Category Archives: Conservation

Georgia Fishing and Hunting License Fees Increase

Jim Berry called me last week to remind me that hunting and fishing license fees are increasing on July 1. The legislature passed these increases after having public hearings around the state and getting input from citizens and groups involved with hunting and fishing. There was little opposition to the increase from these sources.

The fees are small for what you get. You can hunt a full year for $15 now as opposed to $10 in the past, an annual increase of only five dollars. For fishing the increase is from $9 to $15, a six-dollar increase.

Other fees increased, also. One, the Hunter Information Permit, required of all hunting migratory birds like ducks and doves, was free in the past. You also had to buy a Waterfowl license if you hunted ducks or geese. That has been changed to a Migratory Bird License with a fee of five dollars, required of waterfowl and dove hunters.

The old Waterfowl license was $5.50 so, for duck hunters, that is a decrease, but it is a new fee for dove hunters. Landowners can get the license free for hunting on their land.

One of the biggest changes was the elimination of the free Senior Hunting and Fishing License. In the past, any Georgia resident 65 years old or older could get the license for free. It will now cost $7 for anyone who does not already have one on July 1. Lifetime license fees are increasing by quite a bit, too.

In addition to these fees you have to pay a service fee for getting the license, whether you do it yourself online or go to a store like Berry’s. By the way, don’t blame the folks at Berry’s or any other license supplier for the increase in fees – they have no control over it.

The increased fees collected are supposed to go to improving hunting and fishing opportunities and management in our state. If it really does go to those needs, it will be great. If the legislature dumps the money into the general fund and spends part of it on other things, they should be held accountable at election time.

One thing I long had a problem with in our system is the fee for hunters and fishermen using Wildlife Management Areas. The fee is not what bothered me. The fact hikers, bird watchers, horse and bike riders and others could use what hunters and fishermen paid for and they were not charged a fee. Everyone using the resource should be charged.

That changed five years ago. Now, anyone using a WMA for anything other than hunting or fishing is required to pay for a Georgia Outdoor Recreational Pass. Hunters and fishermen with a Wildlife Management License can use the areas any time.

Even more irritating, every year some of those non-paying users often complained when hunting season starts. They claimed they could not use those areas during hunting season. As my younger friends say, DUH. Hunters and fishermen paid for those areas from the beginning, not just over the past five years, so shut your mouth.

Hunting is allowed on most areas only during a small part of the year. The great majority of days are open to anyone. But if you want to use the areas during hunting season, take up hunting!

The lakes were wild last weekend. Memorial Day is the traditional start of boating season nationwide. The waters will be very crowded over the next few months. If you don’t remember anything else about driving a boat, remember that you stay to the right of oncoming traffic, just like in a car!

What Is High School Fishing Conservation?

Something Fishy Is Going On Petaluma
What did high school mean to you when you were a kid?
James A. Swan, Ph.D.
from the Fishing Wire

School is reading, writing, and arithmetic packaged to teach kids how to pass tests, so they can get good grades and go to college and get jobs. School work used to be paper and pencil. Now it’s electronic on computers, but the basic principles and abstract concepts are still there and most have very little practical value.

How and what we force kids to learn is a weakness in our educational system, for as Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner has shown, there are at least nine different kinds of intelligence including naturist intelligence which includes being able to appreciate nature, and recognize the difference between different kinds of animals, birds, plants, fish and stones.

We must educate kids about environmental conservation, not just giving kids facts, but getting kids outdoors as much as possible including, if possible, getting their hands dirty and maybe even bloody growing and harvesting some of their own food. This concept is catching on and Casa Grande High School in Petaluma, California, which is located at the north end of San Francisco Bay, is an example of what is possible who you bring fish into the classroom. High school fishing conservation is important.

Back in 1983 Tom Furrer, a biology teacher at Casa Grande High School, took his students on a walk along Adobe Creek that’s near the school. He told them in the old days salmon spawned there and showed them some pictures. The students volunteered to clean up the creek. They started by removing over 25 tons of trash. The following year a few spawning salmon did make it into Adobe Creek.

That inspired the kids to set a goal of raising $6,000 to convert an abandoned campus green house into a student-run fish hatchery with two 2×6 troughs. They began a campaign of car washes, cake sales, raffles, lawn mowing, and fund-raising dinners. The California Department of Fish and Game chipped in at least $50,000, and the community contributed materials, construction services, and manpower as well as dollars. In six years the United Anglers of Casa Grande raised over $510,000.

April 25, 1993, the United Anglers of Casa Grande High School opened the doors of their state-of-the-art, on-campus fish hatchery – one of 3 nationally with a federal permit – to raise endangered fall run Chinook salmon.

In the following decade the United Anglers of Casa Grande raised and released over 300,000 Chinook salmon and the entire seven miles of Adobe Creek have been restored.

In 2003, a Jr. United Angler program began to enable high school students to teach the younger generation about what they are doing in the community. The Juniors program allows the younger grades to also raise fish in their classrooms. At the end of the year, High School and Junior students release some of their fish together.

Tom Furrer retired in 2011. His place has been taken by Dan Hubacker, a former UACGHS student, who went off to college, got a teaching degree, came back and became a teacher.

Hubacker says, “The students have been averaging gathering between 20,000 and 40,000 Fall Run Chinook Salmon eggs a year, collected from either returning adult Fall Run Chinook Salmon in the Petaluma watershed, or they’re provided by Feather River Fish Hatchery out of Orville, which is managed by one of the United Anglers Alumni who we work closely with.”

Recognizing the kids progress, two years ago National Marine Fisheries said that they could use some help with research on Chinook salmon in the Petaluma River. So, the kids have learned to use electrofishing to collect tissue samples and tag fish, and then during the summer months, they count juveniles in pools in the river, and in drought years they may catch young fish and take them to the hatchery to raise them until they are ready for release into the Bay.

Hubacker says “We are currently tagging our Chinook Salmon with a Coded Wire Tag. This program allows our students to work side by side with professionals in this field. Students tag about 20,000 Chinook salmon fingerlings each year. These coded wire tags are placed into the cartilage in the snout of the fish and have a corresponding code with our site. The fish’s adipose fin is removed to identify those that are tags with the hopes that if they get caught when returning the commercial fisherman or angler will notify DFG so we can get some accurate stats of what is happening to our fish.”

Hubacker says, “One year we had a large group of adult Chinook Salmon come up Adobe Creek. This species is usually found in the main branches of the Petaluma River. On two separate occasions a Chum Salmon has been captured by the students.”

National Marine Fisheries was so impressed that they also said they would like Casa Grande to switch from raising fall run Chinook salmon to helping the Dry Creek Hatchery in Sonoma County, which is run by US Army Corps of Engineers, restore the Russian River steelhead run. Casa Grande High currently is raising 20,000 Russian River Steelhead trout in collaboration with the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Do your kids really want to go school? There is intense competition to join the United Anglers elective class. To qualify, applicants must ace a written test and demonstrate an abundant concern for the environment. If they get accepted there definitely are payoffs.

Recently the University of California College System has approved Casa Grande High classes running the hatchery as being qualified to count for college admission credit. This is the only school program in California of its kind. According to Hubacker,

“A UC approved course means that the curriculum has been reviewed by the UC system and determined that this prepares students for entry level college lab sciences. In order for a student to be eligible for going to any State or UC they have to complete a minimum of 2 years if not 3 years of a lab science. Students would typically have the option of Biology, Physics and Chemistry or an Advance Placement course. With this advancement the hatchery classes become a class and our enrollment has doubled.”

And, if kids don’t want to go directly to college, the two-year hands-on program Casa Grande offers is also considered a Career Tech. Ed. class where on graduation kids are ready to go and work for hatcheries and as research assistants.

Nation-wide, there are growing number of schools who raise fish in classrooms and release them into the wild. Michigan’s Salmon In The Classroom has 35 participating schools —,1607,7-153-10369_50075—,00.html Atlantic Salmon in East Coast Schools has over 100 schools involved — And a number of schools in Canada who are raising and releasing salmon. Similar classroom fish hatchery programs in other states include tilapia, perch, trout and paddlefish. The Casa Grande program sets the bar for what is possible.

The annual cost to run the Case Grade program was about $50,000 a year, but that has more than doubled to $130,000 due to new assignments. The prime sponsor is the annual USCG Pasta Feed, which has become the largest fundraiser in Petaluma, but donations are always welcome.

If you are interested in a tour or would like to receive more information regarding the United Anglers of Casa Grande High School, please call or write: United Anglers of Casa Grande High School, 333 Casa Grande Road, Petaluma, CA 94954. (707) 778-4703 (707) 778-4703,

Going with the Flow

Going with the Flow: Power and Passage
By Bill McDavitt, Habitat Conservation Division, NOAA
from The Fishing Wire

If you’re a fish returning from the ocean to lay your eggs in fresh water, you face some daunting challenges. You have to escape hungry predators in the ocean and in the river. You have to avoid fishing lines and nets. In the many rivers, you have to find your way past dams, up fish ladders, and through culverts. And you have to find just the right kind of river bottom for laying your eggs.

One of the many obstacles you might run into is a hydropower dam. These dams are built across rivers to harness the power of the moving water. Part of my job as a habitat biologist is to make sure that fish are able to get where they need to go to lay their eggs so that there will be more fish for the future. That often means making sure there’s enough water in the rivers. To do that, I work with hydropower companies on something called “minimum flows.”

Hydropower 101

All hydropower projects have a choice to make about the water that arrives at the dam. Do they put all the water through a powerhouse to generate electricity? Or, do they let some of that water spill over the dam? Some facilities also have a power canal—it diverts the river into a canal that goes into the powerhouse. These can increase the amount of electricity the facility generates because the difference in water levels above the powerhouse and below the powerhouse are higher than if the powerhouse was located right at the dam. All hydropower dams have a bypass reach. Bypass reaches allow water that isn’t going through the powerhouse to go around it. Bypass reaches provide safe passage around the dam for migrating fish.

Flows High and Low

The two pictures to the right are the same location on the Merrimack River, but taken at different times. You can see the power canal that feeds water to the powerhouse on the left sides. The bypass reach is to the right of the narrower power canal. Water is flowing from the top of the photo to the bottom.

When flows are high, everyone is happy!

The top photo was taken in the spring, when flows were very high. There is plenty of water going down the power canal. The powerhouse is receiving as much water as it can, and is near its maximum generation ability. The whitewater at the top of the photo is spilling over the dam and isn’t used to generate electricity. The spilled water is flowing down the bypass reach. There is good habitat for migratory fish, such as alewife and American shad, in this bypass reach. When there is plenty of water in the bypass reach, there is plenty of room for fish such as alewife, blueback herring and American to move upstream to reach their spawning habitat that is upstream of the hydropower project.

When flows are low, fish habitat shrinks.

The lower photo was taken during the late summer when flows can be very low. Water is still in the power canal, but very little is spilling over the dam—not much room for fish in the bypass reach.

Working Collaboratively

By working with the hydropower companies and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, we figure out what the minimum flow should be for the fish that live in these rivers. That minimum flow is then required as a permit condition to operate the dam. Even when water is low, the facility has to keep a minimum amount of water flowing through the bypass reach.

Why Does It Matter?

In the state of Maine alone, sea-run fish—those that go back and forth from river to sea—have lost access to a staggering 90 percent of their historic habitat. Populations have declined dramatically, and some species, like Atlantic salmon, Atlantic sturgeon, and shortnose sturgeon, are endangered.

Access to river habitat for these fish, as well as American shad, alewife, sea lamprey, striped bass, rainbow smelt, blueback herring, and brook trout, is an important part of healthy freshwater and nearshore marine ecosystems. These fish have supported recreational and commercial fisheries in the past. They also are favorite prey of fish like cod, haddock, and striped bass.

Making sure that fish have enough water to swim, feed, and reproduce in will help restore some of these populations to their former healthy sizes. This will, in turn, help bring back other fish populations and feed marine and land mammals, too. For those that enjoy recreational fishing for these fish, it can also increase the chances of catching one.

Why Should I Join Ducks Unlimited?

Are you a duck hunter? Do you like standing in freezing water before daylight hoping to get two or three shots just as it gets legal shooting light? Are you addicted to the thrill of duck hunting?

Or are you an environmentalists, not really interested in hunting but really concerned about conserving our natural environment? Do you want our wetlands kept wild and conserved for the future? Are you rational enough to know our environment can be used while keeping it, which is conservation, rather than totally left alone with no human use like a fanatical preservationist demands?

If you can answer yes to any of those questions you should join Ducks Unlimited.

Ducks, Unlimited (DU) was started in 1937 and currently has about 600,000 adult members in the US, with over 125,000 more in Canada and Mexico. And there are about 47,000 youth members in the US. There are a lot of people interested in conservation and hunting in North America!

The DU mission tells you what the organization does. It says: “Ducks Unlimited conserves, restores, and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people.“

As of the beginning of this year Du had conserved almost 14 million acres in North America, with projects that affected another 118 million acres. Conserved acres mean land dedicated to wildlife while affected acres may be an area with a project that does not dedicate the total area to duck habitat but improves it.

The most important factor of any organization is the percent of funds raised that actually go to their cause. With DU it is an admirable 87 percent. Only 13 percent of all money they get is used for administration, human resources, fund raising and development. That is better than many other conservation organizations.

DU does not think duck hunting is only for private land owners. Here in Georgia their efforts have helped improve duck hunting in 16 WMAs and other areas open to public hunting. These areas are spread out over the state so most Georgia hunters have easy access to one.

Some of the ones closest to us here in Griffin include Rum Creek, where a perimeter dyke and water control structures that improve 25 acres there. Also, at West Point WMA, Glovers Creek, 90 acres of land were improved through replacement of an old water control structure that gave better use of water on the project.

And on Blanton Creek WMA on Bartletts Ferry Lake, two water controls structures were installed to conserve 50 acres. Water controls structures like these two and others are sometimes as simple as a valve or gate on a dam that allows an area to be drained so grain can be planted then flooded to enhance it for ducks when the grain is mature.

On some areas these devices use natural flow of water but on Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge there are big diesel pumps that drain huge fields each spring so they can be planted, then they are flooded in the fall when the grain is mature.

All wildlife, from deer and raccoons to quail and rabbits, benefit from the habitat improvements of DU. And nongame wildlife benefits, too. All kinds of bird species use the same habitat as ducks. Like bluebirds and cardinals? They definitely benefit from the things DU does.

The ways DU conserves includes: Restoring grasslands since many kinds of ducks nest in grasslands near wetlands and restoring them improves survival of young ducks, replanting forests because flooded bottomland forest give ideal wintering habitat for ducks, and restoring watersheds since the land around wetlands have a big effect in everything from nutrients to contaminants on the wetland.

Other areas of conservation include: working with landowners since nearly three fourths of wetlands are in private ownership and most of those private owners are willing to manage them for wildlife, working with partners from other conservation organizations to government agencies, and outright acquiring land to dedicate to conservation, usually by getting it in government agencies control.

Conservation easements protect land from future development, management agreements give financial incentives to private land owners to improve conservation and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) enables DU to find where habitat work will be most effective. GIS includes combining satellite images with other information like wetland inventories, land use, soil type, wildlife use and other information to give a complete picture.

If you are a duck hunter DU can help you with everything from information on waterfowl migration patterns to identifying different species of ducks. The can help you learn the best decoy setups and how to train your retriever. You can even get shooting tips so you hit more of your targets and calling tips so you get more targets to try to hit.

Check out their web site for more information at and consider joining DU to help conservation of all kinds. Its not just for the birds!

Tracking Movements of Permit and Tarpon

Focusing the lens: tracking movements of permit and tarpon in the Keys and beyond
from The Fishing Wire

This tarpon and permit tagging project overview is the kickoff of a collaboration between Dr. Andy Danylchuk, Fish Mission, and Moldy Chum.

The research on this ambitious project includes Dr. Danylchuk, along with Lucas Griffin and Dr. Jack Finn (UMass Amherst), Dr. Jake Brownscombe and Dr. Steven Cooke (Carleton University), and Dr. Aaron Adams (BTT).

The Big Three

The ‘Big Three’ flats fish – bonefish, permit, and tarpon – support exciting and productive recreational fisheries throughout the Western Atlantic, Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, these fish are not immune to, as Sandy Moret once put it, the “weight of humanity”. Although predominately catch-and-release species, all of the ‘Big Three’ have suffered from overexploitation and disturbances related to coastal development. To manage and conserve these fish, it is critical that we understand how they make a living, what constitutes their essential habitats, and when and how they move – something scientists call their ‘spatial ecology’.

For bonefish, numerous scientific studies are completed or ongoing focusing on their movements and habitat use in The Bahamas. For example, a study published in 2011 identified an offshore spawning location for bonefish in Eleuthera. This type of information is essential for protecting key habitats for bonefish, for example, from the development of shipping channels or ports. In Florida, however, we still have much to learn about the spatial ecology of the Big Three – ironically, the putative birthplace of flats fishing. Although we have our own observations and anecdotes, information on the essential fish habitat for permit and tarpon is especially scarce.


While often targeting by anglers on the flats, conventional wisdom suggests permit spend the majority of their time in deeper water around natural and artificial reefs and shipwrecks, which are also essential spawning habitats. It is here, in deeper waters, where anglers and spear-fishers more commonly target them for harvest, often around their spawning aggregations when they are most vulnerable. Unfortunately, recent reports from guides and anglers suggest their numbers are declining. A Special Permit Zone was recently established around the Florida Keys including nearshore reefs and shipwrecks, which places greater restrictions on permit harvest, yet it does not prohibit it. Because we know so little about permit movements and population dynamics, it is uncertain whether the current regulations will conserve permit populations and support productive fisheries. In particular, it is unclear what proportion of the population migrates into shallow water flats to feed which in turn supports the flats fishery, and how frequent permit move between flats habitats and nearshore structures.


Although tarpon, like permit, are targeted between the flats and deeper waters, their complex movements between the two have left many guides and anglers ruminating at night: Just how much do fish move between various regions of the Gulf of Mexico and Western Atlantic? What proportion of tarpon are ‘residents’? Is there a certain size when tarpon begin to migrate, or is it some other trigger? Do tarpon use the same spawning sites each year? Do changes in freshwater flows into coastal areas, including the Florida Everglades, Apalachicola, St. Lucie River, Caloosahatchee River, and Indian River Lagoon, influence tarpon movements and determine the movement patterns and habitat use of tarpon? A few of these questions tried to be answered with satellite tags, but there are considerable limitations to this technology that limited insights into the spatial ecology of the silver king.

The Research

To answer some of these pressing questions, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, in collaboration with Carleton University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Florida International University, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, are conducting acoustic telemetry studies to track permit and tarpon movements throughout the flats, nearshore reefs, shipwrecks, and coastal waters across the Gulf of Mexico and Western Atlantic. These projects involve surgically implanting ultrasonic transmitters into fish and tracking their positions using receivers (listening stations) throughout the Florida Keys and beyond. Along with BTT sponsored receivers, other scientists and research institutions have invested in identical receivers along the continental US coast, and this larger network of receivers greatly increases the ability to detect tagged permit and tarpon as they cruise coastal waters well beyond the Florida Keys.

These studies will enable us to understand the extent of permit and tarpon home ranges, the frequency with which they visit the flats and deeper waters, and the timing and locations of their spawning activity. With the collaborative help from anglers, guides, and scientists, the information gathered from these studies will be critical for the proper conservation of these two important members of the Florida Grand Slam.


Photo: Fish Mission/Andy Danylchuk
These integrated projects would not be possible without the generosity and expertise of local guides. Many thanks to all the great Captains including Will Benson, Brandon and Jared Cyr, Danny Flynn, Travis and Bear Holeman, Sandy Horn, Rob Kramarz, Jordan Pate, Zach Stells, Jason Sullivan, J.R. Waits, and Newman Weaver, to name just a few. Additional support for these projects comes from Costa Del Mar, The March Merkin Permit Fishing Tournament, Hell’s Bay Boatworks, Mavericks Boats, Cabin Bluff as well as from private donations. Donors may sponsor individual tags or receivers, and in return receive information on their tagged permit or tarpon, as well as updates on its movements over time.

If you are interested in supporting these projects, please click on the following links.

For Permit

For Tarpon
You can also contact Mark Rehbein, BTT Director of Development and Communications at 703-350-9195 or

Written by Dr. Jake Brownscombe (Carleton University), Lucas Griffin (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and Dr. Andy Danylchuk (University of Massachusetts Amherst).

See more like this at

Gila Trout

Gila Trout Swim Mineral Creek
Devastating fire cleared path for rare trout’s return

Craig Springer, USFWS
from The Fishing Wire

Wear and tear on boot soles and a helicopter—that’s what it took to get 1,033 Gila trout safely placed in the remote headwaters of Mineral Creek, well inside the Gila National Forest of southwestern New Mexico.

On November 18, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) working with its partner agencies, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the U.S. Forest Service, released two age classes of Gila trout into Mineral Creek ranging up to a foot long. The rare yellow trout were spawned, hatched and raised in captivity in 2015 and 2016 at the Service’s Mora National Fish Hatchery. Hatchery fish are carefully paired and spawned to maximize genetic diversity of offspring which provides a safeguard for their survival in the wild. The captive fish also purposely face rigorous swimming conditions in the hatchery to further ensure their fitness when released.

These 1,033 trout traveled by truck eight hours to meet a helicopter at the Gila National Forest’s Glenwood Ranger Station. The aircraft made multiple flights carrying an aerated tank at the end of a long-line, each time full of Gila trout. Biologists from the three agencies had hiked in several miles in the rugged country to meet the trout and place them in the cool, shaded runs and pools of Mineral Creek.

Mineral Creek is tributary to the San Francisco River near Alma, New Mexico. Streams in this watershed harbor one of five known relict genetic lineages of Gila trout. The species lives only in New Mexico and Arizona along the Mogollon Rim, an area of conservation emphasis for the Service. This release is a large step forward in conserving Gila trout, noted Andy Dean, lead Gila trout biologist with the Service’s New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, based in Albuquerque. “This repatriation into Mineral Creek adds another stream to harbor Gila trout, as outlined as a necessity in the Gila Trout Recovery Plan,” said Dean. “Not only does this add a population within the San Francisco River drainage, it also helps establish Gila trout populations across a larger geographical area. More Gila trout over a larger area adds greater security to this rare fish.”

That desired security will be achieved when the Mineral Creek population is naturally reproducing, and multiple year classes swim its waters, perhaps in 2018.

Mineral Creek came to the attention of biologists as a candidate stream to receive Gila trout following the massive Whitewater-Baldy Fire of 2012. Destructive as it was, the forest fire made Mineral Creek suitable for Gila trout. The fire burned in the headlands of the stream and summer rains washed a slurry of ash and debris down its course, removing unwanted competing non-native fishes. Though the mountain slopes and streamside vegetation are not fully stabilized post-fire, sufficient habitat exists to harbor Gila trout in Mineral Creek. With so few suitable streams available to repatriate Gila trout, biologists seized the opportunity.

Mineral Creek Canyon is steep to be sure. It’s certainly among the more remote and more difficult Gila trout habitats to reach, but it’s not the only stream to receive Gila trout from Mora National Fish Hatchery this autumn. Another 8,621 Gila trout have been placed in several other waters that advance the species’ recovery and should entice anglers to go after native trout in native habitats of southwest New Mexico.

Willow Creek received 3,039 Gila trout; Gilita Creek, 1,022; Sapillo Creek, 2,270; and West Fork Gila River, 2,290. These waters are readily accessible and won’t require shedding lots of boot tread to reach them as is the case with Mineral Creek. These trout—shards of sunshine—lie in dark water behind boulders and in the scour pools beneath log jams, waiting for bugs to come drifting by. They also wait for what anglers may throw their way. Anglers should visit the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish website to learn more about fishing regulations, which requires a free Gila trout permit.

The Gila trout is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The species was listed as endangered in 1973, and through conservation measures it was downlisted to threatened in 2006. A year later select Gila trout populations were opened to angling for the first time in 50 years.

To learn more visit

Craig Springer, External Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Southwest Region

Slot Limit Restrictions on the Chesapeake Bay

Will Slot Limit Restrictions on the Chesapeake Bay Bass change tournaments?
from The Fishing Wire

Maryland DNR’s Response to Comments Submitted Specific to Possession Slot Limit Restrictions on the Chesapeake Bay for Black Bass Tournaments in 2016
Editor’s Note: Tournament anglers in Maryland and Virginia are concerned with new slot limits put in place by Maryland DNR recently that they say will make it impossible to hold tournaments under existing rules in the popular estuarine waters of the Potomac River and upper Chesapeake Bay. Here’s a look at Maryland’s position on the issue:

The Department has taken numerous recent actions to improve black bass fisheries in Potomac River by addressing pollution, instituting stocking, enhancing habitat, and providing handling tips to all anglers who target black bass in Maryland. In addition to these actions, the Department has also implemented a new condition on tournament permits in order to help reduce fishing mortality and reduce stockpiling of large fish. This is the first river wide action to affect possession of tidewater black bass in 25 years. In today’s fishery, possession is largely associated with black bass tournaments and while their anglers are conservation stewards, any change in possession limit will affect primarily them. This action related to possession was taken as an emergency measure to address population problems that have been evidenced by both agency surveys and angler reports. It is the Department’s responsibility to act and, using every tool possible, respond to the population issue.

The Department sent a memo that outlines new possession restriction for tournaments. For tournaments held from June 16 to October 31 at Maryland weigh-in locations on Potomac River or Upper Chesapeake Bay (Susquehanna, Northeast, Elk, Susquehanna flats), participating anglers are limited to a 12 inch minimum size and a possession limit of 5 bass (largemouth and smallmouth combined), only one of which may be 15 inches or greater (per angler, per day). Therefore, an angler can weigh-in 5 fish over 12″ to UNDER 15″ and only 1 of those may be 15″ AND BIGGER (from tip of snout to tip of tail).

The Department received many comments since sending out the memo with justification regarding this possession change. The Department appreciates the input and has made modifications to the original possession restriction. Tournament directors will now be provided two options or choices when applying for a permit for tournaments held in Maryland on Potomac River or Upper Chesapeake Bay from June 16 through October 31. Both options are designed to reduce fishing mortality and reduce stockpiling of large fish. Option 1 requires the tournament director/participants to adhere to the slot limit permit condition. Option 2 requires directors to adhere to special conditions that minimize fish stress, thereby reducing fishing mortality. These special conditions have been modeled after those used in Florida bass fisheries. Option 2 allows directors/participants to adhere to statewide regulations during this time period (minimum 12″ size, 5 fish creel).

The following is a summary of the major comments/input we have received, including a response from the Department

1. Some clubs stated they will honor the new rule, several find it biologically meaningful and similar to existing strategies in Florida, Minnesota, and Texas. Some tournament directors that already have tournament permits issued for tournaments between June 16 through October 31 agreed to implement the new permit condition restriction voluntarily.

2. Maryland’s businesses will be adversely impacted when large tournaments (FLW, BASS, etc.) pull out of Maryland and smaller tournaments depend on anglers who *want* to catch big bass. A restriction of one large fish greater than 15″ does not preclude tournament activity in Maryland waters. Tournaments are held in water of other states with a minimum and maximum size for possession (e.g. Fayette County Lake TX; statewide FL; several lakes, MN; Lake Casitas, CA). Other types of tournaments (Fishing League Worldwide, iAngler tournaments) are also possible and nationally popular. The FLW and BASS are scheduled to be held in Maryland in 2016.

3. The restriction will harm tourism and tournament businesses. The Department is concerned that there is already declining tournament activity in the Potomac River in response to the declining bass population (see Figures 1 and 2). In addition, reported catch in 2015 averaged among tournaments declined from 3 bass/angler to 2 bass/angler, impacting the angling experience. The bass population decline may have already had a negative impact on tourism and tournament businesses. The current Departmental actions were taken to help speed the recovery of this fishery to lessen a long-term negative impact on tourism and tournament businesses.

4. On the Potomac River, tournaments will move to Virginia, which will hurt the population of bass in Maryland and possibly cause greater death of fish released at the major weigh-in location in Virginia. Maryland has made significant investments into Smallwood State Park to make it a desirable location to conduct bass tournaments. The Department hopes that these improvements will continue to be utilized. In the future a river-wide regulation may be one way to address this concern; it would affect anglers from Virginia fishing in Maryland. But the time constraints of a regulation did not make that possible for this year. The Department will work with our partners in Virginia to discuss tournament concerns. However, the population cannot wait for consensus among the jurisdictions. If needed, Maryland will lead the conservation efforts for this important resource.

This past February, biologists from Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. presented evidence of declining bass populations, though there was not consensus on the explanation for the decline. The Department is leading conservation efforts along with its stakeholders (tournament directors, guides, anglers) to take actions against pollution, stock fish, enhance habitat, control invasive species, monitor disease in bass, and speed recovery of the fishery. The Department’s current options for tournament directors, which were created based on considerable stakeholder feedback, should encourage tournament anglers to remain in Maryland and work with the Department in continuing their conservation efforts to speed recovery of the fishery.

5. Why are you picking on tournaments and not applying rule changes to the entire fishery? Immediate Departmental action was necessary given the current status of the fishery. Implementing changes for the overall fishery will require regulation and would not be in place in 2016. However, various options will be considered for 2017 which could affect all users groups and the entire fishery.

The current action, which was one of many considered, affected possession. Possession is largely associated with many styles of tournament fishing. Most recreational anglers catch and immediately release bass that are captured. Some tournaments in Maryland have catch and immediate release formats (e.g., paper fish tournament rules), which does not cause the additional handling stress that can be associated with possession or lead to stockpiling. Most tournaments catch the bass, temporarily hold them in live wells or tanks, take them to weigh-in and then release the fish. Studies conducted by the Department indicate that total bass mortality following tournaments conducted in late June or July can range between 19% – 25% of total catch. Other studies indicate that post-release mortality during summer may reach 34% of total catch. Heavy bass tend to die more than smaller bass during tournaments. An analysis of length data for dead fish collected during Potomac River tournaments during the 12-inch season indicated that 70% of the fish were 15-inches or larger. This fact was the scientific justification for the implementation of the permit condition (12″ minimum, 5 fish creel, only one fish 15″ or bigger).

This new possession restriction was designed to bring fewer big fish to weigh-in and to reduce overall fishing mortality in a fishery where Largemouth Bass Virus and pollution additionally stress health of fish. The Department has long recognized that many tournament organizations implement a host of best practices that maximize fish care, thereby reducing fishing mortality. Recognition of this fact has led to the modification of the Department’s original decision. Tournament organizations that implement a variety of best practices that were obtained from Florida’s bass fisheries management style, can fish under Maryland’s existing statewide regulations. Fisheries staff will be attending these tournaments to ensure fish care and compliance with best practices.

6. There will be a shift in fishing pressure to spring. The Department will be able to monitor if there is a shift in tournament activity to the spring through our tournament permitting process. We will also be evaluating whether tournament fishing pressure is redirected to systems other than the Potomac River and Upper Chesapeake Bay. In the coming months, the Department will evaluate management actions, with public scoping that could be implemented in 2017 to improve the fishery. This may apply to the spring season and to all bass anglers.

7. What is the justification for this restriction applied to the Upper Chesapeake Bay (Upper Bay) fishery? The trend in the Upper Chesapeake Bay fishery is also a cause for concern (see Figure 3). Recent catch has been 2 years below the Management Plan Reference Line, possibly because of poorer than usual reproduction in 2012 and 2013. Figures 1 and 2 indicate increasing tournament pressure in the Upper Bay, which may partially be a result of tournaments shifting pressure from Potomac River to the Upper Bay. The Department is concerned that more tournaments could move to the Upper Bay if restrictions are not consistent in the Upper Bay and Potomac River. In addition, there is a higher prevalence of Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV) in the Upper Bay as compared to the Potomac River. The LMBV-infected fish held under stressful conditions, such as live-wells during the summer, have a higher level of post release mortality. Considering the declining trend in the Upper Bay, proactive approaches to protection are needed.

8. This restriction is only on tournaments, so recreational anglers can catch and kill up to 5 big fish. Based on creel surveys, approximately 1% -5% of anglers catch and keep bass for personal use. Therefore, the harvest of largemouth bass is extremely low. However, regulations may be enacted in 2017 that would affect all user groups.

9. This stipulation will cause greater culling and handling of large fish. Culling occurs during tournament events. Participants work to maximize weight within the possession limits that exist. While we understand that tournament anglers will cull big fish, the big fish that are culled are going back in the river and not in the live well.

10. Why weren’t we given the opportunity for public comment on this rule? The Department requested recommendations from the Black Bass Roundtable in February; however there was not consensus on what actions regarding possession restrictions should move forward. The Department committed to taking additional management action in 2016 and considered several other potential actions. Fisheries staff met in late February to consider a suite of management actions and scientific data to address the decline in the fishery. The options considered included: significant reductions in creel limits, increasing minimum size limits, no permits issued in July and August due to thermal concerns, a closed spring season, and/or catch and immediate release spring season.

The Department decided to take an action that restricted possession and was biologically meaningful. In order to take an action in 2016, it was necessary to add a permit stipulation/condition. The Department is authorized to add such stipulations, but does not take that authority liberally. Since the implementation of the permitting system in 2012, this is the first time that a stipulation was added to permits to restrict possession.

The option for a slot limit does not affect tournament opportunities like the other actions considered by the Department. It limits movement of big fish to release sites, reduces physiological stress on big fish in live wells, and is scientifically defensible as a measure to speed recovery of a stressed population. Of the options considered it was seen as the least problematic for tournaments. Tournament regulations require the Department to respond to an application within 15-30 days. Therefore, the Department had a very short timeframe to make a decision and implement it in the tournament permits. In hindsight, the Department should have notified constituents regarding all actions being considered immediately to allow for feedback. The window for feedback would have been very short, but meaningful. The Department will be increasing the frequency of bass stakeholder group meetings within a year and all stakeholders are encouraged to participate. An improved stakeholder process would help address this issue in the future.

11. This stipulation makes it more difficult to win a tournament based on skill rather than luck. Competition standards in the tournament are the same among anglers, and anglers can compete in a big fish competition. Alternatively, directors could exclude any big fish in the competition and facilitate a tighter competition among bag weights. Having fewer big fish in a bag may tighten the margin between bag weights and tournament directors are certainly allowed to exclude big fish from bag weights if they believe it will influence the competition too much.

In some cases, anglers may consider it luck that a big fish is caught, which could win the tournament. Others may consider it skill. Currently, anglers may also consider it either luck or skill when one or more big fish are caught to win a tournament. Winning lunker competitions or big bag could depend on both luck and skill, but enjoyment depends on the strength of the fishery. The restriction is meant to help strengthen the fishery. Concerns expressed by this comment could be eliminated if a tournament directors choose Option 2 when obtaining a permit and commit to implementing a suite of standardized best practices that maximize fish care.

Does Stocking Largemouth Bass Help?

Arkansas Study Looking at Stocking Contribution of Advanced Fingerling Largemouths

HOT SPRINGS – Fisheries biologists with Arkansas Game and Fish Commission are always interested in evaluating how stocking programs are working in the many waterways of The Natural State, all while working to get the agency, the resource, and the people of Arkansas a good return on its investment.

One way AGFC hatcheries are improving both largemouth and Florida bass production is by rearing advanced fingerlings to stock in area lakes. In the past, hatchery staff have reared bass to fingerling size, about 1½ to 2 inches, and released them in lakes in AGFC’s stocking program. Hatchery staff have been researching and evaluating different techniques to rear bass to approximately 4 inches for a pilot study. When these advanced fingerlings reach about 4 inches, they are branded with liquid nitrogen to create an identifiable mark and then taken to study lakes as part of an ongoing research project with the AGFC Black Bass Program.

Dennis Fendley, hatchery biologist at AGFC’s Andrew Hulsey Fish Hatchery, said “When a bass reaches approximately 2 inches in length, its diet shifts from eating insects to feeding on fish, and that often means dining on their smaller cohort. In a production setting this increased cannibalism leads to a reduction in numbers of fish available for stocking. This is the same trend seen with walleyes, stripers and other predatory fish.”

A pilot study for rearing 4-inch advanced fingerlings is underway for largemouth and Florida bass at multiple AGFC fish culture facilities. At these culture facilities hatchery staff are evaluating how different feeding regimes and food sources affect the growth rate of bass fingerlings. With the assistance of the hatchery staff working to increase the size of stocked bass biologists hope to increase the survival rate of stocked fish against bigger bass and other predators within the system. A larger fish, in theory, has a better chance of survival.

According to Colton Dennis, AGFC Black Bass Program coordinator, “When you stock bass fingerlings that are 1-2 inches long, a 15 percent survival rate is considered a success. One question we are trying to answer is, ‘can a better survival rate be obtained by stocking fewer but larger bass?’ The biologists also have to determine if the value of the stocking contribution outweighs the cost of rearing a larger fingerling.”

Fendley says it’s not just a matter of food.

“It costs more to feed advanced fingerlings, and it takes more pond space that could be used for more production of smaller fingerlings so there is a trade-off.” Fendley stated “The hatchery can rear larger fingerlings to meet the needs, but you can potentially only rear 80,000 to 100,000 advanced 4-inch fingerlings in the acres where a million 2-inch fingerlings were reared, increase quality but decrease quantity.”

Jeff Buckingham, AGFC Black Bass Program biologist, has designed a pilot study for the program to evaluate the stocking contribution of the stocked branded fish in selected study lakes.

“Biologists will start sampling the study lakes approximately one month after stocking,” Buckingham said. “Bass will be collected and examined for the identifying brand, add an additional identifying mark, and then release them back into the lake. The additional identification mark will serve to identify fish that have already been collected at least once during sampling to avoid those fish being counted more than once in the study. Sampling will continue until the spring approximately every 30 days to search for branded fish in the study lakes.

“During sampling if we collect and release 100 bass from a study lake and 10 have a brand then that’s a 10 percent survival rate. If it’s 20 fish? That’s even better,” Buckingham said. “The overall goal is to provide a bigger bang for our buck for both the resource and the people of Arkansas.

Sampling data of the study lakes stocked with the 4-inch advanced fingerlings will also be shared with AGFC fisheries pathologist. Ongoing genetic testing of bass fin clips will provide agency staff a better evaluation of the success rate of Florida bass stockings and how Florida bass coexist with native largemouth bass in Arkansas lakes such as Millwood, DeGray, Ouachita, Columbia, Chicot, Atkins and SWEPCO. Dennis says there are a lot of moving parts in the pilot study, and will take a combined effort of hatchery staff and field biologists to pull it off.

“We are evaluating a lot of different strategies with our bass right now,” Dennis said. “Everything from how we rear bass on our hatcheries, to the effectiveness of our stocking programs, and evaluating a couple of different things on stocked fish once they get recruited into a lake.”

The branded advanced fingerlings are being stocked in different study lakes around the state. Branded Largemouth Bass in the study are being stocked into Lake Frierson and Craighead Forest Lake, while branded Florida Bass are being stocked into Gurdon Lake and Dr. Lester Sitzes III Bois D’Arc Lake.

Alabama Adds to Vast Artificial Reef Zone

Alabama Adds to Vast Artificial Reef Zone
By David Rainer
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
from The Fishing Wire

Another artificial reef was deployed off the Alabama Gulf Coast this week in Alabama’s vast artificial reef zone. While a reef deployment may not seem like news, this was indeed special because it could change the way industrial and corporate entities view options for recycling materials.

(Billy Pope, aerial courtesy of Alabama Power) A 195-foot barge loaded with two 100-ton boilers from Alabama Power Company plants in Washington and Mobile counties became the latest artificial reef to be deployed off the Alabama Gulf Coast last week about 25 miles south of the Sand Island Lighthouse.
The new reef deployment was the result of a multitude of partners. Alabama Power Company provided a pair of boilers that had been taken out of service from plants in Washington and Mobile counties. Cooper/T. Smith provided a barge and transportation of the reef material. Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) and the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) worked as liaisons to start the process and complete the deployment.

“One thing I’m so excited about with this Alabama Power reef project is that it just shows that the more we’re involved with the community, community leaders and business leaders, there are a lot of great things we can do as partners,” said Marine Resources Director Chris Blankenship. “Tim Gothard with the Alabama Wildlife Federation and Matt Bowden with Alabama Power are the ones who reached out to us with this idea. Then it grew with the work with Angus Cooper and Cooper/T. Smith. They had a barge that had neared the end of its useful life, and we needed a barge to transport the material to the deployment site.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities out there to get companies to rethink the ways they’ve always dealt with materials that have reached the end of their service life. The more we get involved with these organizations and companies, the more we can show them there are other opportunities to partner together. It’s good for the companies and good for the marine habitat. That’s why we think it’s important to get the word out about this project, because it can show what we can do with other private companies. I also hope this is a long relationship with Alabama Power as they continue to provide service for their ratepayers and, at the same time, enhance the environment.”

The new reef is located about 25 miles south of the Sand Island Lighthouse in a depth of about 120 feet in the Tatum-Winn North General Permit Area. The boilers are about 18 feet tall and about 40 feet long and weigh about 100 tons each. The barge is 195 feet long.

“A reef this size would take at least a dozen of our super pyramids,” said MRD Artificial Reefs Coordinator Craig Newton. “So this reef is a big cost savings for our artificial reef program. Alabama Power is experiencing cost savings as well because they don’t have to hire skilled personnel to disassemble the boilers and salvage them.”

To prepare for the deployment, Newton said holes were cut in the sides of the boilers to expose an array of small tubes inside the boiler.

“That’s really going to increase the surface area for encrusting organisms to attach to the reef,” Newton said. “It increases the complexity of the reef by providing refuge for small fish, and it’s really going to be easy to find on your bottom machine.

“Within days, the reef will have red snapper on it. Within months, it should have mangrove (gray) snapper on it. Then we’ll start to see the blennies and damselfish and all the little critters that will help support that ecosystem. By the time the season opens again on January 1 (2017), you could see amberjack on the reef because of the vertical relief.”

Blankenship said Cooper/T. Smith’s donation of the barge is a significant enhancement to the reef.

“The barge is part of the reef,” Blankenship said. “The barge and two 100-ton boilers will make a reef that’s going to be there for decades.

“This is the kind of partnership we’re looking for in our reef program. A company like Alabama Power can realize some savings by partnering with us as they upgrade their equipment. That material doesn’t go to the landfill or get cut up for scrap. Instead, we use it for marine habitat. It’s really a win all around. We want to reach out to other companies that might have these same opportunities.”

Angus Cooper III of Cooper/T. Smith said during his time as AWF president, he was able to witness the work Alabama Power is doing to enhance wildlife conservation in the state.

“Alabama Power is truly one of the leaders in our state when it comes to water quality and wildlife conservation,” Cooper said. “We at Cooper/T. Smith are extremely excited to partner with them on this reef project, our first such collaboration. We look forward to seeing the success of this project, both to the ecosystem and in providing a source of outdoor entertainment for our community.”

Wes Anderson, a team leader with Alabama Power’s Environmental Stewardship Projects, said the boilers had reached the end of their useful service, and it was time to either scrap them or find another useful purpose for the material.

“We became aware of other possibilities through our work with Coastal Cleanup and Renew Our Rivers programs on the Alabama Coast,” Anderson said. “Some of our guys said, ‘We sank 60,000 Christmas trees in our freshwater impoundments. Why don’t we make some nice saltwater reefs with some of this salvage equipment?’ When we approached our bosses with the idea, they were very supportive and thought it was a great idea. We were able to show a cost savings for our ratepayers and a great addition to the marine environment.”

Alabama Power Vice President of Environmental Affairs Susan Comensky added, “Being involved in the construction and deployment of this reef is especially exciting for us at Alabama Power because it’s a first for us. In the past, we have simply disposed of old equipment like these boilers, so seeing them repurposed to create a habitat for marine life is very gratifying.”

AWF Executive Director Tim Gothard said the organization’s commitment to Alabama’s artificial reef program made it easy to help foster the partnerships that led to the deployment of the Alabama Power reef.

“We were just glad to be able to connect the dots between all the key players,” Gothard said. “It’s a great public-private partnership for Alabama Power Company to be alerted to a piece of equipment they were retiring and its possible use as an artificial reef. Then Marine Resources was able to evaluate the material to make sure it was suitable for an artificial reef. And, finally, Cooper/T. Smith was able to make transportation available and add a barge to enhance the whole project.

“To me, the exciting part is to see the public and private entities work together with the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to accomplish a project that will be great for the reef system. It will provide really great opportunities for our citizens and general public who like to fish our offshore reefs.”

The Alabama Power reef was deployed near the 70-foot Offshore Supply Boat Reef to provide additional habitat for species that anglers can target outside of the short red snapper season. MRD officials expect species like vermilion snapper and triggerfish will inhabit the reef as well as amberjack.

“The more diversified we can make the reef program, the more ecologically sound and more stable the reef system will be,” Newton said. “The size of this reef will make it better suited to handle storm events and other stresses that might happen.”

What Is A New Way to Control Fish Populations?

Idaho Fish and Game Develops New Way to Control Fish Populations
Editor’s Note: Today’s feature comes to us courtesy of the Idaho Department of Fish & Game

Technique won a national award for fisheries restoration
Roger Phillips, Public Information Specialist, IDFG
from The Fishing Wire

Hatcheries have long been used to replenish and restore fish populations, but can they also be used to reduce or eradicate them? Idaho Fish and Game researchers are studying whether using traditional hatchery technology in a nontraditional way can eliminate unwanted fish populations in the wild.

Fish and Game researchers and hatchery staff are collaborating on a project using 50 year-old technology to develop a monosex fish population whose offspring can only produce males. These males have two YY chromosomes (YY) rather than the usual XY arrangement.

Stocking YY-male hatchery fish into a body of water with an undesired fish population could change the sex ratio to all males within a few generations, and the unwanted fish population would eventually fail to reproduce and therefore die off. Once accomplished, Fish and Game would stop stocking those fish and fisheries managers would then restock that body of water with a more desirable fish species.

Brook trout were selected for the first YY project because they are short lived and quick to sexually mature, which enables researchers to rapidly produce the hatchery broodstock and test the technique in a natural environment. Brook trout are also good candidates because they are nonnative, frequently overpopulate, and stunt in both lakes and streams, which means fish are too small to be of interest for most anglers.

The YY technique begins in a hatchery, where young brook trout are exposed to low-doses of a common female hormone, estradiol, which has no effect on female fish, but causes male fish to produce eggs when they mature. The egg-producing males are crossed with standard males, which produce about 25 percent YY-male offspring. Those offspring are used to produce another generation that will theoretically produce exclusively male offspring when bred with any other brook trout.

Brook trout produced in the program for stocking in the wild are not exposed to any hormones and appear like all other brook trout, but they carry two male chromosomes instead of one.

While it sounds complex, it’s a fairly simple method of using hormones to affect gender in a segment of the population, then selectively breeding them to get an entire population to produce one gender. It’s routinely done in commercial aquaculture hatcheries to raise identical-looking food-fish, increase growth rates, and control reproduction.

If the program with brook trout proves successful, the “YY male” method could eradicate or limit other undesirable fish species in select waters, perhaps even large bodies of water with carp infestations, or other unwanted fish that limit game fish populations and harm habitat.

Fish and Game has long used fish toxicants to eradicate unwanted fish from entire bodies of water, but toxicants are typically limited to smaller bodies of water, such as ponds, small lakes and reservoirs or small streams.

Netting, trapping, and other fish removal methods also rid waters of unwanted fish, but those efforts are rarely a long-term solution because a few fish usually escape and spawn successfully. All those methods are time consuming, labor intensive, and often have to be repeated years later when unwanted fish populations rebuild.

Fish and Game officials hope the YY-male approach will be a cost-effective technique to control undesirable fish populations. Gary Byrne, the Fish Production Manger overseeing the hatchery portion of Idaho’s YY brook trout program, said it only took four years to develop the YY brook trout broodstock.

Head Fisheries Researcher Dan Schill, who led the team conducting the research project, said they are encouraged by the low cost of broodstock development, and they hope the technique will curb brook trout populations in waters where it’s being tested.

“The proof will be in the pudding over the next few years when our research staff obtain results confirming whether stocked YY fish successfully spawn in the wild and are ultimately effective in reducing the percentage of wild female brook trout in test waters,” Schill said.

Stocking trials of YY Brook Trout in four Idaho streams began in 2014, and the first results are encouraging. A marked YY Male was observed actively spawning in October with a wild female, and testing done on wild fry in study streams in 2015 conclusively showed that some YY males successfully spawned. Of equal note, all progeny of stocked YY fish found were XY males, exactly as predicted and as investigators hoped.

Fish and Game officials presented their findings at the August 2016 American Fisheries Society (AFS) national meeting in Kansas City, which has generated excitement in the fisheries science community. There, the AFS announced Fish and Game’s YY Male Brook Trout Research Program won the 2016 Sport Fish Restoration Outstanding Project award in the category of Research and Surveys.

The awards highlight the importance and effectiveness of the sport fish restoration program and recognize excellence in fisheries management, research and education.

Questions and answers about the YY-male fish program

Q: I understand the basic method of producing YY males in the hatchery, but how does the process of eliminating an undesirable fish population work in an actual stream or lake?

A: In natural fish populations, females have two X sex chromosomes (XX) and males have an X and Y chromosome (XY). When two wild fish spawn, offspring can only inherit one sex chromosome from each parent. Offspring receive an X from the female because that’s all she produces. Half the progeny receive an X from the male side and half receive a Y, which produces a 50:50 sex ratio.

When a hatchery-produced YY male spawns with a wild, XX female, all the progeny inherit one Y from the male and one X from the female and therefore would all be XY males. The basic idea is to continue stocking YY Males into the wild population until all the fish in the water are male, then stocking would end and the population would consequently die off.

Q: Is Fish and Game trying to eradicate all brook trout?

A: No, that’s not the intent of this program. While there is interest in eliminating brook trout in specific waters where they severely impact native species or stunt and become undesirable to anglers, this is primarily an effort to test the basic YY male concept in small, isolated waters. Anglers will continue to find hundreds of streams and mountain lakes in Idaho with wild Brook Trout populations.

Q: Are these brook trout being stocked considered a GMO?

A: No. Because no genes are “spliced” into the target fish genome from another fish species, the YY male fish produced are not genetically modified organisms (or GMO’s), a plus that has been noted by the authors of several recent scientific papers reviewing the YY male approach.

Q: What happens if someone eats a fish that’s been exposed to estradiol.

A: Fish exposed to the hormone in the program remain in enclosed hatchery production silos and are never stocked so it’s virtually impossible for that to occur. However, the doses given to tiny fry are very low and the 100 percent clearance rate from tissues is a matter of days, well over a year before fish become a size of interest to anglers. For these reasons, it is inconceivable that an angler or other animals would be exposed to estradiol, which is a common and frequently used human prescription drug that’s also used in aquaculture.

Q: Could the YY approach lead to eliminating other types of unwanted, non-native, or nuisance fish?

A: Although not the goal of the current program, Fish and Game is always trying to find ways to improve fishing and water quality. Where an undesirable species is limiting fishing opportunity, this is one method that could be attempted if the present experiments on Brook Trout prove successful.

Q: Is it reversible if for some reason you wanted that fish back?

A: Yes. All Fish and Game would have to do is stop stocking YY fish and the population would return to a normal 50:50 sex ratio.