Category Archives: Conservation

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 www.fws.gov/southwest

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.

How Do Beavers Engineer Better Fish Habitat?

Oregon beavers engineer better fish habitat, more fish

After four years, scientists recorded a 175 percent increase in juvenile steelhead

Contributed by Michael Milstein
from The Fishing Wire

An ecological experiment that employed beavers to restore streams in Central Oregon found that the streams produced nearly twice as many juvenile steelhead within a few years after the beavers went to work.

While beavers’ natural engineering abilities are well-known, the project on Oregon’s Bridge Creek is the first to show that their reengineering of streams can yield such pronounced improvements in fish populations. The results suggest that, under the right conditions, beavers can restore the health of streams and their fish, faster and likely at lower cost than traditional river restoration that relies on expensive heavy equipment.

“What was most surprising was how fast we saw changes, and how fast the fish responded,” said Chris Jordan, a fisheries ecologist with NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and coauthor of the research. “Beavers are themselves agents of change and we can see in this case how those changes cascade across the landscape.”

The results of the research on Bridge Creek, a tributary of the John Day River, were published in Nature’s online journal Scientific Reports by a team of scientists from Eco Logical Research Inc., Utah State University, NOAA Fisheries, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and South Fork Research. The research was funded by the Bonneville Power Administration and NOAA Fisheries.

Large numbers of beavers once coexisted with salmon and steelhead across the Northwest until they were trapped nearly to extinction in many areas. Streams such as Bridge Creek also deteriorated under pressure from grazing and other activities. Many streams became incised, cutting trench-like into the ground. The falling water table left streamside vegetation stranded on high terraces, where its roots could no longer access water.

Such streams provide poor fish habitat. Beavers also struggled because a lack of large wood left them to construct dams with small willows easily washed out by high flows.

“We used restoration as a large scale manipulation to a watershed to determine if and how restoration can improve fish habitat,” said Nick Bouwes, owner of Utah-based Eco Logical Research Inc. and lead author of the study. “We also used a very cheap approach which mainly relied on beavers doing most of the heavy lifting for us.”

In 2009 scientists tested what would happen if beavers got a foothold. The scientists jump-started the beavers’ work by sinking posts (called beaver-dam analogs, or BDAs) into the streambed of Bridge Creek to help the animals build and anchor their dams against the current. In addition, the Bureau of Land Management reduced grazing in wetland areas along the creek, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife closed the watershed to beaver trapping.

Quickly, beavers began building dams using the BDAs throughout Bridge Creek. By 2013 beavers had built 171 dams with help from the BDAs or naturally, eight times more dams than the average of the few years before scientists installed the BDAs.

But the real change was in the stream. Beaver dams anchored to the BDAs raised the water level, creating large pools where sediment was deposited. Soon the trenches began filling in, and water spread out onto the adjacent floodplain, giving rise to streamside vegetation and creating side channels and backwaters. Water temperatures slightly cooled in stretches with beaver dams compared to those without.

“We went from a place where the beavers couldn’t even manage to build dams, to a place where the beavers control the landscape,” Jordan said. “We got it started, but the beavers did the work.”

The changes improved fish habitat, with a deeper more complex stream channel. Over seven years the scientists tagged 35,867 fish with tiny electronic tags to track their movements and survival.

They found that beaver ponds held more juvenile steelhead than adjacent upstream areas. Plus, the ponds created more wetland habitat. Overall in Bridge Creek fish density increased and juvenile steelhead survival jumped 52 percent compared to a control watershed where scientists had not installed BDAs. Only four years after scientists first installed the first BDAs in Bridge Creek, they recorded a 175 percent increase in juvenile steelhead production compared to the control watershed.

While the quality of habitat improved, the quantity of habitat also increased as stream channels and wetlands expanded into the floodplain, Jordan said.

“It’s hard to point to any one thing as the most important change,” Jordan said. “It’s all of the changes that makes better quality habitat, and makes more habitat too.”

“Because of the large scale nature of the experiment and the intense monitoring, this study represents one of the few examples of detecting benefits of restoration to a fish population- and perhaps the first to show beavers as the restoration agent to cause such a response,” Bouwes said.

More ambitious efforts to use beavers as agents of restoration are now underway in other parts of the Columbia Basin. An interagency team of scientists has also developed the Beaver Restoration Guidebook to assist landowners and others interested in recruiting beavers as natural engineers.

Additional Information:
NWFSC: Working with beaver to restore salmon habitat

Why Is There A Complete Closure of Yellowstone River?

Montana Imposes Complete Closure of Yellowstone River Due to Fish Disease
from The Fishing Wire

An unprecedented fish kill has brought complete closure of miles of one of America’s greatest cold water fisheries.

(Bozeman, Mont.)—Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is implementing an immediate closure of all water-based recreation (fishing, wading, floating, tubing, boating, etc.) on the Yellowstone River and its tributaries from Yellowstone National Park’s northern boundary at Gardiner to the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel. This significant action on the part of the Department is in response to the ongoing and unprecedented fish kill on the Yellowstone. This action is necessary to protect the fishery and the economy it sustains. The closure will also help limit the spread of the parasite to adjacent rivers through boats, tubes, waders and other human contact and minimize further mortality in all fish species.

In the past week, FWP has documented over 2,000 dead Mountain Whitefish on some affected stretches of the Yellowstone. With that, FWP estimates the total impact to Mountain Whitefish in the Yellowstone to be in the tens of thousands. FWP has also recently received reports of the kill beginning to affect some Rainbow and Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout.

Test results from samples sent to the U.S. and Wildlife Service Fish Health Center in Bozeman show the catalyst for this fish kill to be Proliferative Kidney Disease – one of the most serious diseases to impact whitefish and trout. The disease, caused by a microscopic parasite, is known to occur in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. It has been documented previously in only two isolated locations in Montana over the past 20 years. Recent outbreaks have occurred in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. In trout, research has shown this disease to have the potential to cause 20 to 100 percent mortality. The parasite does not pose a risk to humans.

The effect of the disease on Yellowstone’s fish populations is exacerbated by other stressors like near record low flows, consistent high temperatures, and the disturbance caused by recreational activities.

FWP Director Jeff Hagener says in coming to the decision, the Department had to weigh the totality of the circumstances and risk to the fishery.

“We recognize that this decision will have a significant impact on many people. However, we must act to protect this public resource for present and future generations,” said Hagener.

“A threat to the health of Montana’s fish populations is a threat to Montana’s entire outdoor economy and the tens of thousands of jobs it sustains,” said Gov. Steve Bullock, noting that Montana’s outdoor recreation economy is responsible for more than 64,000 Montana jobs and nearly $6 billion in yearly economic activity. “We must be guided by science. Our state cannot afford this infectious disease to spread to other streams and rivers and it’s my responsibility to do everything we can to stop this threat in its tracks and protect Montana jobs and livelihoods.”

FWP will continue to monitor the river and will lift the closure when stream conditions such as flow and temperature improve and fish mortality ceases.

In addition to the closure on the Yellowstone, FWP is asking for the public’s assistance in preventing the spread of this parasite by properly cleaning (CLEAN.DRAIN.DRY) all equipment prior to moving between waterbodies (i.e., boats, waders, trailers). FWP has also set up two Aquatic Invasive Species decontamination stations set up along I-90 near the affected area in an effort to help reduce the chance of this parasite moving to other rivers.

How Can I Keep Bass Alive in Summer?

Tips to Keep Bass Alive in Summer
from The Fishing Wire

Largemouth bass anglers who practice catch-and-release fishing this summer can follow a few simple steps to ensure the fish they catch today will survive to bite another lure tomorrow.

Summertime heat brings with it higher temperatures and lower dissolved oxygen levels in reservoirs and rivers — conditions that are tough on largemouth bass, which can become more stressed when caught.

To minimize stress on fish, an angler who plans to catch and release the fish should land the fish quickly and handle it as little as possible.

“Try not to remove the fish from the water, even when you’re removing the hook from the fish’s mouth,” said Christian Waters, Inland Fisheries Division chief for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “Handle the fish as little as possible to help reduce the loss of slime coat, which is the fish’s main defense against infection and disease.”

Waters offers anglers other tips to keep a largemouth bass alive:

Wet your hands before you touch a fish;
Return the fish quickly to the water if you do not plan to keep it or place it in a livewell; and,
Use a knotless nylon or rubber-coated net instead of a knotted nylon net.

Anglers participating in fishing tournaments can minimize fish mortality by maintaining healthy oxygen and water quality in their livewells. A few ways to do this are:

Knowing the capacity of the livewell and not exceeding a ratio of more than 1 pound of bass per gallon of water;
Running a recirculating pump continuously if more than 5 pounds of bass are in the livewell;
Using aerators or oxygen-injection systems to keep the water’s oxygen level above 5 parts per million (ppm); and
Keeping livewell water about 5 degrees below the reservoir or river temperature by adding block ice.

Waters also recommends that tournament participants fill their weigh-in bags with livewell water, not reservoir or river water, before putting in their catch. They should put only five fish in a bag, fewer if the fish exceed 4 pounds each. Finally, they should limit the amount of time that fish are held in bags to less than 2 minutes.

Fishing tournament organizers can do their part to help keep fish alive by adopting best handling practices at all events. These include staggering weigh-in times to reduce the time fish are held in weigh-in bags, arranging for release boats to return bass quickly to the water and equipping recovery stations with oxygen and recirculating water. Organizers also can provide holding tanks during the weigh-in with water 5 degrees below the reservoir or river temperature and with oxygen levels above 5 ppm. They also can reduce the number of competitive fishing hours.

An alternative to the traditional weigh-in tournament is to conduct a “paper tournament,” which doesn’t require a weigh-in. “This is an especially helpful strategy during periods of extreme heat,” Waters added.

More information on keeping bass alive, including the B.A.S.S.-produced publication, “Keeping Bass Alive: A Guidebook for Tournament Bass Anglers and Organizers,” is available on the Commission’s website, www.ncwildlife.org/fishing. The Commission has produced a “Keeping Bass Alive” card, suitable for downloading and printing that provides tips for both recreational and tournament anglers.

Jodie B. Owen
919-707-0187
jodie.owen@ncwildlife.org

What Are Invasive Carp

Know the difference: Invasive Carversus Common Carp

Michigan DNR Staff
from The Fishing Wire

There’s a lot of talk around the Great Lakes these days about carp, especially invasive or Asian carp. What about common carp, those monsters of Michigan waters anglers love to battle with fly rods? Are these fish one and the same and what’s the big deal about carp anyway?

The issue can be confusing.

To better understand the important differences, it’s best to start with a definition of what an “invasive” species is.

“Invasive species are those species which are not native to a particular area – in this case Michigan – and whose introduction causes harm or would be likely to cause harm to the state’s economy, human health or environment,” said Joanne Foreman, communications coordinator for the Michigan Invasive Species Program.

Just because a species is not native does not make it invasive.

“Whether fruits, vegetables, livestock or field crops, most non-native species are not harmful and many provide benefits to Michigan, from boosting the economy to beautifying landscapes,” said Nick Popoff, head of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Aquatic Species and Regulatory Affairs Unit. “When it comes to fish, some non-native species beneficial to Michigan through sportfishing enjoyment have included coho and Chinook salmon and brown and rainbow trout.”

Invasive species are those particular non-natives that pose potential harm.

As the name “invasive” suggests, these species can out-compete native species by reproducing and spreading quickly in areas where they have no natural predators, thereby changing the balance of the ecosystems Michigan relies on for recreation, commerce, food and jobs.

Means of introduction

From the emerald ash borer and sea lamprey to rusty crayfish and Eurasian watermilfoil, numerous invasive species have found their way to Michigan, often by interesting means.

Some traveled here in the ballast water of ships. Others escaped from pet stores or were household pets let go into the wild where they adapted to local conditions. Still others hitched rides on planes, trains and automobiles.

In the case of all carp species, they intentionally were introduced to North America.

Common carp

Common carp were brought to the United States during the late 1800s as an esteemed food of European and Asian markets. Native to Eurasia, common carp are found today in the Great Lakes, large inland lakes and reservoirs, small and large rivers, swamps, canals and drains. Many frequent places where water quality is less than ideal.

An increasing number of sport anglers enjoy battling these fish and some charter operators now offer carp excursions.

Common carp average 15 to 32 inches and 4 to 31 pounds. They have triangular heads, blunt snouts and small barbels (fleshy, whisker-like filaments) at the corners of their mouths.

Because they have been widely distributed and their demand as a food source has diminished, common carp sometimes are referred to as a nuisance species. However, they are not considered invasive in Michigan.

Invasive carp

There are four carp species that are described as invasive – bighead, silver, grass and black.

In the 1970s, invasive carp were brought to the U.S. from Asia, primarily to eat algae in the ponds of aquaculture operations located in the South. During flooding events, these fish escaped into the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and have been migrating north toward Lake Michigan.

Because the invasive carp problem is a binational and multistate issue, U.S. federal and state governments are working together with Canada on a resolution.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in a partnership with state and federal agencies, has erected electric barriers in the Chicago Area Waterway System and a berm in Indiana to try to keep the carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

The Michigan DNR is among the leading agencies advocating for additional efforts to stop the spread of these fish.

The watch list

Michigan maintains a “watch list” for invasive species. Species on the watch list have never been confirmed in the wild in the state or have very limited distribution. If they are encountered, they should be reported as soon as possible.Silver carp, one species of invasive carp, are pictured leaping out of the water after being disturbed by a passing boat.

“Early detection and timely reporting of these species are crucial for increasing the chances of preventing establishment and limiting potential ecological, social and economic impacts,” Foreman said.

Bighead, silver, grass and black carp are on the watch list. They also are “prohibited” invasive species in Michigan.

Prohibited and restricted species

Some invasive species are legally designated by the state of Michigan as either “prohibited” or “restricted,” making them unlawful to possess, introduce, import, sell or offer for sale as live organisms, except under certain circumstances.

• The term “prohibited” is used for invasive species that are not widely distributed in the state. Often, management or control techniques for prohibited species are not available.

• The term “restricted” is applied to invasive species that are established in the state. Management and control practices usually are available for restricted species.

Michigan’s Natural Resources Environmental Protection Act (Part 413 of Act 451) established the list of prohibited and restricted species, which is regularly amended by Invasive Species Orders.

Bighead and silver carp

Of the four invasive carp species on the watch list, bighead and silver carp pose the most concern.

“Bighead and silver carp are spreading to lakes, rivers and streams in the Mississippi River and Great Lakes region. They have been moving steadily north, but are not yet established in the Great Lakes,” said Seth Herbst, a fisheries A bighead carp, bottom, and a silver carp are pictured. These two invasive carp species are of the biggest concern.biologist and the DNR Fisheries Division’s aquatic invasive species coordinator. “These two species like large lakes and connecting rivers, and if introduced would have the ability to adapt to Michigan’s cold winters.”

Biologists expect that if these invasive carp make it to Michigan waters, the fish will disrupt the food chain that supports native fish of the Great Lakes, such as walleye, yellow perch and lake whitefish – which could diminish fishing opportunities for sport and commercial anglers.

“Due to their large size and rapid rate of reproduction, bighead and silver carp pose a significant threat to the ecosystem of the Great Lakes Basin,” said Tammy Newcomb, DNR senior water policy advisor and fisheries research biologist. “Silver carp leap high out of the water when disturbed by watercraft. Boaters can be and have been injured by these leaping fish. Fear of injury could diminish the desire for recreational boating activities in areas inhabited by these fish.”

Bighead and silver carp have eyes situated below their toothless mouths. Silver carp may grow to longer than 3 feet and weigh up to 60 pounds, while bighead carp are even larger – up to 5 feet long, weighing up to 90 pounds.

Adult bighead carp are dark gray, with dark blotches. As the name implies, silver carp are silver colored with white bellies.

Black carp

Black carp are the largest of the four invasive carp species, able to grow to over 6 feet long and weigh more than 150 pounds.

Black carp are the largest of the four invasive carp species. They can be over 6 feet long and weigh more than 150 pounds. These fish have blackish-brown-bluish scales and an almost white belly.

So far, bighead, silver and black carp have not been found in Michigan waters. There is no evidence that these three carp species have colonized or are present in any numbers in the Great Lakes.

Grass carp

“Grass carp have been detected in low numbers in all the Great Lakes, except Lake Superior, since the early 1980s (Lake Erie in particular) and have historically been introduced into waterways for aquatic nuisance vegetation control in some Great Lakes states,” Popoff said.

Grass carp can grow to more than 5 feet long and weigh more than 80 pounds. They have eyes that sit in line with their mouths, or slightly above, and scales that look to be crosshatched.

“In the mid-1980s, a grass carp sterilization program was put in place to reduce the risk of introduced fish reproducing and reaching nuisance levels that would result in detrimental impacts,” Herbst said. “The sterilization program has worked to some extent, but fertile fish are still being captured in locations where only sterile fish introduction is authorized.”

Despite the reduced threat of grass carp, Michigan is still taking a proactive approach with regulations, enforcement, and using a scientific approach to increase the effectiveness of control efforts.

Knowing the difference between common and invasive carp is not as difficult as it might seem at first, once you know the facts.

“Educating ourselves and others on these species can go a long way in the fight against the proliferation of these non-native, invasive species of carp – fish that have the potential to dramatically damage or destroy Great Lakes ecosystems, causing untold losses to Michigan’s economy and world-class natural resources,” Foreman said.

Watch Michigan DNR staff training to catch invasive carp in Illinois.

Report invasive (Asian) carp and get more information on invasive species. Find out more about the history of common carp in North America.

What Is the Tarpon Acoustic Tagging Project?

BTT Tarpon Acoustic Tagging Project
from The Fishing Wire

BTT is pleased to announce that our new tarpon acoustic tagging project is beginning shortly. The purpose of this study is to obtain scientific data necessary for tarpon conservation that will be used exclusively to protect tarpon and enhance their habitat through improvements in fishery management. BTT will not distribute specific data to the public and will only describe tarpon movements and habitats in a general way in order to build public support for greater protections. This project will help answer the following questions:

Is the tarpon population large and robust or small and vulnerable? If anglers in a particular location are fishing for the same fish every year, then the tarpon population is probably smaller than we think, and issues like shark predation will become a bigger concern. If fish move among regions every year, and anglers are fishing for different fish each year, the tarpon population is probably large.
Do tarpon use the same spawning site each year or move among spawning sites? On average, ocean currents will carry the larvae from a spawning site to juvenile habitats in a specific geographic region. If it’s the same adults at the spawning site every year, then local adult losses will cause declines in juveniles. If tarpon move among spawning sites, then the population will be more resilient.
How do changes in freshwater flows into coastal waters influence tarpon movements? Do the problems with Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration impact tarpon? Are the water issues in Apalachicola causing changes in tarpon movements?
What are the movement patterns and habitat use of mid-size tarpon (20-50 pounds)? How will these tarpon be impacted by coastal water quality issues? This size class, which is the future of the fishery, is very vulnerable to changes in coastal habitats and water quality.

Why Acoustic Tracking?

Although satellite tagging previously funded by BTT provided valuable data, the tags typically only stayed on the tarpon for a few months at a time, which prevented long-term tracking. In addition, because of the large size of the satellite tags, their use is limited to tarpon over 80 pounds.

The new Tarpon Program will use acoustic telemetry to track tarpon movements.

acoustic tags come in many sizes
Advantages of acoustic tags are that they are smaller and less invasive and can remain with the fish and active for up to five years rather than a few months. In addition, because acoustic tags come in a range of sizes, they can be used on tarpon from 20 pounds and larger, not just the extra-large adults. They also cost significantly less than satellite tags.

How Acoustic Tagging Works

Tags are surgically implanted in the abdomen. Each tag emits an ultrasonic ping that has a unique code for each tag. These pings are detected by underwater receivers when a tagged fish swims in range. When receivers are placed at strategic locations like inlets, bridges, and schooling locations, they can be very efficient.

As part of this four-year study, BTT will place 20 new receivers in waters around Florida, to add to the 60 receivers we already have in the water. In addition, colleagues at universities and state and federal agencies are using this technology to study movements of other fish species. Their receivers will also detect BTT tarpon tags. With more than 1,300 receivers in the water in the Gulf of Mexico, and more than 3,000 along the southeastern US coast, this project will be able to examine both local and long-distance movements for many years. BTT will tag 50 fish in each year of the study.

How You Can Help

Sponsor a Tarpon: Sponsor an acoustic tag for $2,500. You can name your tarpon, and will receive a certificate with its name, photo and initial capture info (very general location and measurements). Each time BTT downloads data from the receivers (approximately every 6 months), a summary of the general data on your fish will be sent to you.

Sponsor a Receiver: Sponsor and name an acoustic receiver (listening station) for $3,000. Each time BTT downloads data from your listening station, you will receive a summary of the fish that have been detected by that station.

Help us tag tarpon. Prior to a tagging trip, our scientists will put out a notice about when and where they will be, along with contact information. If you are fishing in that area when we are tagging, all you need to do is call us when you catch a tarpon. We’ll come to your boat, transfer the tarpon over, and take care of the rest. Remember to always keep the tarpon in the water!

Contact Us Today!

For more information and to sponsor a tag or receiver, please contact Alex Woodsum, Director of Development and Communications at 617-872-4807 or alex@bonefishtarpontrust.org

The purpose of this study is to obtain data necessary for conservation. Data from this study will only be shared with the public in a very general sense to explain how the data is contributing to conservation. Specific data on tarpon movements, habitat use, etc. will not be shared. Our goal is to use these data for conservation, not to help anglers catch more tarpon. So rest assured, the data is highly confidential.