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Entries in Texas (49)

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.)

Friday
Mar072014

South Florida Top 'Dream Destination' for Anglers

Photo by Robert Montgomery

According to a survey conducted by AnglerSurvey.com, South Florida remains the top dream destination of would-be traveling anglers with 43 percent of those surveyed choosing it as the location they would most prefer to fish if they had the opportunity.

Here's more from parent company, Southwick Associates:

South Florida was followed by Costa Rica with just over 18 percent of respondents selecting the Central American country as the place they would go. Next on the list was Mexico with 12 percent, followed by the Bahamas with just over 12 percent and Panama with more than five percent.

Nearly 12 percent of those surveyed said they had no preference, while 11 percent said they wouldn’t choose any of those places. Additional destinations written in by anglers included both salt- and fresh-water fishing locations such as Texas, California, Alaska, Minnesota, Alabama and a handful of others.

 While all of the asked about destinations offer superb fishing—49 percent of responding anglers said that was one of the chief reasons they chose their respective dream fishing location—there are other factors that may have helped South Florida edge its competition. In addition to perceived great fishing, other top reasons for choosing the place respondents selected include less hassle to get there with 22 percent selecting that motivation, 21 percent cited feeling “more secure” at the location as a concern and 20 percent pointed to the cost of travel as a factor.

 “By virtue of being tropically located, but still a part of the United States, South Florida certainly offers a certain appeal to a lot of anglers not wishing to deal with the cost or additional concerns of international travel,” says Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates, which designs and conducts the surveys at HunterSurvey.com, ShooterSurvey.com and AnglerSurvey.com. “Efforts by all travel destinations to improve convenience, contain costs and hassles and provide a strong sense of security can boost their sportfishing tourism dollars.”

To help continually improve, protect and advance hunting, shooting and other outdoor recreation, all sportsmen and sportswomen are encouraged to participate in the surveys at HunterSurvey.com, ShooterSurvey.com and/or AnglerSurvey.com. Each month, participants who complete the survey are entered into a drawing for one of five $100 gift certificates to the sporting goods retailer of their choice.

Tuesday
Mar042014

Tourney Raises Funds for Conroe Restoration

During the past two years, the Lake Conroe Big Bass Extravaganza, sponsored by Legend Boats, has raised $6,000 for habitat restoration on this Texas fishery. Most of the funds will be directed toward the PVC habitat structure program, according to Derek Taylor, conservation director of the Seven Coves Bass Club (SCBC).

“Legend had heard of our conservation efforts on Lake Conroe at the 2010 Toyota Texas Bass Classic,” Taylor said. “They contacted us about assisting with the development of a big bass tournament at Lake Conroe.

“We were both humbled and honored that our dedicated conservation work was being noticed nationally in the fishing industry, and that a great company like Legend Boats wanted to work with us.”

Plagued with infestations of exotic vegetation and then an overpopulation of grass carp, Conroe suffered degraded habitat and a declining bass fishery for years. Then Seven Coves started to work, partnering with a variety of local, state, and national entities to restrict invasive plants and restore the fishery. Much of the effort has been directed at raising and planting beneficial native vegetation.

“This project benefits the environment by reducing harmful exotic vegetation in a sustainable manner, increasing sustainable native habitat for fish and other wildlife, sequestering harmful nutrients, reducing bank erosion, and stabilizing bottom sediments,” explained Mark Webb, a Texas Parks and Wildlife fisheries biologist.

During the second extravaganza this past April, Grant Rogers caught a 9.86-pound largemouth to win a custom Legend bass boat, as well as a $400 hourly prize.

Four prizes were awarded each hour, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the two-day event.

“While many volunteered to work the 130-angler event, SCBC members who fished the event also took home 13 checks for more than $3,800,” Taylor said.

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

Monday
Feb032014

Keep Smaller Bass to Grow Bigger Ones

Protective slot limits have proven a good tool for improving bass fisheries during their more than 30 years of use. But arguably they would have been --- and still could be --- far more effective if anglers followed them as fisheries managers intended.

But about the same time as slots were recognized by wildlife agencies as a strategy for growing larger bass, anglers began to embrace catch-and-release. Too often, those two work at cross purposes, which has prompted managers to rethink how and when to use protective slots, if at all.

“If anything, slots are used less,” said Bill Pouder, a fisheries biologist and regional administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “In Florida, we’ve had one new one in the last 10 years.”

Jason Dotson, an FWC section research leader, added, “Harvest rates are low, usually less than 10 percent. Fisheries managers in the Southeast are not as concerned about overfishing as they were in the 1980s.

“Now, we’re more concerned about growing trophies and providing goods numbers than being sustainable.”

In Texas, meanwhile, fisheries managers have added just three protective slot limits during the past 10 years, according to Craig Bonds, a region director for Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW). Additionally, seven have been removed in favor of minimum or maximum length limits and a catch-and-release regulation, while six have been modified to shift protection to longer fish.

“Texas fisheries managers have not substantially increased the use of SLLs (slot-length-limits) over the past 20 years,” Bonds said.

“We have maintained SLLs where they have been successful at restructuring largemouth bass populations to make fishing better for our constituents. We’ve removed or modified them where they were not successful in achieving our management goals.”

Why have they sometimes been unsuccessful, not only in Texas but in bass waters across the nation?

A protected slot’s purpose is twofold. First, it is intended to shield a certain size of fish, say 14 to 18 inches, from harvest. Second, it is intended to encourage harvest of fish smaller than 14 inches to reduce competition for forage and habitat brought about by excess recruitment. When anglers follow both practices, theoretically the number of bass above 18 inches increases.

But because of the popularity of catch-and-release, reality often has trumped theory.

“Slots haven’t worked,” said Jeff Slipke, a fisheries expert with Midwest Lake Management, Inc., in Missouri. “For one reason or another, folks are reluctant to keep small bass. So what you’re doing when you use a slot is creating an artificially high minimum length limit. A 12- to 15-inch slot is really a 15-inch minimum.”

In a worst case scenario, that can result in a fishery with an overpopulation of small to medium size fish.

“A lot of the time, there’s ample food for young bass to 8 to 10 inches,” Slipke continued. “Where you start to see stockpiling is at 10- to 14-inch bass because there’s a lack of 3- to 4-inch bluegill for them to eat. When that happens, bass hit a wall and won’t grow anymore.”

When working as intended, the slot reduces the number of bass moving into that protected slot and, thus, the competition for food.

All of this is not to say that slots have not worked. Some of them have, especially when managers closely monitor not only the bass population but angler behavior.

For example, Florida managers replaced a 14-inch minimum with a 15-24 slot in 2000.

“Prior to that, harvest was pretty high, up to 30 percent,” Pouder said. “We wanted to try to redirect effort, to protect the females.”

And it worked, harvest declined to 10 percent, and Istokpoga now is one of the best trophy lakes in the Sunshine State, the biologist said.

Other times, fisheries have improved when the protective slot is replaced with a higher minimum length, as happened in Texas’ Lake Nacogdoches. With a 14-21 protective slot in place, managers noted that too many bass longer than 21 inches were being harvested.

By changing to a 16-inch minimum in 2008, TPW allowed anglers to keep more small to intermediate fish to eat, and, simultaneously, increased the odds of catching a trophy. The latter occurred because remaining bass had less competition for bigger and more desirable forage, allowing them to grow both faster and larger.

A volunteer trophy bass reporting program “revealed exceptionally high catches” of trophy bass following the regulation change,” Bonds said.

What does the future hold for the use of protective slots? Fisheries managers continue to believe that they are an effective management tool, but they also know that how effective depends largely on angler behavior.

The key, Bonds believes, is educating anglers about how harvest of bass below a protected slot improves their chances of catching bigger fish.

“Simple manipulations of consumptive variables (changing the slot and/or the bag limit) will not likely motivate bass anglers to harvest more fish,” he said, adding that TPW has produced a video, “Eat More Bass: Slot Limits Help Grow Bigger Fish,” in hopes of convincing fishermen to do that.

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

Friday
Jan242014

Texas Expands Requirement to Drain Boats

In an effort to slow the spread of zebra mussels through Texas fisheries, those fishing in 30 more counties will be required to drain their boats. Mostly the effort is aimed at protecting the Trinity, Brazos, Colorado, and Guadalupe river basins.

Thus far, the exotic shellfish have been found in six Texas locations, and resource managers fear they will hitchhike from contaminated waters to other lakes in livewells and bilge water, as well as on trailers and props.

Now consideration is being given to going statewide with the requirement.

Learn more here.