per eight acres,” Page said. “That’s about 20,000 fish. And we’re going to put in another 10,000 to manage an additional 400 acres of (hydrilla) coverage.”

Such a formula is a far cry from the 700,000 fish stocked in the 160,000-acre system from 1989 to 1996, he explained.

“I understand the problem that the public had with that. There were too many carp for several years.”

But as they better manage hydrilla, state agencies also are challenged with new threats to fisheries, including crested floating heart (see below) and giant salvinia.

Unlike hydrilla, giant salvinia has no redeeming value as fish habitat, and it can double in area in 10 days or less. It destroys primary productivity in a fishery and acidifies water until only a desert remains under its canopy.

In Texas, giant salvinia is established in 12 lakes. It also has spread to Louisiana, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, as well as other states.

“Hydrilla is a greater threat overall because it is so popular and so widespread,” Elder said. “Giant salvinia is not as easily distributed and it prefers acidic waters, which is why it is a threat in east Texas.”

This latest invader also is more difficult to control with herbicides than hydrilla, and carp won’t eat it. That’s why both Texas and Louisiana are raising weevils that will feed on the exotic plant.

New Invader

There’s a new bad kid on the block: crested floating heart. It’s been in Florida for awhile, and now is causing problems in South Carolina.

Chances are good that this native of Asia also is established in other states, but hasn’t yet been identified. With flat, floating leaves and white flowers, it resembles the native banana lily, according to the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (CAIP) at the University of Florida.

“I think that this could be a bad one,” said Mike Netherland, an aquatic plants expert for the Army Corps of Engineers.

As with so many other exotic plants now degrading our waterways, it likely “escaped from a water garden somewhere,” according to Chris Page, program manager for aquatic plant management in the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Within four to five years, crested floating heart spread from 10 to 15 acres to 2,000 in the 160,000-acre Santee Cooper system, he added.

“We’ve done some (herbicide) treatment in coves, where there’s no water movement,” said Page, adding that effective application is difficult in open water.

“It’s the most aggressive floating-leave plant that we’ve encountered on the lakes,” said Larry McCord, supervisor of analytical and biological services for the Santee Cooper power and water utility. “It is rooting in high-energy areas along the main shoreline and can grow quite successfully in 10 to 12 feet of water.”

In Santee Cooper’s lakes Moultrie and Marion, this invasive exotic has the potential to spread over 40 percent of the acreage, McCord explained. Plus, reports from Asia suggest that grass carp won’t eat the plant, not good news for a waterway where they are used to control hydrilla.

Once established, cresting floating heart blankets the surface, blocking light penetration to beneficial submersed plants.

In Florida, according to CAIP, the invader is considered a Category II ecological threat. That means it has increased in abundance, but has not yet altered Florida plant communities to the extent shown by Category I species (hydrilla).

(A variation of this article was published in B.A.S.S. Times a few years ago.)

Thursday
Apr052012

Do You Care Enough to Fight for Recreational Angling?

Do you care enough to fight for recreational angling? Or will you continue to go fishing and ignore the threat until it’s too late?

I hope that you will read what follows and then get involved. Join Keep America Fishing.  Write to your federal representatives and senators, urging them to oppose the National Ocean Policy and National Ocean Council.

Get involved. Please.

*                      *                          *

Not surprisingly, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) likes the National Ocean Policy (NOP), which would zone uses of our waters, inevitably telling anglers where they can and cannot fish.

The sad and all too predictable aspect of this support is that the NRDC tries to make the argument that the NOP “will help fishermen.” I’d have much more respect for the organization if it simply supported the Big-Government strategy and left it at that.

Instead, it uses misinformation, half-truths, and, yes, even lies to try to convince anglers to swallow the cyanide pill because it will be good for them. One of the most blatant lies from the NRDC blog is this:

The National Ocean Policy’s development benefitted from a robust stakeholder engagement process, which included hundreds of recreational and commercial fishermen and the organized sportfishing lobbies.”

The truth is that the NOP policy was a done deal when President Obama took office in January of 2009. Environmental groups put down the foundation as soon as he was elected in November of 2008. Most everything since has been window-dressing, to make it appear as if a “robust stakeholder engagement process” has been occurring.

Certainly organizations including the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), the American Sportfishing Association, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, and others have lobbied on behalf of anglers from the beginning, and they continue to do so. But they’re playing against a stacked deck.

Provided by RFA, here’s an example of angler “support” for the NOP, from October testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee:

40:20 - Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) provides single token letter of angler support for the executive order (implementing NOP), that of John McMurray, an advisor for Environmental Defense Fund hand-picked by Dr. Jane Lubchenco to represent New York fishermen at the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC).

1:34:10 - Rep. Don Young (R-AK) grills Dr. Lubchenco on her comments that "quite a few fishermen" support the executive order, though she's unable to produce a name except to say the MAFMC ("same one as you put catch shares involved into," replies Young.)

The only brief interruption for the Big Government steamroller occurred in the spring of 2010. Largely unnoticed, I had been writing about the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force (precursor to National Ocean Council) since the previous fall, warning that it posed a threat to the future of recreational fishing for ESPN’s now defunct Outdoors website.

And that leads me to the second lie in the NRDC blog:

“Shortly before the National Ocean Policy was established, a firestorm broke out when a columnist for ESPN.com spread the unfounded rumor that the policy would close off large swaths of the ocean to fishing.”

Here is what really happened:

In March of 2010, a disreputable internet “journalist” found one of my articles and, in response, posted a piece with a headline that screamed “ESPN Claims Obama Is About to Ban Fishing.”

But I didn’t say that in any of the 10 articles on the subject that I had written to that point. And I still haven’t said it.

What I said and continue to say is that the National Ocean Policy puts into place a system that threatens the future of recreational fishing. It will be death by a thousand cuts as one fishery after another is closed by “zoning.”

Yet, that yellow journalism directed enough attention to the issue that the Obama Administration was forced to address concerns about recreational fishing. In other words, it was slowed for a time, doing damage control.

Since, the Big Government juggernaut has been rolling right along.


But with the close of public comments for the NOP implementation, pushback is occurring, both in Congress (See my previous post) and at the state level (See States Fight Back Against National Ocean Council on Feb. 13). Additionally, court challenges likely will be coming under the 10th Amendment, which preserves states’ rights.

The odds are against us, especially in the short term, but we might win this battle yet if enough anglers will fight for what they love.