Category Archives: Conservation

Robinson Preserve

Florida Preserve Transformed to Host Juvenile Snook

From Bay Soundings
from The Fishing Wire

Bald Eagles


Robinson Preserve, located on Tampa Bay, is designed for both humans and wildlife. Photo by Becky Young

Most restoration projects in the Tampa Bay region are designed to do just that – restore natural systems that had been damaged by humans over the decades.

Manatee County is taking a different tack at the second phase of enhancements at Robinson Preserve, one of the county’s most popular parks. Instead of trying to rebuild the native pine flatwoods that once dominated western portions of Manatee County, they’re creating a rich mosaic of habitats specifically to meet the needs of juvenile snook while evolving into future habitats.

“We could probably build the most beautiful pine flatwoods in the world – which is a very difficult job – but they wouldn’t be particularly useful,” says Damon Moore, manager of the county park system’s ecological and marine resources division. Due to development and habitat fragmentation there aren’t viable migratory pathways from other pine flatwoods for many species to naturally repopulate. Sea level rise would also threaten pine flatwoods in the future.

On the other hand, the expansion at Robinson Preserve is the perfect location to build juvenile snook habitat, a highly charismatic species that has very specific needs to survive its first – and most critical – year after spawning.

Starting from scratch on land that is currently uplands allowed the county and its multiple partners to resculpt the property to meet those specific needs. At the same time, creating wetlands also provided fill material to build higher land that will stay above water as sea level inches higher, Moore said.

“We’re creating upland habitats now that we expect to evolve as sea levels rise while still providing maximum ‘edges’ and gentle slopes that will become habitat for juvenile fish as well as birds now,” Moore said.

It’s not the first time habitat hasn’t been replaced by “like with like” because scientists are focusing on the oligohaline – or low-salinity – habitat that is most at risk with sea level rise, notes Stephanie Powers, staff environmental scientist with the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s SWIM (Surface Water Improvement and Management program). “Those low-salinity habitats are critical to juvenile fish,” she notes.

Another advantage to starting from scratch was the ability to build two acres of oyster reef habitat using trucks rather than volunteers carrying bags of oyster shell, Moore adds. “We got weeks or months of work done in a half-day because we were working on dry land before we opened the channel and let the water in the new wetlands area.”

Trees growing in the uplands being transformed to wetlands were very carefully placed in the project area to provide the detritus that fuels the growth of fish at the bottom of the food chain as well as hiding places for snook and other juvenile fish that will grow up to become recreationally valuable resources.

Working with Tim McDonald, a research scientist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as well as fisheries experts from Mote Marine Laboratory, Manatee County hopes to quantify the benefits of improving habitat specifically for fisheries.

“If we can add to the quantity of snook available for fishermen later on, it will be a boon to the economy of the entire county,” Moore said. “Charlie (Hunsicker, the county’s director of parks and natural resources) has a very clear view that our work should also improve the region’s economy.”

Along with benefits to wildlife through carefully planned habitats, multiple human enhancements aimed at the 300,000 yearly park goers are planned. Multiple trails, including separate areas for bicyclers and walkers or runners, are planned along with kayak launches conveniently located near the parking lot. A giant treehouse – called the NEST or Nature, Exploration, Science and Technology Center – is open for educational programs and private events.

Birders already abound at the park, which features nesting eagles and multiple species of herons, storks, ducks and pelicans – along with occasional rarities including bald eagles and roseate spoonbills.

The $17 million expansion is underway with funding and support from multiple regional and national agencies. The land was purchased by the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, restoration funded through the SWFWMD, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (in part through RESTORE Act dollars awarded to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program) and the Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund, as well as several county agencies including the tree trust fund, general revenues and phosphate severance fund.

Volunteers also play a major role in the reconstruction and maintenance of native plants. It’s been the site for multiple events hosted by the Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay Estuary Programs. When a “champion” gumbo limbo tree at De Soto National Memorial Park blew down in Hurricane Irma, volunteers rooted pieces of the 80-year-old tree and transplanted them to higher ground at Robinson.

The goal is to replace coastal wetlands that once existed but can’t be rebuilt now because they’re housing developments,” Powers said. “This project shows how we can all work together as a team to create ecosystems that will last for generations.”

Quick Snook Facts

While adult snook are considered major predators, juvenile snook are less likely to survive their first year without very specific habitat:

Proximity to open waters. Adult snook spawn in the Gulf, and the juveniles instinctively search for nearby low-salinity backwaters.
Food sources. Shoreline vegetation and woody debris boost the abundance of fish like minnows, small shrimp, mosquito fish and small crustaceans that feed on detritus – which then become food for snook.
Energy conservation. Because juvenile snook can grow as quickly as 0.15 millimeters per day, they need to turn food into body weight. Their ideal habitat is protected from wave and wind energy.
Thermal refuge. Snook of all ages are very temperature sensitive and will die if temperatures drop to below about 50 degrees. To keep them warm, the preserve will include holes where water temperatures are less likely to fluctuate and variable bottom colors that reflect or absorb heat.
Protection from predators. Snook are dominant predators once they’re adults, but as juveniles, they’re easily eaten by other fish. The waterfront entrance to the preserve is designed to provide physical barriers for large fish as well as places for the smallest fish to hide because they can be cannibalized by larger juveniles.
Eye protection. Juvenile snook have sensitive eyes and need vegetation to shade themselves. The preserve’s vegetation is being planted to meet this need, with artificial shade provided as necessary.

Learn more about Tampa Bay at Bay Soundings here:

Steelhead Resurgence

Central Washington Fosters Steelhead Resurgence
Federal agencies focus efforts to boost Middle Columbia steelhead toward recovery
from The Fishing Wire

Farmer Urban Eberhart recalls watching a video of Middle Columbia River steelhead trying in vain a few years ago to jump a diversion dam blocking historic spawning grounds in the upper reaches of Central Washington’s Manastash Creek.

Helping steelhead


Heavy equipment removing the Reed Diversion Dam in late 2016.

Now that diversion dam is gone, dismantled through the cooperative efforts of local irrigators, Kittitas County Conservation District, and the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan partners, Mid-Columbia steelhead, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), are now re-establishing themselves in more than 20 newly accessible miles of healthy creek habitat.

“By working together, creating trust and relationships among the Yakama Nation, agencies, and the irrigators, we’re really turning things around and getting fish where they need to be to recover,” said Eberhart, manager of the Kittitas Reclamation District (KRD), one of the partners in the 2016 removal of Reed Diversion Dam and restoration of the Manastash and its tributaries. “That cooperation is not only making the difference, it’s how it happened. It’s what made this progress possible.”

“The local collaboration that opened the upper reaches of the Manastash illustrates the kind of focused, coordinated efforts that federal agencies are now working to bring to bear on behalf of steelhead elsewhere in the mid-Columbia,” said Rosemary Furfey of NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region, chair of the Federal Caucus. The Federal Caucus is a coordinating organization of 10 federal agencies with roles in the recovery of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin.

The Caucus is now working to support mid-Columbia steelhead through focused federal coordination that will improve the viability of the species and move it closer to recovery. The agencies are coordinating efforts around mid-Columbia steelhead because it has shown progress over the last decade and may be approaching the point where it could be considered for removal from the list of threatened and endangered species. Much of this progress is a result of restoration efforts such as those on the Manastash.

“This is one place where if we bring people together, and really coordinate efforts, we may be able to make a real difference for this species and demonstrate success in recovering a species,” Furfey said.
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Federal agencies active in restoring the Manastash and recovering its steelhead populations include the Bureau of Reclamation, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA Fisheries. Manastash Creek reaches into the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and stands out among tributaries of the Yakima River because much of its watershed remains undeveloped and in public ownership.

The Yakama Nation, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Kittitas County Conservation District, and Trout Unlimited have also played critical roles.

“Our accomplishments for this steelhead species are remarkable,” said Lorri Bodi, Vice President of Environment, Fish, and Wildlife at BPA, one of the agencies helping fund the project. “Working together to remove the dam has allowed more fish to make it to their traditional spawning grounds, boosting survival, and adding fish to the river.”

Irrigators on the Manastash have worked almost since mid-Columbia steelhead were listed as threatened in 1999 to improve conditions for the fish. Although tension first prevailed as environmental groups threatened to go to court for better protection of the fish, a cooperative steering committee of irrigators, agency representatives, and other organizations began pursuing conservation improvements, such as screening of irrigation diversions that would support fish recovery while also maintaining farms and other agricultural operations across the watershed.

“This is a place that has really exemplified how far you can go when you have good backing from the community that sees the benefit in improving conditions for fish,” said Michael Tehan, Assistant Regional Administrator for the Interior Columbia Basin Office in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region. “Now our challenge is to see if we can take this recipe and try to reproduce it in other basins.”

Another example of progress is the Kittitas Reclamation District’s novel use of irrigation canals and ditches to deliver water to stretches of the Manastash and its tributaries that sometimes ran dry in low-water years like this one. Water conservation measures, such as lining of canals and installation of sprinkler systems, funded in large part by BPA, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Bureau of Reclamation, and Washington Department of Ecology have helped free up water that can remain in the streams to support fish.

“Reclamation is pleased to be part of the team that has advanced Manastash Creek Enhancement Project which has produced such positive benefits for both steelhead, an ESA-listed species, and the agricultural community of Manastash Creek; and has made it possible to start the streamflow enhancement supplementation that KRD, Ecology, and Reclamation fully support for other creeks in the Kittitas Valley,” said Wendy Christensen, Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Federal and state agencies have invested nearly $24 million in the Manastash Creek Restoration Project since 2003. While the collective price may seem steep, Tehan said that when agencies align efforts and leverage funding, success is more likely.

For mid-Columbia steelhead, that has proven true. Biologists from the WDFW monitoring the streams with renewed water flows are finding a resurgence of streamside plants and aquatic insects that form the ecological building blocks of healthy fish habitat.

As Eberhart recounts the story of cooperation and progress on the Manastash to others around the Columbia Basin, he has fielded more requests for advice and suggestions on how to undertake similar efforts elsewhere. As climate change puts added pressure on both agriculture and fish populations to make the most of limited water supplies, he said, such conservation and cooperation will become even more important.

“We’re utilizing our canal system to carry water to places where the tributaries need help,” he said. “We’re all focusing on how to find success, and that is a win.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Middle Columbia River Steelhead Recovery Plan, NOAA Fisheries

Yakima Basin Integrated Plan: Habitat and Agricultural Improvements, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Yakima Creeks Replenished: Yakima Integrated Plan saves steelhead habitat, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Scholarship Assists in Pinfish Research

Angler Action Foundation Scholarship Assists in Pinfish Research
Katie Ribble has always grown up around the water.
from The Fishing Wire

“We had a sailboat when I was growing up, and I remember visiting family along the coast in Maine. My first job was at a local aquarium up there,” Katie recalled. “I was always elbow-deep in the touch tank. The positive reaction from people there was always very rewarding to me when I shared my knowledge.”

That experience provided the foundation for a future career in marine and environmental sciences.

While working on her Master’s degree under Dr. Michael Parsons (director of Florida Gulf Coast University’s Coastal Watershed Institute and Vester Field Station), Katie’s efforts have landed her the first-ever John Cassani Fishery Research Scholarship from the Angler Action Foundation (AAF), a not-for-profit conservation group based in Florida.

“To kick off this memorial scholarship, we were looking for a student who demonstrates all of the characteristics Katie exhibits,” said Mike Readling, AAF Chairman. “Initiative, leadership, and an intrinsic understanding that the ‘in-the-mud’, down and dirty basic research can be extremely important and rewarding, even though it might not be as glamorous as something like tracking a famous white shark.”

Katie’s work certainly fits that bill. Among other things, she is delving deep into how pinfish feeding behaviors change in relation to factors such as water temperature.

Throughout their lifecycle, pinfish eat a good variety of things, from tiny zooplankton to other fish to shrimp. (Maybe you’ve encountered one or a thousand pinfish as you sought out seatrout, red drum or snook in the grass flats during your fishing career in Florida.) Pinfish are also grazers of grass and algae – and during certain periods of their lifecycle those can make up the bulk of their diet.

Serving as a primary forage species in Florida, pinfish are a critical part of the food web. Understanding more about their diet, and whether environmental factors such as water temperature trigger an increase in feeding activity, will help us better understand how pinfish fit into Florida’s complex marine systems. But Katie’s research goes even further.

Unknown to many, there is a lot more going on with the grass and algae that pinfish are eating.

Ever notice that fuzzy, sometimes sort of slimy, coating that adorns the seagrass or algae you are constantly plucking from your jig or lure that is weighted too heavy? Turns out, that slimy stuff has a very interesting and important story.

One of the dinoflagellates (in this case, a marine plankton) that is included in that community of microscopic plants and critters that make up the fuzzy slime is Gambierdiscus spp, which is the only known source of the toxin that causes Ciguatera fish poisoning.

If you’ve never heard of Ciguatera before, you aren’t alone. It is the most frequent seafood poisoning, yet we know relatively little about it. Katie explained that may be because people are unfamiliar with the symptoms and likely source/cause, they may just think they had ordinary food poisoning. Symptoms can include diarrhea, vomiting, numbness, itching, sensitivity to hot and cold, dizziness, and weakness – a list that certainly could be mistaken for any number of maladies.

“It is probably misdiagnosed a lot,” she said. “We’ve associated Gambierdiscus with reef fish in the past, now we are seeing it in other places.”

Which leads us back to pinfish, turtle grass, and the shallow blissful waters of the Florida Keys.

Katie noted that the presence of Gambierdiscus in our waters is nothing new, and this research is not intended to stir up a new scare. In fact, it is a global phenomenon and there are records from the Chinese T’ang Dynasty (618-920 AD). Just last month there was an international conference dedicated to the toxin in France.

If you have heard of Ciguatera, it is probably because you know someone who was diagnosed or maybe visited an area with a tropical reef associated with high concentrations. The point is Ciguatera was only a factor for those who risked eating fish from specific areas.

Barracuda is one of the fish associated with the toxin, as are some groupers, moray eels, and other reef fish.

Barracuda? Remember that time, in between picking fuzzy seagrass blades from your jig, a flash of silver streaked past and just like that your lure or bait was gone – line sliced so cleanly you never even felt a tug? Yep – that was probably a barracuda. Who eat pinfish. Who eat grass coated with yummy brown slime.

Already, Katie’s research has uncovered some interesting tidbits.

While establishing a baseline for her new pet pinfish feeding behaviors, Katie took some turtle grass and a species of Halimeda, a native calcarious green macroalgae from an area in the Keys known to have a particularly strong strain of Gambierdiscus. Part of the first step was to strip the grass and algae clean of all of the fuzzies to see how the pinfish grazed on the clean plants. What Katie found there surprised her.

“It seemed that the fish in my tank would rather starve themselves than eat the clean grass,” she said.

In other words, without the brown slimy stuff as dressing, turtle grass salad is not on the pinfish menu. Katie isn’t sure why that is.

“Maybe they can’t digest the plant without them,” she offered.

As she moves forward, she hopes to uncover other aspects that lead to increased pinfish feeding in the wild. Combined with simultaneous work in Dr. Parson’s lab at FGCU, where he is guiding other students to answer questions such as whether there are normal fluctuations of the Gambierdiscus blooms, and/or whether there are factors that might trigger an unnaturally large bloom. The information might help us understand how the toxin moves up the food chain and across a variety of habitats.

As Katie talked about her early findings, it became easy to see that she settled into the right career path. Her enthusiasm is contagious (Ciguatera is not, by the way), and it is very promising for all of us who are optimistic that we’ll become better stewards of our marine and fresh water habitats. Research like Katie’s points to just how completely all these habitats depend on each other, and that there is a lot of communication between them.

Katie hopes to use her AAF Don Cassani award of $1000 to help pay her way to conferences where she can share her findings.

“Helping these students share their findings is critical,” Readling said. “Putting Katie’s work in front of other scientists is one of the best ways to develop more research ideas. For us fishermen and women, it gives us hope that as a group, we can figure out how to best protect all facets of our environment, from one end of the system to the other.”

AAF encourages you to support the Cassani Scholarship Fund. Any donations made HERE will go directly to the fund and be excluded from all other AAF projects. If you have questions about the program or wish to nominate yourself or another graduate student for the 2019 award, please email Brett Fitzgerald (brett@angleraction.org).

In 2010 a memorial fund was created to commemorate the life and passion of Daniel J. Cassani, with the mission to support and promote marine fish research and conservation. All donations made to AAF in this link will go directly to this fund.

The Angler Action Foundation, based in Florida, is dedicated to conserving our fish, their habitats, and sensible recreational angler access. Angler Action is a 501c3, founded by William Mote. Our primary service project, iAngler, is the first and only database owned by fishermen that contributes directly to state-level stock assessments. Our mission is to continue to help improve fishery research, educate ourselves, other anglers and fishery managers, and continue with best conservation practices.

A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE 1-800-HELP-FLA OR ONLINE ATwww.FloridaConsumerHelp.com, REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.” REGISTRATION #: CH11670

Bonefish Genetics Study

BTT’s Bonefish Genetics Study Reveals Connectivity Across the Caribbean

Bonefish

Photo: Nadine Slimak

BTT has completed its multi-year Bonefish Genetics Study, the results of which provide scientific evidence that the bonefish population across the Caribbean is closely connected. The study, which launched in 2014, involved the collection of genetic samples from bonefish (Albula vulpes) in multiple locations spanning the region. With the assistance of anglers, guides, and partners, BTT surpassed its initial target of collecting 5,000 samples, ultimately receiving 13,359 from a diversity of locations, including South Florida and the Keys, The Bahamas, Mexico, Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere. The majority of samples were from Florida, Bahamas, Cuba, Mexico, and Belize. Given that the study’s primary inquiry concerned connections to Florida, the most intensive analyses addressed Belize, Mexico, Florida, Cuba, and The Bahamas.

The samples underwent a thorough analysis by BTT’s collaborating scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC). Of the 13,359 total samples, 11,222 were used for analysis. 1,588 fish were identified as other species (remember that Albula vulpes supports the fishery), and 549 samples were too degraded for analysis and were discarded.

The analytical approach included several levels:

One level of analysis examined a couple of locations (alleles) on bonefish genes for all samples (adults, juveniles, and larvae) to determine how well bonefish throughout the region shared these alleles;
Another level of analysis compared specific sites on the DNA among individuals to determine their level of relatedness;
Another level of analysis examined genetic information between adults and larvae/juveniles to determine if parent-offspring relationships could be determined;
Another level of analysis looked for sibling relationships.
The Findings

Bonefish (Albula vulpes) throughout the Caribbean share genetic composition to a great extent, indicating that bonefish in all of the locations that were sampled are part of a single genetic population. However, it appears that the distance between locations influences the degree of relatedness. For example, although bonefish in the eastern Caribbean share genetic composition with bonefish in the western Caribbean and Florida, fish in these locations are unlikely to be directly related. In other words, there are probably many generations between eastern and western Caribbean bonefish. The larvae of a bonefish that spawns in Vieques may end up in Honduras. When those larvae become adult bonefish and spawn, some of their larvae end up in Mexico. And when those fish spawn, some of their larvae may end up in the Florida Keys.

At smaller geographic scales, the connections are more direct.

There appears to be reasonably high connectivity between Cuba and the Bahamas;
There appears to be reasonable high connectivity between Belize/Mexico and Cuba;
There appears to be high connectivity between Belize/Mexico and Florida;
There appears to be limited direct connectivity between Cuba and Florida.
But when Belize, Mexico, Cuba, and Florida samples are combined, they are deemed as highly connected. There is also a high level of connectivity among islands in The Bahamas.

The results of the Bonefish Genetics Study underscore the need for conservation and improved fishery management at local and regional scales that transcend international boundaries. BTT’s next steps will be to examine more closely the pathways of connection, which will bring into focus the areas that BTT and its partners need to prioritize for conservation.

Hurricane Impact on Fishing

Hurricane Impact on Estuary Gamefish

Though hurricanes can be hell for human residents of coastal areas, a new Texas study seems to indicate that they are not harmful to inshore fish, and may even be helpful.

By Evan Pettis | Biologist, Aransas Bay Marine Lab, Texas Parks & Wildlife
from The Fishing Wir

Figure 1. Catch rates of red drum and spotted seatrout in TPWD fall gill nets. Figure 2. Angler catch rates of red drum and spotted seatrout.

Catch rates of red drum and spotted seatrout


On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a category four storm in the small fishing community of Rockport. Winds as high as 150 mph and a storm surge in excess of seven feet battered the town before the storm moved inland and unleashed record-breaking quantities of rain along the Texas coast. The economically important commercial and recreational fisheries were certainly not spared from the devastation left in the wake of this historic storm. A preliminary assessment conducted by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimated that damages to the state’s fishing operations and fishing-related businesses exceeds $58 million.

As a biologist working in “Hurricane Harvey ground-zero,” a common question I’ve fielded from concerned constituents is “What are the ecological impacts of the storm on the fisheries of the Coastal Bend?”

It’s well-documented that major storms like Harvey can have lasting effects on estuarine communities. The greatest threat to shallow-water species is the rapid disruption of normal salinity regimes via highly saline storm surges followed by excessive freshwater inflows. Paired with increased organic loading, these hydrological changes can result in low-oxygen conditions that trigger fish kills. Fortunately, for the Aransas Bay system, these changes were highly localized and relatively short-lasting.

Hurricanes also impact the habitats that marine species rely upon. In the Coastal Bend, many oyster reefs were broken up by intense wave action and, in some spots, buried under thick layers of silt and debris. Seagrass beds, mangroves, and salt marshes also suffered considerable losses due to high winds and powerful waves. It will be quite some time before we fully understand how the effects of this habitat degradation propagate up the food chain. Fortunately, data from TPWD monitoring programs indicate that the immediate impacts on popular bait species (i.e. blue crabs, shrimp, and Atlantic croaker) were minimal.

Currently, recreationally and commercially important finfish appear to have actually benefited from the storm. Relief for these species comes by means of reduced harvest pressure. Local anglers were preoccupied with recovery and repairs and faced numerous obstacles to wetting a line in the wake of the storm. Public access to the bays was limited as boat ramps and fishing piers were damaged, and losses to private and for-hire vessels was extensive. Significant damage to bait stands and commercial shrimp boats also made bait difficult to procure. Lastly, visiting anglers struggled to find hotel accommodations in the months following Harvey.

To monitor fishing pressure and total landings, TPWD routinely conducts angler surveys and trailer counts at boat ramps. In September 2017, we documented an 85% decline in boating activity in the Aransas Bay system compared to 2016.We intercepted an average of only two fishing trip interviews per survey, down from 16 the previous year. In fact, more than half of September’s angler surveys had no fishing trip interviews. Fishing activity bounced back over the next few months, but still remains below average.

So what impact did reduced angler pressure have on our local fish populations?

To answer that question, we looked at data collected during TPWD’s biannual gill net sampling program. For our two most popular game fish, spotted seatrout and red drum, the results were extremely promising (Figure 1).

In the months following the storm, red drum were caught in the nets at a rate of 0.81 fish/hr, up from 0.67 fish/hr in 2016 and close to the 10-year average. Spotted seatrout were caught at a rate of 0.41 fish/hr, a huge improvement over 2016 (0.22 fish/hr) and the 10-year average (0.29 fish/hr). This data implies that these species are actually more abundant in Aransas Bay following Hurricane Harvey.

Moreover, data collected at angler surveys indicates that the higher abundances track well with higher catch-rates for sports fishermen (Figure 2).

Anglers were landing red drum at higher rates in September 2017 compared to the previous year, and at much higher rates than the 10-year average in October and November. Spotted seatrout were being caught at roughly twice the rate as the previous year and the 10-year average from September through November. Though still too early to say conclusively, it appears as though these trends have continued into the spring.

To better understand the long-term effects of Hurricane Harvey, TPWD will continue to closely monitor our fisheries in the coming months and years. Though we usually perceive hurricanes as purely destructive, it’s important to note that they are a recurring natural force acting along the Gulf of Mexico. Our ecological communities, including our highly-prized finfish, have evolved and adapted in response to these large storm systems and, as our data shows, can actually benefit from the occasional disturbance.

Recovery efforts in Rockport and the surrounding areas are making daily progress, and the local fishing community is gradually returning to normalcy. Boat ramps, marinas, bait stands, and fishing guides are rapidly getting back to business, partly due to funding set aside for Federal Fisheries Disaster relief. So if you find yourself with that burning desire to bend a rod, grab your fishing license and head down to the Coastal Bend. Aransas Bay is open for business and the bite is on!

How Spotted Bass Ruin A Lake

Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, fishing was a warm weather sport. We fished from March through August and hunted September through February. I never knew bass would bite in the winter until I joined the Spalding County Sportsman Club in 1974 and fished an October tournament that year and a January tournament the next year.

If memory serves me right, we caught a lot of bass at Sinclair. But that was not really a surprise since the weather was still warm. But the January tournament was a big surprise. On a freezing day with sleet, my partner landed a six-pound bass at Jackson, one of six over six pounds weighed in that day.

I landed one small keeper largemouth on a chrome Hellbender, one of the few crankbaits we had back then. There were only largemouth in the lake.
The days of consistently catching quality largemouth at Jackson are long gone, as tournament results show. In the late 1980s sewage from Atlanta that used to flow into the lake down the South River, keeping it fertilized like a farm pond, was diverted.

Even worse, well-intentioned but clueless fishermen midnight stocked spotted bass in the lake. Now they dominate the bass population. Spots grow more slowly than largemouth, don’t get as big, and dominate the habitat since they are more aggressive.

Some examples of the changes over the years. I landed my first two eight pounders in January tournaments at Jackson in the 1970s, and the second one was third biggest fish that day. I landed my biggest bass ever, a 9.4 pounder, in a February tournament there.

In a March tournament I had fourth biggest fish with a 7.4 pounder. There was one just over eight pounds and a 9.1 pounder. But big fish was a 9.2 pounder. In a tournament with Larry Stubbs, I netted a 7.4 pounder for him then he netted a 7.5 pounder for me! There are many more examples like that.

I landed an 8.8 pounder in 2001 in a January tournament, but that is the last fish I can remember over six pounds, and there had been none I can remember for several years before it. If we didn’t have at least one six pounder back then it was a bad day.

Spots are fun to catch but totally change a lake. There is no size limit on them anywhere in the state except Lanier, and biologists encourage fishermen to keep a ten fish limit every time they can to eat.

I brought home as many as I could after our last tournament. The small ones are easy to filet and taste great. It is unusual to catch one over three pounds and removing as many as possible may help the lake a little.

Integrating Red Snapper Data

NOAA Fisheries, Gulf States Prioritize Integrating Red Snapper Data

At a recent workshop, Marine Recreational Information Program partners discussed how data collected by general and specialized recreational fishing surveys can help deliver more timely and precise catch estimates for Gulf red snapper.
From The Fishing Wire

Red snapper grow big


Photo courtesy of FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
The Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) partnership took another step toward delivering more timely and precise estimates of Gulf of Mexico recreational red snapper catch and effort. At a September workshop co-hosted by MRIP and the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, scientists and managers from state agencies, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, NOAA Fisheries, and independent statistical consultants sought to identify the best way to use data collected by specialized and general state-federal surveys to monitor recreational catches of Gulf red snapper, as needed to support stock assessments and fishery management.

The Red Snapper Survey Designs Workshop IV was the latest in a series, dating back to 2014, focused on finding ways to better monitor catches during short federal and state fishing seasons for one of the Gulf’s most popular fish. NOAA Fisheries and its Gulf state and regional partners have spent the past several years working closely to develop survey designs that address federal and state management needs for more timely and statistically precise catch statistics.

Since last December, NOAA Fisheries has certified designs for three surveys in the Gulf of Mexico: Louisiana’s all species, general survey, LA Creel; Mississippi’s red snapper-specific Tails n’ Scales; and Alabama’s red snapper-specific Snapper Check. Florida’s Gulf Reef Fish Survey, which supplements MRIP’s general surveys for a limited group of reef fish species, is expected to be certified later this year. Each survey uses a different methodology to gather data and produce estimates based on the unique characteristics of the state’s fishery.

“This is all part of a comprehensive, collaborative, and rigorous process to ensure sound and effective science and management of Gulf red snapper,” said Gregg Bray, GulfFIN program coordinator for the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. “It’s so important to have the leadership and local knowledge of the states, the collaborative strength of GulfFIN, and the financial and technical resources of NOAA Fisheries. That’s the real value of the MRIP partnership.”

The MRIP state surveys are designed to improve regional monitoring of the recreational red snapper catch and effort. Estimates from these surveys can be used for federal scientific stock assessments and fishery management once there is a transition plan that describes how to integrate state and general data, and how to calibrate new and historical catch and effort estimates.

During the workshop, participants were introduced to several options for integrating data collected by the specialized and general MRIP surveys and for calibrating estimates generated by the new integrated survey approaches against estimates based only on the general surveys. Calibrations will be needed to ensure that red snapper catch estimates produced by different survey designs can be converted into a common currency for use in stock assessments and management.

As a next step, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission will coordinate the delivery of survey data and estimates to a team of independent statistical consultants who will explore the integration and calibration methodologies put forward at the workshop. The need for a follow-up workshop to present and discuss the results of the analysis is under consideration for early 2019. A workshop summary is being prepared and consultants are expected to provide a report following the completion of their analysis.

Read more like this at NOAA Fisheries here:

Goliath Grouper Study

Florida FWC Uses Telemetry in Goliath Grouper Study
from The Fishing Wire

Goliath Groupers grow big!


Photo Credit Florida International University
Acoustic telemetry is used to measure impacts of catch-and-release fishing on Goliath grouper and to determine behavior patterns of this federally protected species.

Goliath grouper (Serranidae: Epinephelus itajara) occur in tropical and subtropical waters from the west coast of Africa to the east coast of Florida, south to Brazil, and throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. One of the world’s largest groupers, this species can grow to over 7 feet long, exceed 750 pounds, and live at least 37 years. Goliath grouper grow slowly, mature relatively late (4-6 years old), and aggregate to spawn.

Harvest of goliath grouper was prohibited in U.S. waters in 1990 after a noted decline in population numbers. In 1994, they were listed as critically endangered on the IUCN World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened Species (www.iucnredlist.org). Goliath grouper are currently protected from harvest in U.S. waters though there are fisheries for goliath grouper in some countries. The status of the species throughout its entire geographic range is unclear and there are many factors that increase goliath’s susceptibility to overfishing. For more information regarding goliath grouper biology and regulations, please visit the Goliath Grouper Web section.

Protection from harvest does not ensure that fishing mortality is negligible. Recreational fishing charters throughout Florida advertise goliath grouper as a prime target species for catch-and-release fishing. A fish of this size produces a challenging and exciting fight on rod and reel. Goliath grouper are also often caught unintentionally during angling efforts for other reef species. While their primary diet consists of slow moving, bottom-dwelling species, they are opportunistic predators that occasionally feed upon a struggling fish being reeled in by anglers.

To date, the effects of catch-and-release angling on goliath grouper have not been established. As with many reef fish, angling at deeper depths may result in gas expansion and extensive boat-side handling that can cause injury or mortality. Additionally, goliath grouper often remain at the same sites for extended periods, so repeated capture events may affect their survival at heavily fished sites.

Goals

The primary goals of the goliath grouper telemetry program are twofold:

To describe the effects of catch-and-release angling on the survival of goliath grouper across a range of depths.
To quantify the long-term behavioral patterns and residence times of goliath grouper within the study area.
Acoustic telemetry and conventional tagging will be used to assess both immediate and long-term effects of catch-and-release angling and to provide data regarding residency and behavior of this protected species. Goliath grouper are known to remain in the same area for extended periods, and they have a tendency to aggregate around habitat such as shipwrecks. The monitored shipwrecks in this study (Figure 1) have been chosen based on ongoing research that indicates consistent goliath grouper presence. Quantitatively assessing the effects of catch-and-release angling for goliath grouper, in addition to continued investigation into population dynamics, movement patterns, and stock structure, will provide valuable information for future management or regulation.

Methods

Goliath grouper are caught using typical recreational fishing gear. Once at the surface, goliath grouper are left in the water and positioned at the side of the boat so that they can be measured, photographed, and fitted with tags. Two external tags are inserted just beneath the dorsal fin. The first is a conventional ID tag (Figure 2), and the second is an acoustic transmitter, or “pinger” (Figure 3). Each pinger has its own unique code that will allow for the identification of individual fish. Goliath grouper are tracked manually immediately after release, which provides information regarding short-term survival and behavior after a catch-and-release event.

Two to four acoustic receivers (hydrophones) are permanently deployed at each monitored shipwreck. Each receiver has a listening area of approximately 500,000 square meters, or 124 acres. Whenever a tagged fish swims within listening range (Figure 4), a hydrophone will record the fish’s individual ID as well as the time, date, and depth of the fish within the water column. These data will yield information regarding long-term movements and behavioral patterns of goliath grouper at the study sites.

Conventional external ID tags are attached to each goliath grouper to provide recapture/resighting data through diver surveys and angler recapture reports. Any tagged fish that are observed should be reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Angler Tag Return Hotline, 800-367-4461. Researchers need to know the date and location of the sighting and the relative condition of the fish.

Movement and behavioral data will indicate the effects of catch-and-release fishing on this reef species. Minimum estimates of survival immediately after a catch-and-release event can be assessed. Long-term acoustic telemetry data will allow for estimates of residence time for individuals at specific sites. Continued underwater surveys will provide further information regarding abundance, size distribution, and seasonal patterns for goliath grouper within the study area. It is the goal of this project to synthesize these data for a better understanding of goliath grouper biology and ecology that can support the development of responsible and effective management.

To learn more about our telemetry studies, visit the Acoustic Telemetry Research section.

How Are Biologists Keeping Tabs on Migratory Sportfish?

Keeping Tabs on Migratory Sportfish

Seaguar continues its support of Gray FishTrag Research roosterfish study
from The Fishing Wire

Tagging Rooster Fish


New York, NY ( – There has never been a more critical time to learn about the marine fisheries that we rely upon for sport and commerce. Such research faces significant headwinds, as many of the target pelagic species frequently migrate hundreds, if not thousands, of miles during the course of their lives, and public resources to support detailed population studies are limited. Nevertheless, anglers and scientists have forged a unique partnership – Gray FishTag Research – in an effort to gather high-quality data on marine fish population dynamics, migration patterns, growth rates, habitat preferences, and more.

Seaguar, the originators of fluorocarbon fishing line, is proud to support the efforts of Gray FishTag Research to study and protect sustainable marine fisheries around the world.

Gray FishTag Research is a non-profit organization, leading an international and fully interactive fish tagging program powered by the world’s largest network of fishing professionals, consisting of approximately 10,000 charter boat captains and mates. Tags are deployed on fish that are caught and subsequently released; data are collected when a tagged fish is recaptured, or from pop-off satellite tags that record data electronically and then “pop off” the tagged fish after a predetermined about of time. Fish tagging and recovery data is made available, free of charge, to any interested parties through the Gray FishTag Research website.

Seaguar sponsors a unique Roosterfish study off the coast of Costa Rica in memory of long-time Seaguar sales manager, John DeVries. Tagged roosterfish are fitted with pop-off satellite tags, and data collected from the tags after popping off the roosterfish yields detailed information about the tagged fish’s movements, both horizontal and vertical, during the time that the tag remained attached. Recently, Gray FishTag Research announced the recovery of not one, but two pop-off satellite tags that were deployed during a Seaguar-supported tagging expedition:

The first PSAT tag, on a fish named “Las Gatos”, was deployed on April 28, 2018 and popped-off 58 days later. Not only was data transmitted by the tag after pop-off, but the tag itself was actually recovered, found by a local angler who recognized the importance of his discovery and returned the tag to Gray FishTag Research for more detailed analysis.
The second PSAT tag, on a fish named “Nicaragua”, was deployed on June 9, 2018 and popped-off 17 days later, off of the southern coast of Nicaragua. This fish traveled an amazing and noteworthy distance of at least 228 miles during the 17 days that the PSAT tag remained attached to the fish.
Seaguar also supports the work of Gray FishTag Research to enhance our understanding of swordfish movements and population dynamics through a fish tagging and recovery study. Recently, a tagged swordfish that entered the study in late 2017 was recovered, nearly eight months and 500 miles later!
On December 16, 2017 a swordfish was tagged by angler Anthony DiMare while fishing with Captain Nick Stanczyk aboard the Broad Minded charter boat out of Islamorada, Florida. The swordfish was estimated to be 47 inches in length and had an approximate weight of 50 lbs. On August 11, 2018, a full 238 days later, that swordfish was recaptured by NOAA observer McKenzie O’Connor while aboard PLL Vessel Ellen Jean. The recapture location was approximately 475 miles away from the tagging location. The measured length of the recaptured fish was 55 inches, and it now weighed 96 lbs.

Gray FishTag Research is an essential tool for promoting the sustainability of marine game fish and increasing public resource awareness. All fish species in every ocean are being monitored, including billfish, sharks, general offshore and inshore fish species. The program collects information in real-time by providing a direct connection between anglers and the scientific community, in every part of the world.

Seaguar is proud to continue our support of Gray FishTag Research as it yields unique and invaluable data about our most important marine fisheries. The dedicated anglers who capture, tag, and release fish as part of the study, and the diligent scientists who process, analyze, and report tagged fish data, are the perfect embodiment of Seaguar’s motto; just like our lines and leaders, these professionals are Always the Best!

Oregon Working Landscape Project

Oregon Working Landscape Project
from The Fishing Wire

Construction Completed on Oregon Working Landscape Project Benefiting Farmers, Fish

Winter Lake Channels


Unique partnership of federal, state, tribal and local agencies, the agriculture industry, and environmental community worked together on a mutually beneficial habitat restoration project supporting salmon recovery.

Aerial view of construction of new habitat channels at Winter Lake. Credit BCI Contracting, Inc.

Partners representing natural resource, tribal, and agricultural stakeholders recently gathered in the Coquille River Valley in Oregon. They celebrated the completion of the Winter Lake restoration project, which will help ensure local cattle farmers continue to thrive. The project will also provide almost 8 miles of tidal channels and 1,700 acres of habitat for the threatened Oregon Coast coho salmon, and other fish and wildlife.

Habitat restoration and agriculture are often considered competing interests.This partnership between natural resource entities and agricultural landowners demonstrates that the two can benefit from a strategically planned project.

Cows Where Fish Will Be


Cows grazing on land that will be transformed to fish habitat in the winter.

Lowlands in and around the Valley’s Beaver Slough Drainage District are rich pasture for cattle, and are in high demand. In the past, levees were built, channels straightened, and acres of wetlands were filled to create agricultural land.

But the tidal gates managing water and helping keep the land dry for grazing started failing recently and had to be replaced. The Drainage District saw this opportunity to establish a new partnership to reimagine how water is managed there.

Their vision of “working landscapes” was to improve water control and protect the land from flooding during prime grazing season in the warmer months, and rebuild high-quality habitat for juvenile coho salmon in the winter.

Cute Sign


Where “we grow beef in the summer and fish in the winter.”

The project’s cornerstone is a set of new state-of-the-art tide gates that can better control flooding—allowing for seasonal use by agriculture, and fish and wildlife. The tide gates, working with reconnected channels and new habitat will provide the best of both worlds.

NOAA helped Beaver Slough Drainage District, the Nature Conservancy, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and nearby land owner China Creek Gun Club develop plans for this comprehensive project. We supported it further with restoration and resilience grants totaling $2.7 million.

Water Control Project


Aerial view of the Winter Lake project’s new tide gates. BCI Contracting, Inc.

It is expected that the project could generate up to $3.4 million and 25 new jobs in the regional economy. It could then contribute an additional $3.2 million due to increased outdoor recreation spending over a twenty-year period.

Along the Pacific Northwest coast, wild salmon populations continue to decline. Like many northwestern rivers, the Coquille has lost much of its estuary habitat. Nearly 95 percent of prime salmon spawning and rearing waters there are gone.

Habitat restoration through innovative public-private partnership projects like this are the key to success. They eventually will assist in the recovery of salmon and other fish species critical to this region’s ecosystems and communities.