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Entries in Texas (91)


Harvey, Irma Damage 63,000 Recreational Boats

More than 63,000 recreational boats were damaged or destroyed as a result of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, with a damage estimate of $655 million, according to Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS). These numbers are strikingly close to 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which remains the single-largest industry loss with more than 65,000 boats damaged and more than $650 million in estimated losses.

Breaking down the 2017 season storms, Hurricane Irma damaged or destroyed 50,000 vessels with approximately $500 million in recreational boat damage. About 13,500 boats were damaged or lost costing $155 million in boat damage as the result of Hurricane Harvey.

“These two storms were as different as night and day,” said BoatUS Marine Insurance Program Vice President of Claims Rick Wilson. “The boats that were hit the hardest by Harvey were located on a relatively small slice of Texas coast, while we saw damage to recreational vessels from Irma in every corner of Florida.”

The BoatUS Catastrophe Team recently completed two months of field operations arranging for repairs, salvage or wreck removals for BoatUS Marine Insurance program members and GEICO Marine Insurance customers.

“While Hurricane Irma’s losses are significant, it could have been much worse,” added Wilson. “Irma ultimately traveled up Florida’s west coast and not the east, which was initially forecast. And while locations in the right front quadrant of the storm such as Big Pine Key and Marathon were hit hard with a Category 4 storm, Irma lost strength as it approached the mainland and swept up Florida. As the storm passed east of Tampa Bay, waters receded and came back gradually, also lessening surge damage.”

To view damage to recreational boats caused by Hurricane Irma, go here.


Did Hurricanes Damage Fisheries in Texas, Florida?

Thus far, resource managers are breathing a sigh of relief in the wake of powerful Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that hammered east Texas and the entire Florida peninsula, as damage to fisheries seems minimal. Long-term impacts, however, particularly in the Sunshine State, could be more significant. Biologists will assess and monitor for months.

Harvey did little or no damage to bass fisheries in east Texas, including Toledo Bend, according to Todd Driscoll with Texas Parks and Wildlife.  

"Based on what we know now, it appears that Harvey effects weren’t that severe on the Sabine, Neches and Taylor systems," he explained.

"Right now, there's a multi-divisional effort to assess what's happened to our water bodies and our freshwater and upland habitats as well," said Ryan Hamm with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). "But we still have high water everywhere."

FWC's Allen Martin added, "In general, impacts were less than with earlier hurricanes that ripped out vegetation. We're not sure why that didn't happen this time."

"Given all the flood-related damage, very few are fishing in these areas, but from the limited reports I’ve heard the local anglers are catching fish. There have been no reports of any fish kills due to Harvey.          

"Historically, saltwater intrusion from hurricane-related surge is what has wreaked havoc on the fish populations in these systems," he added. "With Harvey, these systems escaped the saltwater surge. It seems that the historic flooding did not significantly affect the bass populations, but we will know more later this fall after our electrofishing survey, and when local anglers get back on the water."

In Florida, meanwhile, fish died on both the Withlacoochee and St. Johns Rivers, kills not unexpected – or catastrophic – considering the vulnerability of those systems. Minor die-offs continue to be reported elsewhere as well.

"Right now, there's a multi-divisional effort to assess what's happened to our water bodies and our freshwater and upland habitats as well," said Ryan Hamm with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). "But we still have high water everywhere."

FWC's Allen Martin added, "In general, impacts were less than with earlier hurricanes that ripped out vegetation. We're not sure why that didn't happen this time."

Read my full story about this at Under the Nation tab, click on Conservation.


Toyota ShareLunker Program Goes New Year Around, Starting Jan. 1

After more than 31 years of collecting and spawning 13 pound or larger "lunker" largemouth bass, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's (TPWD) Toyota ShareLunker Program is announcing big changes and an expanded mission in an effort to better engage the public in the promotion and enhancement of lunker bass fishing in Texas public waters.

The ShareLunker participation season will now run each year from Jan.1 through Dec. 31; a change from previous seasons. But similar to last year, only those entries collected between Jan. 1 – March 31 will be accepted as broodstock for spawning.

"This provides the greatest opportunity to obtain eligible fish for spawning while minimizing the risk of additional handling and possible mortality," said Kyle Brookshear, ShareLunker program coordinator.

Outside of the spawning window, the new year-round participation season will allow for anglers catching bass 8 pounds or larger to submit information about their catch through a web application in four categories: 8 pounds or larger, 10 pounds or larger, 13 pounds or larger and 13 pounds or larger with a spawning donation.

The goal is to increase the number of participants in the Toyota ShareLunker program and expand large fish catch rate data for fisheries biologists, Brookshear said. As a bonus, the new size categories open up more ways for anglers to receive prizes and incentives for participating.

"This citizen scientist initiative will allow fisheries biologists to better monitor the impact of ShareLunker stockings across Texas and provide more incentives and opportunities for Texans to help us make our bass fishing bigger and better than ever," Brookshear said.

Other spawning program changes include converting the entire hatchery broodstock to pure-Florida ShareLunker offspring. Genetically pure offspring will be maintained on the hatchery, grown to adulthood, then distributed to production hatcheries and used as broodstock. Eventually, all hatchery-held Florida largemouth bass broodstock will be descendants of ShareLunkers, Brookshear said.

Additionally, attempts will be made to spawn all donated eligible ShareLunkers — regardless of the degree of genetic introgression. Offspring of female genetic intergrades will be combined and stocked back to the source locations for all ShareLunker entries for the year.

"People come to Texas from all over the country for our lunker bass fishing, and it's still very rare to catch a 13 pounder," said Mandy Scott, Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center director. "So that's why ShareLunker is special. We learned a long time ago that these fish were important and we wanted to try to capitalize on the big fish that we have in Texas already and make fishing even bigger and better."

Brookshear said the program will announce the full list of changes and the new prizes closer to the beginning of the season, but anglers can also look forward to a complete rebranding of the program to include a new logo, graphics, and eventually more ShareLunker Weigh Stations to aid in the weigh-in process. Additionally, education and outreach specialists at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center are developing ShareLunker science curriculum for Texas classrooms.

For complete information and rules of the ShareLunker program, tips on caring for big bass and a recap of last year's season, go here. The site also includes a searchable database of all fish entered into the program. Or follow the program on social media.

The Toyota ShareLunker Program is made possible by a grant to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation from Gulf States Toyota. Toyota is a long-time supporter of the Foundation and TPWD, providing major funding for a wide variety of education, fish, parks and wildlife projects.


Bassmaster Telethon to Aid Fish and Game First Responders in Florida, Texas

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission employees rescue Florida flood victims in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Some of the state employees also suffered tremendous losses in the storm.

Game wardens, fisheries biologists and other personnel in the fish and game departments of Texas and Florida were among the first responders in the back-to-back catastrophic hurricanes that slammed those two states.
After those heroes worked tirelessly to rescue people from flooded and storm-ravaged homes, many of them returned from duty to find their own homes severely damaged or destroyed.
In response to their losses and in recognition of their sacrifices, B.A.S.S. is launching a fundraising campaign through its innovative Bassmaster LIVE broadcasts from the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship this week at Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota.
The first-ever Bassmaster LIVE “telethon” will take place during coverage of the year-end championship, which will crown the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year and determine berths in the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.
More than 100,000 fishing fans will tune in for the LIVE shows, which are streamed on this week and WatchESPN from 8-11 a.m. and 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET Thursday, Friday, and Sunday.
“In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the needs are so great they’re mind-boggling,” said Bruce Akin, B.A.S.S. CEO.

“We want to do whatever we can to help, and we also want to be confident that these funds go directly to the people who need it most. That’s why we’re proud to partner with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida to directly benefit the men and women of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.”

 The two foundations are non-profit organizations dedicated to providing private funding to help their respective conservation agencies protect and improve fish and wildlife resources.
“Knowing that things like this would happen, we set up a fund sometime back to provide emergency relief for our fish and wildlife workers,” said Andy Walker, president and CEO of the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida. “That fund was exhausted in the first 48 hours.”
Because of the nature of their jobs, a disproportionate number of Florida fish and wildlife employees live and work in coastal areas — especially the Florida Keys — that received the brunt of Irma’s fury, he said.
Anne Brown, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, added that numerous parks and wildlife employees also reside in coastal areas hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey, and more than 100 have been displaced due to damage or loss of their homes. The foundation has raised and distributed about $250,000 for the relief effort so far.
During the LIVE broadcasts, hosts Tommy Sanders and Davy Hite will interview Elite anglers and B.A.S.S. Nation members from Texas and Florida, including some who used their own boats to rescue people stranded in the floods. Officials in both states have commended fishermen and hunters for their quick response and credited them for saving numerous lives.
Walker noted that 150 wildlife and fisheries workers from Florida worked “around the clock” in Texas to help rescue people there, and more than 350 Texas Parks and Wildlife employees reciprocated by converging on Florida this week to help in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Akin also pointed out that a number of B.A.S.S. sponsors have been active in relief efforts. Yamaha and G3 provided boats to be used in the Houston rescue operation, as did Tracker dealers in the area.
And Toyota is working with the St. Bernard Project (SBP) — an initiative launched in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana — with a long-term view of recovery.
“In this spirit, we spent $1 million to establish our long-time partner, the St Bernard Project, in southeast Texas,” said Mike Goss, president of Toyota USA Foundation. “They are helping people mitigate mold and avoid contractor fraud, and they help the uninsured navigate government funding. Eventually, SBP will rebuild homes for residents who cannot afford it on their own.
“Often this entire process takes many years in the wake of a huge disaster, so Toyota wants to help make full recovery go faster.”
Fans who tune in to the Bassmaster LIVE shows beginning Thursday will be given directions on how they can donate to the relief efforts.
Those who want to help fish and wildlife personnel in Florida can contribute to a fund set up by the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

The Texas foundation has set up two funds: the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Employee Relief Fund
and the Restoration of Natural Resources Fund.


Plastics Problem Re-Energizes Conservation Spirit in Anglers


Back in 2011, Joe Ford told me about a bass that he caught in Texas' Lake Amistad and what he found inside it. The articles that I wrote about his discovery for B.A.S.S. Times and Activist Angler awakened anglers to an environmental problem that had largely been ignored.

Through good stewardship and angler awareness programs such Pitch It, we are minimizing this problem, but the effort must be ongoing. Here's a reminder from one of early articles:

Angler Joe Ford’s chance discovery has re-energized the conservation spirit in bass anglers across the country.

B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott first tapped into that extraordinary force 40 years ago, when he introduced catch-and-release to bass tournaments. Conservation-minded anglers quickly incorporated the practice into recreational fishing, and, with a few years, it was standard procedure for fishermen worldwide, pursuing a multitude of species.

Will what Ford found in the stomach of a 10-pound largemouth spawn the second great stewardship campaign for which bass anglers become the standard bearers? That remains to be seen.

For the moment, though, it has motivated many to deal with a problem that has been too long ignored:

The bottoms of our lakes are smothered with discarded plastic baits, and fish are eating them.

Ford hadn’t intended to keep the big bass that he caught while fishing Texas’ Lake Amistad. But because it was deep hooked, he put it in the livewell to see if it would survive. It did not.

As he was dressing it out, he noted a large plastic mass in its stomach. Closer examination revealed the blob to be a dozen plastic baits.

“It was amazing to see all of those worms in there,” he told me. “I don’t know how it was going to pass them.”

Possibly it wouldn’t have. A long bait, like a worm or lizard, can work its way into the intestine and stay there.

And, because it is unable to feed, it then could starve to death.

In my September Conservation column, I revealed Ford’s experience and explained the tragic scenario likely occurring below the surface of our fisheries.  Response was instant.

Carl Wengenroth, owner of The Angler’s Lodge on  Amistad, said that he has seen plenty of skinny, sickly fish as he assists Texas Parks and Wildlife with fizzing and delayed mortality studies.

“We would see fish that look like a street roller ran over them,” he said. “Often, they’d die at the weigh-in. When we’d clean them, we’d find plastics in their stomachs.

“Then we started looking around and saw worms at fish cleaning stations.”

But there was good news too, as anglers immediately stepped up to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

In Arkansas, Randy Joe Heavin took his boater partner in a Central Open tournament to task for throwing baits overboard.

“I told him about the article in B.A.S.S. Times,” said Heavin, owner of Patriot Records. “And he said that he’d never really thought about it.”

The Oklahoma angler also recalled pulling up a mass of plastic worms from the bottom of DeGray Lake while jigging. “Other guys said that they were catching them too,” he recalled. “That’s when I realized that there must be a ton of them down there.”

Heavin added that he’s never thrown his used baits into the water. “But some guys get in the zone and don’t think about it.”

Not thinking about it is going to be tougher and tougher, thanks to B.A.S.S. Nation state conservation directors.

Before a  tournament on Lake Toho, Florida’s Eamon Bolten talked to 128 participants about problems caused by discarded soft plastics and asked them to deposit their used baits in a collection box.

“Many anglers mentioned how they will now start putting their used baits in the collection box at the tournaments and stop throwing them away in trash cans or in the water,” the Florida conservation director said.

“At least five told me they used to throw their baits in the water and thought nothing of it until hearing me speak about the problems it can create for our bass.”

Up in South Dakota, Jeff Brown heard about Bolten’s program and decided to do the same in his state. “Our guys are extremely receptive to the idea,” he said.

At Amistad, Wengenroth not only collects used baits but remolds them into new ones. “We call the color ‘trash,’ and it seems to catch more fish,” he said.

“Doing something like that could be a great money maker for clubs,” he added. “And the big companies could get onboard and put a message on their packages to not discard baits.”

Now that the issue has been raised at a national level, lots more ideas are being floated around in the angling community on how to deal with it. But whether enough fishermen will participate to effect fundamental change, as they did with catch-and-release, remains to be seen.