Category Archives: Conservation

Technology Enhances DNR’s Ability to Gather, Share Natural Resources Information

Michigan Technology Enhances DNR’s Ability to Gather, Share Natural Resources Information
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
from The Fishing Wire

With an electric current pulsing through the waters of a secluded stream, brook trout and other fish swirl into view – stunned briefly – before they are captured, measured, counted and released.

The information gathered from these sampling efforts helps fisheries biologists assess stream fish populations.

Meanwhile, the use of electroshocking is one example of how the Michigan Department of Natural Resources employs technology to help produce, retrieve or collect valuable data on a wide range of subjects.

Technology is defined as the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. From that perspective, the DNR has always been a high-tech agency.

But as technology advances, the DNR continues to adopt new concepts and techniques as it carries out its task of managing the state’s natural resources.

Some technological applications are explicit to the DNR’s various divisions, like those specialized for managing forests, fish or wildlife. Others are wide-ranging and involve the entire department.

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology, for example, is used across the DNR. GIS uses maps and aerial photography to display various layers of data, from political boundaries like county lines to forest types, locations of campgrounds or other information.

Maps can be created with GIS displaying specific layers of data the user is interested in, while omitting others.

“It’s all about data,” explained David Forstat, who runs the DNR’s Resource Assessment Section (RAS). “We work with all divisions within the department.”

The Resource Assessment Section has 20 employees. Most of these workers are headquartered in Lansing, but several employees are situated in the northern Lower Peninsula with plans to add a person in the Upper Peninsula.

“We use the data to answer questions,” Forstat said. “We know where the deer are, where the wolves are, we keep track of the trees – we have tools to go out in the woods and map where the trees are.

“We know how old the trees are, we know where we have diseased trees and healthy trees, which trees need to be cut, whether they’re a certain age or a certain size. We know where young trees are that need to be thinned out.”

Forstat said the DNR’s Forest Resources Division supplies 50 percent of the RAS budget and is its biggest beneficiary.

“If a chip board company wants to come into Michigan, they need to know where the trees are, a certain age of trees, a certain size of tree, a certain kind of tree,” Forstat said. “They want to know about the transportation system, where there’s a big highway or railroad so they can haul the lumber in, process it and ship it out. They may need to know they have a source of electricity or water.”

Michigan has been working on GIS since the late 1970s, but the data collection just continues to get more sophisticated.

“We’ve got 1,000-plus different data layers,” Forstat said. “We’ve been flying the state every year or every other year to get high-resolution aerial imagery.”

Forstat points to a popular DNR program – Mi-HUNT – as an example of how the DNR’s Wildlife Division provides information to hunters across the nation from data provided by the Resource Assessment Section.

The online mapping application directs hunters to the nearly 10 million acres of land open to public hunting in the state.

Wildlife biologist Mike Donovan, who heads up Mi-HUNT, said hunters can find all the places – state game areas, state and national forest land, state park land open to hunting, even private land available to hunters through the Commercial Forest Act or Hunter Access Program – they can go for their next hunt.

“It’s an interactive map that shows you where the land is and provides aerial photos – leaf-on and leaf-off – topographical maps and vegetative cover types,” Donovan said. “It’ll tell you the size density and the age of the trees.

“And it’s really the best place to go for HAP information because that stuff can change so quickly.”

The public has access to all the RAS data.

“People who recreate outdoors are probably our biggest users,” Forstat said. “Most DNR field staff use GIS, but the public – people who use trails or camp or hunt – use it more than our folks.

“We even have an app to find morels, to look for a place where we had a forest fire or a controlled burn, because morels like to grow where there’s been a fire.”

Forstat said the DNR uses GIS data in its conservation officer vehicles, on its boats when collecting fisheries data and in state forests in a variety of ways.

“When you have things that come up quickly, like a forest fire, you want all that data at your fingertips,” he said.

The DNR is also using geographic data to keep track of the state’s cultural resources.

“The Resource Assessment Section is working on a project for the Michigan History Center to assist with cataloguing all the historical markers with GPS coordinates,” Forstat said. “And we developed an application that can be used on smart phone devices. Staffers used the application to verify marker locations, condition, and for the collection of photographs of the markers around the state.”

Now travelers and others interested in Michigan history can easily find historical markers with a quick search at

Forstat, who studied geology, began his DNR career inspecting oil and gas wells.

“You had to take all of your books, all of your maps out there with you. I figured there had to be an easier way to capture the locations of all the wells in the state, their conditions and any pollution problems associated with them,” he said.

DNR staffers developed a program to track them from the office.

“After that, GIS just exploded,” he said. “Computers were the way to go.”

Forstat said that the big push to digitize this data came in the 1980s, when the DNR converted paper maps to digital maps.

“I remember we had one computer and you had to sign up to use it,” Forstat said. “Now we have more data on our cell phones than we had on that computer.”

Gary Whelan, the DNR Fisheries Division’s program manager for research and fish health, said acoustic tags – transmitters implanted in the body cavities of the fish – are giving fisheries managers access to information that seemed like science fiction just a few short years ago.

The DNR has set up a series of dozens of receivers that pick up the tags’ signals.

“We have them in walleye, sturgeon, whitefish – anything we want to know when and where the fish are using habitats – what spawning habitat, which prey resources they’re using,” Whelan said.

“An example is Saginaw Bay walleye – we can find out when a fish leaves the inner bay and we have receivers all the way up Lake Huron and all the way to the bridge. They produce an ungodly amount of data.”

Another fish-tagging program involves using pop-up tags, that attach to a specimen’s back and eventually release, to record temperature and depth data. The tags send a signal to a satellite, so fisheries researchers can locate and recover them.

“It tells us a lot about what habitat the fish are using day by day,” Whelan said.

Other high-tech fisheries projects involve using remotely operated vehicles, towed by fisheries research vessels, that can carry video cameras, hydro-acoustic units to estimate prey abundance and water-quality monitors.

“We’re using a lot of GoPro cameras too,” Whelan said. “We use them to count gobies – drop a GoPro on a tripod on a reef, for instance – and we’re using GoPros on our research nets, to see how they’re fishing and whether fish are avoiding them.”

The DNR has been using modern communications media, such as Facebook and YouTube, to communicate to the public for years. But it’s also developing communication tools for department’s website that give the public more information than ever before.

Eric Hilliard, a digital media and web resources specialist with the DNR’s Wildlife Division for the last five years, has recently completed an online waterfowl count “dashboard” that shows hunters how many and which species are using the state’s managed waterfowl areas. It’s available at

“Last year it had 30,000 views,” Hilliard said.

Even the technology used to collect that sort of information has changed.

David Luukkonen, a wildlife research biologist, said that DNR staffers who fly over the state to survey waterfowl have always made notes as they flew. Now they use voice recorders with an app that applies a GPS pin as it records, so the DNR knows exactly where the birds are.

This is coming in especially handy, Luukkonen said, as the DNR is conducting a survey of diving ducks and other pelagic (open-water) birds. As energy companies push to build off-shore wind facilities, the DNR data will show which areas of the lakes the birds use to help avoid conflicts.

Meanwhile, Luukkonen is working with a graduate student at Michigan State University on a mute swan study. Forty-five GPS-collared swans transmit data to cellular towers whenever they are within range of a tower, which is practically all the time.

“The idea is to develop a population model of mute swans, so we can effectively manage them,” Luukkonen said. “We’re finding out all kinds of things about them we didn’t know. We thought they were fairly residential birds, but we’ve found that they travel a lot more than we knew. And we’ve even found them feeding in fields, something we never suspected.”

As technology continues to advance, one thing is clear – improving the DNR’s ability to collect and share information benefits both Michigan’s natural resources and the people who enjoy them.

Check out previous Showcasing the DNR stories and subscribe to upcoming articles at

Facts about the Modern Fish Act

Fishing for the Facts about the Modern Fish Act
By Chris Horton, Fisheries Program Director, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
from The Fishing Wire

Mark Twain once said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Some in the environmental community have taken that saying to heart in their efforts to discredit the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act (S. 1520 and H.R. 2023). Their story – passing a Magnuson-Steven’s Act (MSA) reauthorization bill with the provisions of the Modern Fish Act would gut federal fisheries management and lead to widespread overfishing. The truth – either they have not read the bills at all, or more likely, they want to maintain status quo of an outdated commercial fisheries management law and continue to receive significant funding from large foundations who want to further privatize our fisheries through catch shares. My money is on the latter.

The fact is, anglers were the first and only stakeholders to step up to bear the burden of funding science-based management and on-the-ground habitat restoration to sustainably manage fisheries more than six decades ago – not the Environmental Defense Fund, the Ocean Conservancy, restaurant associations, commercial fishermen or any other organization. From 1951 to 2017, our license fees and the excise taxes we’ve paid on things like fishing tackle, rods, reels, marine electronics, trolling motors and motorboat fuels have resulted in more than $28 billion for fisheries management across the country – both for marine and freshwater fisheries.

Unfortunately, the significance of our contributions to all fisheries management, including federal, is misunderstood or dismissed by many Members of Congress and the environmental community. A good example of that misunderstanding can be found in my response to a “Questions for the Record” request from the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmospheres, Fisheries and Coast Guard following my testimony last September, where they stated the Trust Fund, “does not, however, have very much impact on fisheries conservation conducted under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.” You can find the full list of questions and my responses here, but suffice it to say after consultation with several states in the Gulf of Mexico, I was able to provide plenty of examples where anglers fund federal fisheries management under MSA.

As anglers, we would never support a bill that would lead to widespread overfishing and fewer fish to catch. After all, we advocated for, and funded, the foundation of science-based, sustainable fisheries management. Yet that doesn’t make for a good story when your funding model depends on maintaining the status quo and a clear path to privatizing public trust resources.

Let’s look at some of the key provisions of the Modern Fish Act from both the fiction being told and the facts of the matter.

Alternative management measures for recreational fisheries

FICTION – S. 1520 would, “Inappropriately exempt the recreational sector from the necessary management discipline imposed by annual catch limits and accountability measures.”
FACT – This provision simply frees the Councils to consider more appropriate recreational fisheries management measures when hard-poundage annual catch limits (ACL’s) are not effective. It does not exempt the recreational fisheries from adhering to annual harvest constraints. In fact, in a report from the Gulf Council’s Science and Statistical Committee on the feasibility of these alternative management measures proposed in the Modern Fish Act – “They noted that extraction rates, fishing mortality targets and harvest control rules could easily be implemented as catch limits…”

Flexibility in rebuilding timelines

FICTION – “Injects too much flexibility and ambiguity into the rebuilding timeline for overfished stocks.”
FACT – Both H.R. 2023 and S. 1520 eliminate arbitrary rebuilding timelines and replaces with a biologically-based timeline relative to individual species. It’s interesting to see organizations that claim to support science-based decision making opposing an effort to ensure that rebuilding plans are based on science, not an arbitrary 10-year requirement that has no scientific basis.
Temporary Moratorium on Limited Access Privilege Programs (catch shares)

FICTION – “Both the moratorium and the study are unnecessary and unwise”.
FACT – Of course this would be considered “unwise”, coming from the primary environmental organization that has received millions from foundations like the Walker Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation to push catch shares on both commercial and recreational fisheries. What they are concerned about is that the study by the National Academy of Sciences required by this provision might find that catch share programs may not be such a good idea in mixed-use fisheries.
Process for allocation review

FICTION – “Such reviews would divert significant resources from compelling management issues without significantly improving recreational fishermen satisfaction.”
FACT – Reallocation of quota between sectors is a difficult, exceedingly contentious process, much of which is caused by the ambiguity of what metrics the Council should weigh in making those decisions. To make periodic reallocation reviews more efficient, this provision simply requires the National Academy of Science to provide some clear criteria to consider. In the case of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, the allocation between the commercial and recreational sectors was set more than 20-years ago, using data 10-years prior. Fisheries change over time, and with today’s technologies, families have an opportunity to catch their fish themselves, rather than just purchasing from someone who profits from the resource like a restaurant or seafood market.
It is sad that some environmental organizations have now enlisted the help of New Orleans chefs to tell their “story” as it relates to red snapper when it is clear they have no idea what the Modern Fish Act actually does, nor do they know anything about recreational fishing. In a recent E&E News article, one such restaurant owner/operator is quoted as saying, “It’d be nice to have $150,000 boats to get 30, 40 miles offshore, but most people can’t do that.” Most people don’t have to. I’ve caught red snapper within five miles of Pensacola Beach, Florida in a 10-year old 20-foot, single-engine bay boat, and was surrounded by similar boats all landing snapper. Likewise, we easily catch red snapper out of small boats within 8 miles of Orange Beach, Alabama and 10 miles of Grand Isle, Louisiana. This is not a rich man’s game (although the average $25/pound cost of red snapper at a seafood market might lead you to think otherwise), but a public trust resource available to tens of thousands of anglers from all walks of life.

As the original fisheries conservationists, anglers demand that our fisheries be managed sustainably. Nothing in the Modern Fish Acts undermines the fisheries conservation or sustainability tenants of MSA. It simply looks to strengthen MSA by bringing parity for millions of recreational anglers to a federal management model designed primarily for commercial fisheries.

Independent Study of Gulf Red Snapper

Independent Study of Gulf Red Snapper Population Announced
from The Fishing Wire

Studying red snapper

A team of university and government scientists, selected by an expert review panel convened by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, will conduct an independent study to estimate the number of red snapper in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

“American communities across the Gulf of Mexico depend on their access to, as well as the long term sustainability of, red snapper,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “I look forward to the insights this project will provide as we study and manage this valuable resource.”

The research team, made up of 21 scientists from 12 institutions of higher learning, a state agency and a federal agency, was awarded $9.5 million in federal funds for the project through a competitive research grant process. With matching funds from the universities, the project will total $12 million.

“We’ve assembled some of the best red snapper scientists for this study,” said Greg Stunz, the project leader and a professor at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. “The team members assembled through this process are ready to address this challenging research question. There are lots of constituents who want an independent abundance estimate that will be anxiously awaiting our findings.”

Recreational anglers and commercial fishermen will be invited to play a key role in collecting data by tagging fish, reporting tags and working directly with scientists onboard their vessels.

“The local knowledge fishermen bring to this process is very valuable and meaningfully informs our study,” Stunz said.

Some stakeholder groups have expressed concerns that there are more red snapper in the Gulf than currently accounted for in the stock assessment. The team of scientists on this project will spend two years studying the issue.

In 2016, Congress directed the National Sea Grant College Program and NOAA Fisheries to fund independent red snapper data collections, surveys and assessments, including the use of tagging and advanced sampling technologies. Sea Grant and NOAA Fisheries worked collaboratively to transfer federal funds to Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant offsite linkto administer the competitive research grant process and manage this independent abundance estimate.

“Today’s announcement is welcome news for all red snapper anglers in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama. “As Chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, I was proud to author and secure federal funding to address the need for better data, which is a fundamental issue plaguing the fishery. The management of red snapper must be grounded in sound science if we want to provide fair access and more days on the water for our anglers. It is my hope that these independent scientists will be able to accurately determine the abundance of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico once and for all.”

“This research will be driven largely by university-based scientists with partners from state and federal agencies.” Stunz said. “This funding will allow us to do an abundance estimate using multiple sampling methods with a focus on advanced technologies and tagging for various habitat types.”

“I’m pleased to see that the independent estimate is moving forward and including the expertise of recreational fishermen,” said Rep. John Culberson of Texas. “I will continue to work with Texas fishermen and NOAA to address the inadequate access to red snapper.”

The project team will determine abundance and distribution of red snapper on artificial, natural and unknown bottom habitat across the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists on the team include:

Greg Stunz, Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi

Will Patterson, University of Florida

Sean P. Powers, University of South Alabama, Dauphin Island Sea Lab

James Cowan, Louisiana State University

Jay R. Rooker, Texas A&M University at Galveston

Robert Ahrens, University of Florida, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

Kevin Boswell, Florida International University

Matthew Campbell, NOAA Fisheries (non-compensated collaborator)

Matthew Catalano, Auburn University

Marcus Drymon, Mississippi State University

Brett Falterman, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

John Hoenig, College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Matthew Lauretta, NOAA Fisheries (non-compensated collaborator)

Robert Leaf, University of Southern Mississippi

Vincent Lecours, University of Florida

Steven Murawski, University of South Florida

David Portnoy, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Eric Saillant, University of Southern Mississippi

Lynne S. Stokes, Southern Methodist University

John Walter, NOAA Fisheries (non-compensated collaborator)

David Wells, Texas A&M University at Galveston

What Are Guadalupe Bass?

Guadalupe Bass – A Conservation Success Story
By Tim Birdsong, Chief of Habitat Conservation, Inland Fisheries – Texas Parks & Wildlife
from The Fishing Wire

The official state fish, Guadalupe Bass, has been restored to the South Llano River. Guadalupe Bass are endemic to the South Llano River and other clear, spring-fed rivers of the Texas Hill Country. They are threatened by loss of habitat and hybridization with non-native, introduced Smallmouth Bass that are native to the Great Lakes of North America and portions of the Ohio, Tennessee, upper Mississippi, and Saint Lawrence rivers. Smallmouth Bass have been introduced throughout North America, Africa, and Eurasia to enhance sport fishing opportunities.

This conservation success story for Guadalupe Bass begins with an ill-fated, experimental introduction of Smallmouth Bass to the South Llano River in 1958-1960. The introduction proved unsuccessful in establishing a self-sustaining Smallmouth Bass fishery, but resulted in an unforeseen and unintended consequence of creating a hybrid population of Guadalupe Bass and Smallmouth Bass. This hybridization went unnoticed in the South Llano River until similar situations resulted from stocking of Smallmouth Bass in other Hill Country rivers.

In 1974-1980, Smallmouth Bass were stocked by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) in the Blanco, Guadalupe, Medina and San Gabriel rivers, and in Cibolo and Onion creeks. Once hybridization was detected and threats to Guadalupe Bass were recognized, TPWD ceased efforts to establish Smallmouth Bass fisheries in Hill Country Rivers and instead began to devise a strategy to prevent the local extirpation and possible extinction of Guadalupe Bass. Initial conservation efforts included establishment of a refuge population of genetically-pure Guadalupe Bass in the Sabinal River in 1988. In 1992, TPWD initiated a Guadalupe Bass hatchery program that has since produced and stocked 2,355,807 Guadalupe Bass in Hill Country Rivers. TPWD also partnered with local landowners, non-governmental organizations, fishing clubs, river authorities, and other partners to restore and preserve habitat conditions for Guadalupe Bass in rivers throughout the Hill Country.

In 2010, TPWD focused its attention on the South Llano River and the hybrid population that resulted from the historic Smallmouth Bass introduction. In partnership with numerous local cooperators, a plan was hatched to restore Guadalupe Bass to the South Llano River. Between spring 2011 and spring 2017, more than 700,000 genetically-pure Guadalupe Bass were stocked in the South Llano River. Today, less than 2 percent of the Guadalupe Bass population now consists of hybrids.

In addition to the South Llano River stocking program, project cooperators organized river conservation workshops attended by approximately 750 landowners and local community partners in the watershed. Over 78,000 acres of ranchlands implemented stewardship practices to help preserve fish habitats. Restoration projects in the watershed restored 7,754 acres of spring, stream and riparian habitats, directly benefiting water quality and habitat conditions for Guadalupe Bass. These and other conservation efforts in the South Llano River watershed have successfully restored Guadalupe Bass populations and helped promote local stewardship practices that will ensure the river is able to sustain Guadalupe Bass populations into the future. Learn more about efforts to conserve Guadalupe Bass in the South Llano River or watch this video produced by TPWD a few years ago featuring former TPWD Angler Education Instructors Guy Harrison and Mike Andrews.

Can Spawning Fish Influence River Profiles?

Sex that moves mountains: Spawning fish can influence river profiles
By Eric Sorensen, WSU News
from The Fishing Wire

fishPULLMAN, Wash. – It turns out that sex can move mountains.

A Washington State University researcher has found that the mating habits of salmon can alter the profile of stream beds, affecting the evolution of an entire watershed. His study is one of the first to quantitatively show that salmon can influence the shape of the land.

Alex Fremier, lead author of the study and associate professor in the WSU School of the Environment, said female salmon “fluff” soil and gravel on a river bottom as they prepare their nests, or redds. The stream gravel is then more easily removed by flooding, which opens the underlying bedrock to erosion.

“The salmon aren’t just moving sediment,” said Fremier. “They’re changing the character of the stream bed, so when there are floods, the gravel is more mobile.”

Alex Fremier, associate professor at the WSU School of the Environment and author of “Sex that moves mountains” in the journal Geomorphology, with a rainbow trout on Lake Pend Oreille.
The study, “Sex that moves mountains: The influence of spawning fish on river profiles over geologic timescales,” appears in the journal Geomorphology.

Working with colleagues at the University of Idaho and Indiana University, Fremier modeled the changes over 5 million years and saw streams with spawning salmon lowering stream slopes and elevation over time. Land alongside the stream can also get steeper and more prone to erosion.

“Any lowering of the streambed translates upstream to lower the entire landscape,” said Fremier.

Different salmon species can have different effects, Fremier said. Chinook salmon can move bigger pieces of material, while coho tend to move finer material. Over time, this diversification can lead to different erosion rates and changes to the landscape.

The paper is another way of looking at the role of living things in shaping their nonliving surroundings. Trees prevent landslides; beavers build dams that slow water, creating wetlands, flood plains and habitats for different trees and animals.

In 2012, researchers writing in Nature Geoscience described how, before the arrival of trees more than 300 million years ago, landscapes featured broad, shallow rivers and streams with easily eroded banks. But tree roots stabilized river banks and created narrow, fixed channels and vegetated islands, while log jams helped create the formation of new channels. The new landscape in turn led to “an increasingly diverse array of organisms,” the researchers wrote.

Similarly, said Fremier, salmon can be creating new stream habitats that encourage the rise of new salmon species. On the other hand, streams where salmon drop in number or disappear altogether could see significant long-term changes in their profile and ecology.

“The evolution of a watershed can be influenced by the evolution of a species” Fremier said.

Read more like this at Washington State University News here

Mote Snook Shindig

Mote Snook Shindig catches valuable fisheries data
Mote Marine in Sarasota, Florida, has an on-going snook rearing, stocking and tagging program, and each year recreational anglers assist in the research–by fishing!

By Hayley Rutger, Mote Marine
from The Fishing Wire

More than 40 anglers participated in the 2017 William R. Mote Memorial Snook Shindig, a research-based catch, sample and release tournament on Nov. 3-4. This unique tournament involves the public in monitoring for snook released in fisheries enhancement studies.

Jennifer Castilow and Dr. Nate Brennan of Mote Marine Laboratory measure a snook. Credit Cheri Tardif.
Snook are one of the most sought-after catches in Florida’s saltwater recreational fishing industry, which draws more than $7 billion to the economy annually. However, increased fishing pressure, habitat loss, and natural challenges such as cold weather and red tides have contributed to declines in snook populations. Thus, for more than 30 years, Mote Marine Laboratory and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) scientists have partnered in research designed to evaluate whether hatchery-raising and releasing snook into the wild can be an effective fishery management tool.

“The Snook Shindig is the only scientific tournament in which anglers focus on hatchery-reared and wild common snook,” said Dr. Kenneth Leber, Mote Senior Scientist. “Our goal is to estimate the contribution of previously tagged-and-released snook to the Sarasota Bay snook fishery, and to learn valuable information such as how different habitats affect snook growth, survival and migration patterns. Our research and this important tournament can help us understand how stock enhancement may help this snook population recover from large mortalities in the wild.”

Over decades, Mote scientists have released more than 61,000 snook into Sarasota-area waters. Past Snook Shindig results have revealed that changes in snook-release strategies, based on Mote pilot studies, have improved survival of stocked snook by as much as 200 percent.

Snook born and raised at Mote Aquaculture Research Park (MAP) in eastern Sarasota County are fitted with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags and released for research on responsible restocking practices. PIT tags provide a “barcode” identifying individual fish and containing other specific data, which can be “read” using a special scanner.

During this year’s Snook Shindig, 224 snook were caught and released. Though none of these were recaptured fish with Mote tags, all fish caught, measured and released yielded valuable data.

“From this year’s fish, we’re able to learn about the size distribution of the fishery in our area,” said Dr. Ryan Schloesser, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Mote. “If we don’t see our hatchery snook in the catch, that may mean that there are far more wild snook out there — so they’re likelier to be caught — and it may also mean that our hatchery-raised snook haven’t yet grown to the sizes likeliest to be caught in the area of the tournament. We think it’s a combination of these factors. We released 5,620 PIT-tagged snook in the past two years, and they may just need to mature into the size being caught. We hope to find out at our future Snook Shindigs!”

During the Nov. 4 awards dinner in Mote Marine Laboratory’s WAVE Center on City Island, Sarasota, Mote President & CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby greeted guests.

“Thank you all for making this a memorable, meaningful Snook Shindig by fulfilling the essential role of citizen scientists,” Crosby said. “For more than 60 years, Mote’s independent researchers have worked with caring and knowledgeable community members like you to bridge our scientific discoveries with local, traditional knowledge and decision making at all levels, to support conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. You are part of a time-honored tradition that aims to preserve this beloved fishery for future generations. We couldn’t succeed without you.”

Crosby recognized presenting sponsors Carol and Barney Barnett, who have donated $3 million to help Mote implement its Fisheries Conservation & Enhancement Initiative — a science-based, community-wide, grassroots partnership initiative aimed at fisheries conservation and sustainable use in Sarasota Bay. The Barnetts’ leadership gift challenges others to match this critical support toward this important initiative.

To support Mote’s Fisheries Conservation & Enhancement Initiative, contact Erin Kabinoff at or (941) 388-4441, ext. 309.

Crosby also recognized two pioneering senior scientists at Mote: Dr. Ken Leber, manager of Mote’s Fisheries Ecology & Enhancement Program, and Dr. Kevan Main, manager of Mote’s Marine & Freshwater Aquaculture Research Program, for their tireless and visionary efforts to improve snook aquaculture and enhance this critical fishery. Leber and Main were presented with fish art prints by Steve Whitlock.

Mote fisheries scientists thanked and recognized the entire team of dedicated volunteers, sponsors and attendees who helped make this year’s Snook Shindig possible, including Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff in attendance, fisheries conservation advocate Capt. Scotty Moore, this year’s featured artist for the Snook Shindig graphic, Steve Whitlock, and others (full sponsor list below).

“It was exciting to see a real range of ages participate as citizen scientists; many of the youth came up to give us a big hug and said they are going to go fishing next weekend,” said Mote staff scientist Carole Neidig, who coordinated the team effort for this year’s successful event.

Don’t Love Forests To Death

Forests – Don’t Love Them To Death

James L. Cummins
from The Fishing Wire

Editor’s Note: James L. Cummins, vice president of the Boone and Crockett Club, has released an Op-Ed on the mistreatment of our public lands with special attention on the negative effects on our national forests. We felt the topic timely and appreciate B&C allowing us to redistribute it.

“Love It to Death” is the third album by the Alice Cooper band, which was released in 1971. Loving it to death is how we, as a nation, seem to be treating much of our public lands, especially our national forests.

Lolo Peak Fire near Missoula, Montana 2017
More people are engaging in and having a greater influence on natural resource issues than ever before. People want to do what is best, yet are not necessarily familiar with what that is. There is a growing belief that “letting nature take its course” with no human interference is the best philosophy for managing natural resources. Many people are mistakenly or intentionally calling this way of thinking conservation, though it is more closely aligned with preservation.

These misconceptions are helping to shift the management of wildlife and its habitat from a “hands-on” conservation approach to a “hands-off” preservation approach that has serious negative implications, such as the wildfires we are witnessing across the United States. Imagine if we approached health care for humans the same way as we approached the health of our natural resources. Our life expectancy would be cut by at least a third. Relatively simple surgeries would be no longer. So, our quality of life would suffer. Is that what we want? I certainly don’t.

Conservation and preservation are both concerned with the betterment of the environment. Conservation focuses on using and managing natural resources to benefit people. Preservation is a philosophy that generally seeks to keep natural resources in a pristine state by excluding management and limiting how they are used by people. Conservation is the overarching concept with preservation being one of many management options within a broad conservation approach.

Conservation was developed and nationalized by the Boone and Crockett Club and its founder, Theodore Roosevelt, beginning in the late 19th century. One of the Club’s founding members, Gifford Pinchot, also the first chief of the Forest Service, is credited with first using the term “conservation.”

One of the best-known advocates of preservation was John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club and fought for Yosemite to become a national park in 1890. He believed scenic forests and mountains were sacred, sublime places that should be used only for enjoyment and inspiration and not as a resource for goods. Muir and other early preservationists saw only one choice for saving awe-inspiring landscapes – keep people out unless they were there for appreciation and solitude. It was the beginning of a national controversy that pitted Muir’s idea of preservation against conservation. We are still having this national debate 125 years later.

Nationally acclaimed wildlife biologist, Dr. Bruce D. Leopold, once said, “Nature just can’t take its course because frankly, there is no location on Earth where humankind has not had an impact. From radioactive materials and dust in polar ice, to ever-expanding distributions of invasive species, the evidence is clear that disruption of natural processes is a global phenomenon. Humans are a significant component of natural ecosystems (contributing the good and the bad) and the notion of suddenly removing their influence is both illogical and impossible. Natural ecosystems are just too altered to be left alone.”

In August 2017, over 650,000 acres were burning in the Western U.S. Most of these fires were on public lands, particularly federal lands. By September 1, seven hundred wildfires raged in the state of Montana alone, ravaging some 1 million acres of public and private lands. The Club evacuated its own Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch in Montana on September 12 as two wildfires were approaching the 6,300-acre property. Across the state, evacuations were taking place, structures were being burned, people were breathing hazardous air, federal and state resources were stretched thin and the state of Montana was out of money. Most tragic…two young firefighters lost their lives. And now, California is on fire.

What caused this wildfire phenomenon? Why, over the course of the last two decades, have wildfires intensified to the point of being natural disasters? What are the impacts on the people, landscape, wildlife, economies, and state and federal budgets and personnel? What can be done to correct this destructive situation going forward?

National forests comprise a large segment of the ecosystems in the western United States. Most have evolved with fires, insect and disease outbreaks and blow-downs to retain biodiversity and forest health. But, times have clearly changed. More people are living further out into wild-land urban interfaces. To protect lives and homes this has logically led to a forest policy of suppressing natural fires and insect outbreaks. This intolerance of fires combined with decades of relying on our forests for timber production and then dramatically scaling this back, have helped produce very “unnatural” conditions of fuel build up ripe for the wildfires we’re seeing today.

These unnatural conditions are resulting in wildfires that are destroying human lives, forests, wildlife habitat and homes and contributing to changing climate. Wildfires emit carbon that contributes to poor air quality. Healthy forests, as well as forest products, are a carbon sink, sequestering carbon that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere.

More than 60 million acres of national forests are at high risk of wildfire or in need of restoration. In the past 10 years, over 65 million acres have burned. Approximately 10 million acres burned in 2015, killing 11 firefighters. Federal foresters estimate that an astounding 190 million acres of land managed by the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior are at an unnatural risk to catastrophic wildfire.

On our national forests alone, since 2000, wildfires average 6.9 million acres burned annually. In 1995, fire made up 16 percent of their annual appropriated budget. In 2015, fire made up 52 percent of their appropriated budget. That is a decrease in 36 percent of their funds that would be used for other activities, including research, forest improvements and maintenance.

Conservation can reverse these conditions through a variety of actions, such as harvesting trees and using controlled burns to mimic natural disturbances. These disturbances reduce build-ups of forest litter (fuel) and overgrowth to encourage a variety of successional stages for wildlife, biodiversity and the prevention of larger, hotter, more devastating fires from occurring that can destroy even old-growth forests. Preservation takes the opposite approach. It seeks to halt management actions and multiple use on the mistaken assumption the forests can and will return to their former “natural” condition.

The conservation principles of sustainable use and active management has the greatest chance of producing the goods and services that people want, as well as retaining long-term ecological integrity. Conservation provides the means and knowledge to produce timber from the most productive growing areas to meet much of the demand for wood products while allowing less intensive management over the majority of the forested landscape. This enhances biodiversity while localizing the impacts of our demands for these products. We have the ability to locate and manage intensive industries (such as energy development) and urban growth so that it aids conservation — consolidating daily life and extractive industries in some places allows other places to produce the benefits of wilderness, scenery and wildlife habitat.

Managing forests makes them resilient and able to withstand fire, pests and diseases. Management eliminates or reduces the impact of catastrophic wildfire; protects riparian areas important for stream health (shade, filtering, etc.) and fish species such as trout; and protects water quality due to fires followed by rains sediments washing downstream and damaging important drinking water supplies.

Using 21st century techniques by land management professionals – and not direct mail specialists and litigators – we have the technology and know how to restore America’s cherished landscapes back to a healthy, natural condition. Through the use of environmentally smart thinning, prescribed burns and other scientifically validated management practices, overstocked forests can be returned to a natural balance, reducing the risks of catastrophic wildfire and insect and disease infestations along with the associated expenditure of dollars.

It is time we returned the management philosophy of Roosevelt and Pinchot – conservation that is – to our national forests. Pure preservation is not working in many places. In order to leave the next generation of Americans a national forest system that is in the best health possible, we need to make sure it has the best care possible. Right now they are running a pretty high fever from a spreading cancer because we are loving them to death. The time for treatment is NOW, not after we have lost another million acres of wild places and the wild things that live in them.

Recovery plan for Atlantic Salmon

NOAA Reviews Recovery Plan for Atlantic Salmon
The Atlantic salmon is one of NOAA Fisheries’ Species in the Spotlight.
from The Fishing Wire


Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), also known as the “King of Fish,” were once found in north American waters from Long Island Sound in the United States to Ungava Bay in northeastern Canada. Atlantic salmon are anadromous fish, spending the first half of their life in freshwater rivers and streams along the East Coast of North America and the second half maturing in the seas between Northeastern Canada and Greenland.

Today, the last remnant populations of Atlantic salmon in U.S. waters exist in just a few rivers and streams in central and eastern Maine. These populations constitute the Gulf of Maine Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of Atlantic salmon, which is listed as endangered under the ESA.

To address the critical status of this imperiled species, we are marshalling resources and reaching out to vital partners to stabilize their populations and prevent extinction.


The final listing rule highlights the importance of dams and marine survival as causes of the current demographic plight of Atlantic salmon. A host of other threats also limit Atlantic salmon’s survival including aquaculture practices (which pose ecological and genetic risks), changing land use patterns (e.g., development, agriculture, forestry), climate change, degradation of water quality (e.g., contaminants, nutrient enrichment, elevated water temperature), non-native fish species that compete with or prey on Atlantic salmon (e.g., smallmouth bass), loss of habitat complexity and connectivity, water extraction, among others.


Through recovery planning we understand the threats and have identified a range of management actions that must be taken to address their decline. Some of the efforts that we are involved in include:

Work with dam owners as well as state and tribal partners to find solutions that allow Atlantic salmon access to freshwater habitats.
Conserve and restore other species (e.g., river herring) that salmon may depend upon.
Negotiate with international partners to minimize impacts to U.S. origin fish in distant-water fisheries.
Invest in science to ensure we implement conservation measures that will be most effective in restoring salmon populations at the lowest possible cost.

NOAA Fisheries is working with dam owners and local interests to develop solutions at dams that will allow for salmon recovery. NOAA Fisheries provided significant resources ($22.5 million) for the oversight, funding, and monitoring of two mainstem dam removals on the Penobscot River, which were part of the Penobscot River Restoration Project.

In addition, NOAA Fisheries staff continue to work with hydropower owners to craft plans for effective downstream and upstream fish passage at nearly all major hydropower dams within the designated critical habitat area for Atlantic salmon. The ultimate goal is to restore access to all necessary habitats for Atlantic salmon so that the fish are able to complete their life cycle moving from marine to freshwater and vice versa.

What Can You Do?

Landowners and the general public can contribute significantly in Atlantic salmon recovery by implementing best management and land stewardship practices that afford protections to Atlantic salmon, native fisheries and their habitats, including riparian land and water quality. They can:

Remove or provide passage around blockages, including round culverts and dams that prevent or impair the movement of Atlantic salmon and Maine’s native fish community.
Maintain and protect forested riparian areas that provide shade, nutrients, and cover necessary to support Atlantic salmon and Maine’s cold water and migratory fish community.
Avoid removing wood from Maine waterways and their banks because wood provides important habitat for Atlantic salmon and Maine’s native fish community to feed and seek shelter.
Maintain native vegetation along waterways to minimize erosion of topsoil to maintain healthy forests while reducing inputs of sediment into streams. Sediments fill in spaces between rocks that are used by Atlantic salmon and native fish communities as sites for laying eggs and by juvenile fish as shelter from predators.Encourage or participate in programs to conserve land and water resources that promote abundant, suitable habitats for Atlantic salmon and also assure that water resources continue to provide recreational and fishery opportunities into the future.

Shark Fin Ban Hurting Conservation?

U.S. Shark Fin Ban May Harm Shark Conservation
from The Fishing Wire

Two leading marine scientists say banning shark-fin trade in the U.S. will have little impact on protecting sharks: Here’s their take, from Mote Marine Labs in Sarasota, FL.

A new study in the scientific journal Marine Policy shows that banning the sale of shark fins in the United States can actually harm ongoing shark conservation efforts.

Study authors Dr. David Shiffman of Simon Fraser University’s Earth2Ocean research group and Dr. Robert Hueter from the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory say that the proposed Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2017, a bill currently in committee in U.S. Congress, is a misguided and ineffective approach to protecting sharks.

To request a copy of the paper, “A United States shark fin ban would undermine sustainable shark fisheries,” journalists can contact Hayley Rutger: Here is the abstract and citation.

The proposed Act states that “no person shall possess, transport, offer for sale, sell, or purchase shark fins or products containing shark fins,” with a few very specific exceptions. If passed, the Act would make it illegal for U.S. fishers and businesses to sell or purchase shark fins.

The Act is not focused on shark “finning,” which has been illegal in U.S. waters since the 1990s. Finning is the inhumane, wasteful practice of removing a shark’s fins at sea and tossing the animal back to die. U.S. shark fisheries are managed carefully, based on scientific data, and fishers are permitted to harvest non-depleted shark species, transport the whole animal back to shore and detach fins afterward — which is NOT finning. However, in some other parts of the world, finning contributes to the global fin trade and sharks are less sustainably managed.

In their new paper, Shiffman and Hueter review scientific and economic data to understand the possible implications of a U.S. ban on fin trade, including fins legally harvested in U.S. fisheries. Their key findings include:

Insignificant global impact of U.S. fin-trade ban: “…banning the sale of shark fins in the United States would likely not result in a significant direct reduction in global shark mortality, because the United States exports approximately one percent of all the shark fins traded globally, and imports an even smaller percentage of the global fin trade,” paper authors note.
U.S. shark fishing is well regulated. Preventing sale of U.S. caught fins opens more market share for less sustainable fisheries that may practice finning. “Of 16 global shark fisheries identified as biologically sustainable and well managed, 9 involve United States shark fishermen, accounting for 76.3% of total landings from these 16 fisheries,” the authors note.
U.S. ban could cause waste without reducing shark mortality. “Moreover, banning the sale of shark fins would not make it illegal to continue catch and kill sharks in the United States. It would only regulate how the parts of dead sharks can be used. Forcing fishermen to discard fins from sharks caught in sustainably managed fisheries would contribute to wastefulness in fisheries and undermine the ‘full use’ doctrine that is a component of the UN FAO International Plan of Action for Sharks, without reducing shark mortality.”
Costs to law-abiding U.S. fishers: “The proposed fin ban would therefore eliminate about 23% of the ex-vessel value of legally caught sharks, causing economic harm to rule-following fishermen and undermining decades of progress towards sustainable shark fisheries management in the United States.”
Instead of ban, sustainable harvest sets more realistic example for other nations: “A ban on the trade of shark parts from a sustainable fishery would not only eliminate a model of successful management from the global marketplace, but would also remove an important incentive for other nations to adopt that model. A nationwide ban on buying or selling fins would tell international trading partners that the United States will not support their shark conservation efforts regardless of future improvements to their fisheries sustainability.”

If a fin ban is not a viable solution, what can be done to help sharks? Dr. Robert Hueter at Mote, who has more than 40 years’ experience in shark science and conservation, offers a five-point approach designed to benefit shark populations while strengthening the U.S. economy:

Increase the penalties for shark finning, which the Florida state legislature has recently done.
Stop the import of shark products from countries that don’t practice sustainable shark fishing, especially those that still permit finning. Some authority to do this already exists, and there are at least two efforts underway to legislate further authority on Capitol Hill.
Incentivize our domestic industry to process American-harvested fins here within the U.S., rather than ship them to Hong Kong for processing (as happens now), thereby improving traceability of legal fins and supplying the demand of our own Asian cultures here in the U.S. with products “made in America.”
Continue to monitor our shark populations, conduct regular stock assessments and support strict measures for sustainability.
Educate the public about the real problems sharks face and empower people to do the right things in supporting shark conservation.

In addition, both authors of the Marine Policy paper suggest focusing more attention on the overall shark meat trade, which is worth $550 million worldwide and has been growing, compared with the fin trade alone, which is worth $330 million worldwide and has been declining.

Shark Fishing Tips

Shark Fishing Tips from NY DEC
from The Fishing Wire

Sharks are some of the sea’s most well-known but misunderstood inhabitants. They simultaneously provoke fascination and hysteria wherever they appear. Excessive fear of their ferocity and aggression has tainted people’s relationship with sharks, threatening their populations around the globe.

Sharks belong to the class of cartilaginous fishes that also includes rays and skates. They are primitive fishes whose skeletons lack true bones and instead are made of cartilage, the same material our ears and nose are made of.

There are over 500 species of sharks known through the world and are found in all seas, from near shore estuaries to the open ocean beyond the continental shelf. They are found in temperate, tropical and arctic latitudes as well as depths up to 6,000 feet.

New York’s marine waters are home to a variety of native shark species, as well as migratory species during the warmer months. During shark week, we will explore some of the lesser known sharks species found in New York’s marine waters and celebrate this misunderstood ocean predator.

‘Sharking’ in New York

Today, recreational and tournament anglers go shark fishing, also known as ‘sharking.’ Before heading out to try your luck at sharking, you must first register with the Recreational Marine Fishing Registry and apply for a federal Highly Migratory Species (HMS) permit

When fishing for sharks, you should be able to identify what species you are prohibited from taking. For a list of shark species you are prohibited from taking, as well as those you are allowed to take, visit Saltwater Fishing Regulations for Sharks.

If you catch a prohibited shark species while fishing from shore, please do not drag the shark onto the beach. If you hook a prohibited shark species you must return the shark to the water at once, without unnecessary injury to the shark. The easiest way to do this is to cut your leader as closely to the hook (as safely as practicable), while the shark is still in the water. Non-stainless circle hooks will rust free from the shark’s mouth in a short period of time.

For best practices, view NOAA’s Atlantic Recreational Shark Fishing: Handling and Release of Prohibited Species video.

If you’re going shark fishing please be familiar with prohibited shark species, and always follow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) guidance, “If you don’t know, let it go!” For more information on how to identify shark species, visit NOAA’s Atlantic Shark website.

When fishing for sharks with baited hooks, you are required to use non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks.

Non-stainless steel hooks deteriorate over time, reducing harm to a fish if you are unable to retrieve the hook. A circle hook’s point is turned back toward the shank, forming a semi-circle shape. A circle hook is preferred to a J-hook for sharking. A circle hook is more likely to lodge in a shark’s mouth. A J-hook is more likely to be swallowed and damage a shark’s internal organs.

Keep your circle hook’s point in line with the shank. When a hook’s point bends sideways away from the shank, it becomes offset. Offset hooks can potentially injure a shark when you are removing the hook.

Ecological Role

Sharks have been roaming the seas for over 400 million years, predating the dinosaurs! They have survived many mass extinctions, including the event that extinguished the dinosaurs about 6 million years ago. Sharks have survived successfully for so long due to their ability to evolve. As a result, sharks have become the ocean’s top predators, also known as apex predators. Most sharks are aggressive apex predators that consume fish, turtles and marine mammals. The exceptions are the whale sharks, the basking sharks and the megamouth sharks, which are all filter feeders that consume plankton.

Apex predators are at the top of the food chain and generally have no natural predators. They play a vital role in maintaining a healthy population of organisms they prey upon. Ecosystems are extremely complex. Even small changes can have significant consequences in a variety of ways. Removing or reducing the population of an apex predator has the potential to upset the population balance of both prey and predators. This can have far-reaching negative consequences throughout the ecosystem.

Sharks had always been the apex predators of the oceans, until humans began refining our ability to harvest marine resources. Technology has improved many aspects of human life, but it has also given us the capacity to over-harvest finite resources.

Shark Conservation

Historically, sharks have largely been an underutilized resource in North America. Small, limited fisheries have existed for many years in areas along the U.S. coast. Large, well organized fisheries have occurred occasionally, but have been relatively rare and short lived.

The earliest known local commercial shark fisheries on the east coast occurred in the 1930s using long lines, chain nets and gill nets. Most of these fisheries were near shore and localized. Sharks were mainly harvested for their liver oil for the production of vitamin A and their hides for leather. Prior to the 1970s, there was little utilization of shark meat for human consumption in the U.S. Improvements in methods for handling sharks at sea, along with a marketing program promoted by the government, increased demand and consumption of sharks. Today, commercial fishing for sharks uses primarily long lines and gill nets.

Recreational fishing along the U.S. east coast was popularized in the 1970s. Advances in boat construction, efficiency and size of marine engines, fishing tackle and electronics technology, along with the ability of the public to purchase and own boats, made shark fishing much more accessible to recreational fisherman.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) finalized a fishery management plan and began managing the U.S. shark fishery in 1993. Measures adopted included commercial quotas, a commercial observer program, regulations regarding the retention of shark fins in proper proportion to carcasses, recreational bag limits, and prohibition of sale of recreationally caught sharks. As sharks continued to be overfished, subsequent addendums in later years included size limits for both recreational and commercial fisheries, permitting and reporting requirements, expansion of the observer program and limited commercial access.

*Special thanks to all our photograph contributors.* Many organizations who helped us with photographs are conducting exceptional work in shark research and conservation. For more information on how DEC administers permits for research and handling of native New York shark species, visit our Special Licenses Page.