Category Archives: Conservation

Whirling Disease Resistant Rainbows

In the Gunnison River gorge, CPW Aquatic Biologist Eric Gardunio, holds a whirling-disease resistant rainbow trout. CPW is stocking fish resistant to the disease throughout the state. Photo by © Joe Lewandowski/CPW. 
Colorado’s Whirling Disease Resistant Rainbows
From The Fishing Wire

Some good news for a change to end this week . . . .
By Joe Lewandowski

After more than 20 years of study, frustration, experimentation and dogged persistence by CPW’s aquatic researchers, the tide has turned in the fight against Whirling-disease.Biologists boat electrofishing on the Gunnison River. Photo by © Bill Vogrin/CPW.

Whirling Disease first impacted Colorado’s rainbow trout in the mid-1990s and eliminated many wild populations of this popular sport fish. The aquatic tragedy sparked a decades-long effort by Colorado Parks and Wildlife research scientists to find a remedy and re-establish populations.

About Whirling Disease
Myxobolus cerebralis, a metazoan parasite, can cause a serious affliction in some species of trout and salmon known as whirling disease. The water-borne parasite may not directly kill trout, but severely infected young trout often develop debilitating deformities of the skull and spinal column or display the erratic tail-chasing behavior from which the disease gets its name. To learn more, please visit the CPW website.

Since 2003, the researchers have been crossing a strain of rainbow trout resistant to the disease with other strains of rainbows in the hope of developing a trout that would fend off whirling disease. Now, after more than 20 years of study, frustration, experimentation and dogged persistence by CPW’s aquatic researchers, the tide has turned in the fight against the dreaded disease. Whirling-disease resistant rainbows are now thriving in the wild and the agency is collecting their spawn, enabling hatcheries to propagate millions of fish that will be distributed to rivers and streams throughout the state. I

CPW is stocking fish resistant to the disease throughout the state. Photo by © Joe Lewandowski/CPW. “Thanks to advance genetic testing, we know these fish are maintaining their resistance to whirling disease,” said George Schisler, CPW’s aquatic research chief. “Now they are surviving, reproducing and contributing to future generations of Gunnison River rainbows.

”This long success story started on an August day in 1994 when former CPW researcher Barry Nehring, while walking the riverbank in the Gunnison Gorge, noticed small fish swimming helplessly in circles. He knew immediately that the fish were infected with a microscopic spore that damages the cartilage of young fish and prevents them from swimming and developing normally. Whirling disease had arrived in the wild.

George Schisler with Hofers trout.The disease was accidentally introduced to Colorado in the late 1980s when infected fish were imported to state and private hatcheries. After those fish were stocked in 40 locations, the spore spread and within a decade infected many rivers throughout the state. The disease kills young fish, so eventually, natural reproduction by wild rainbows ended across much of Colorado.

In search of a remedy, CPW scientists and biologists from wildlife agencies throughout the West started researching the disease in the late 1990s. At a national conference in Denver in 2002, a researcher from Europe who studied whirling disease gave a presentation about a strain of disease-resistant rainbow trout he’d found at a hatchery in Germany. Schisler, working with the University of California-Davis, imported eggs and then tested the hatched fingerlings, known as Hofers – named after the German hatchery. He found they were 100 times more resistant to the disease than the various CPW rainbow strains.

He also learned that because these fish had been raised in a hatchery for decades, they showed no inkling of the flight response needed to elude predators in the wild. So researchers started crossing them with wild strains, such as the Harrison Lake and Colorado River rainbow to produce fish that exhibit wild behavior and maintain resistance to whirling disease. Those fish were stocked in rivers around the state and some natural reproduction started.

Biologists working in the East Portal Section of the Gunnison River gorge began documenting wild reproduction of rainbow trout in that location in the mid-2000s. These fish demonstrated strong resistance to whirling disease, but also had instincts to survive in the wild. Through advanced genetic analysis, Schisler and his research partner, Eric Fetherman, determined that a DNA marker unique to the stocked Hofer-crosses appeared to have been incorporated into this population, resulting in observed resistance to the disease.

The researchers and agency aquatic biologists determined that developing a brood stock using the Gunnison River trout would be the best way to repopulate Colorado’s rivers with wild rainbows. Since 2014, more than 500,000 eggs have been collected from these fish to stock into whirling disease positive rivers and to create hatchery brood stocks.The trout now has its own moniker: The Gunnison River Rainbow. Photo by © Joe Lewandowski/CPW.CPW’s Glenwood Springs hatchery is propogating both the pure Gunnison River Rainbows and crosses of those fish and other strains of whirling disease-resistant rainbows. 

This summer more than 1.3 million of fingerling disease-resistant rainbows will be stocked in rivers and streams throughout the state.

The ultimate goal of the stocking effort is to restore natural reproduction in the wild, eliminating the need to stock rainbows in the future.However, re-establishing the rainbows continues to be a long-term project. After rainbows vanished, brown trout took over Colorado’s big rivers. They prey on the small rainbows that are stocked or hatch and compete for food and habitat with adult rainbows. Biologists say it will take many years for rainbows to become firmly established.

Research scientists don’t declare victory easily, but Fetherman noted that the research project in the East Portal is officially closed. Populations across the state will continue to be monitored because the tiny worms that produce the spores causing whirling disease will likely always exist in Colorado’s rivers.“I feel like we’ve done some good work and these fish are ready to be stocked statewide,” Fetherman said.

For more information on CPW’s aquatic programs, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.Written by Joe Lewandowski. Lewandowski is a public information officer for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife southwest region.

Grande Ronde Public Access Provided By The Public!

Grande Ronde

New Angler Access to Open on Washington’s Grande Ronde
Editor’s Note: Here’s an amazing story about a dedicated group of Washington state anglers and cooperative land owners who might have created a model for fishing clubs across the nation, pooling resources with other clubs to buy access to prime private water that will become public as the group donates it to the state Department of Wildlife next year.
from The Fishing Wire

The Wild Steelhead Coalition (WSC) is excited to announce that we have secured a major victory for angler access and steelhead conservation by completing the purchase of an eight-acre parcel of land with 2,000 feet of riverfront on the lower Grande Ronde River in Eastern Washington. In the coming months, the WSC will donate this land to the Washington Department of Wildlife (WDFW), which will permanently protect this riverfront property from development and continue to provide public access to this famed summer steelhead river in perpetuity.

This project, which would not have been possible without the support of the Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club of Spokane, the Washington Chapter of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the Washington State Council of Fly Fishers International, is a testament to what the angling community can accomplish when we work collaboratively on behalf of anglers and wild steelhead. Together, these groups and hundreds of donors across the region raised more than $35,000 for the purchase of this unique property.

We would like to extend a special thanks to the previous landowners Radar and Kay Miller, who for years allowed the public to access their land and fish this prime stretch of steelhead water. When Radar and Kay decided to sell this parcel of land, they were committed to maintaining public access and worked proactively to figure out the best way to permanently conserve this land.“We all owe a debt of gratitude to Radar and Kay Miller for putting the public good ahead of profit and choosing to sell this land to us, and in turn, the general public,” said WSC board member Josh Mills.

“As they had hoped, this land will now be permanently protected for future generations. The Grande Ronde is my home river, and someday soon I plan to take my boys to this piece of water to show them this special place and teach them the value of public lands.”

The Wild Steelhead Coalition was invited to help secure this land by the Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club of Spokane after the club had been approached by the Millers. The WSC immediately recognized the amazing opportunity, and we committed important initial funding, launched a larger fundraising campaign, created and implemented the property acquisition plan, and negotiated the land donation timeline with WDFW. We thank the Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club for their leadership, financial commitments, and the opportunity to work on this project.

This project was a true collaboration by the fishing community. In addition to Inland Empire’s leadership and support, the Washington Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Washington State Council of Fly Fishers International, numerous regional fishing clubs, and Sage Fly Fishing played a pivotal role in the fundraising efforts. The dedicated members of the Wild Steelhead Coalition also continued their long history of supporting wild steelhead and the fishing community by generously stepping up to support this project.

Completing the land transfer from WSC to WDFW is scheduled to take a number of months, and during this transition angler access to the river will be maintained through a land use agreement with WDFW. When this transfer is finalized, WSC will place signage on the property that thanks the Millers for their commitment to public access and that tells the story of the Grande Ronde’s summer steelhead and the challenges facing wild steelhead throughout the Snake River basin.

A successful collaboration like the purchase and donation of this land on the lower Grande Ronde River speaks to the vast number of people who value wild steelhead rivers and public access to Washington’s irreplaceable wild places. Thanks to this broad coalition of advocates, eight acres of land and nearly 2,000 foot of riverfront on one of the country’s best summer steelhead rivers will now be permanently protected and forever owned by the public.

###To learn more about the campaign and location of the parcel on the lower Grande Ronde River, please refer to our October post announcing WSC’s fundraising effort.

Florida Sawfish

Sawfish

Florida Sawfish–Help to Keep Them Healthy
By Jasmin Graham, FFWCC

When I started graduate school at Florida State University, I had never seen a sawfish in the wild but I was excited to be part of the recovery of a species I had been so awestruck by in aquariums.

The smalltooth sawfish, the only sawfish found in Florida, has been protected in Florida since 1992 and became federally listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2003. Little was known about the species when it became listed but since that time, scientists have learned a lot about its biology and ecology.

As sawfish recovery efforts continue, we expect there to be more sawfish sightings, especially in Florida. This includes anglers who may accidentally catch one on hook-and-line while fishing for other species.

Sawfish encounters Sawfish can be encountered when participating in a number of activities including boating, diving and fishing. Further, the species may be encountered by waterfront homeowners and beach goers in the southern half of the state where juvenile sawfish rely on shallow, nearshore environments as nursery habitats. 

When fishing, targeting sawfish is prohibited under the ESA, though incidental captures do occur while fishing for other species. Knowing how to properly handle a hooked sawfish is imperative as sawfish can be potentially hazardous to you. One of the first things that stood out to me while conducting permitted research was the speed at which a sawfish can swing its rostrum (commonly referred to as the saw).

For creatures that glide along the bottom so slowly and gracefully, they sure can make quick movements when they want to. It’s best to keep a safe distance between you and the saw. If you happen to catch a sawfish while fishing, do not pull it out of the water and do not try to handle it. Refrain from using ropes or restraining the animal in any way, and never remove the saw. It is important that you untangle it if necessary and release the sawfish as quickly as possible by cutting the line as close to the hook as you can.

Proper release techniques ensure a high post-release survival of sawfish. Scientific studies show us that following these guidelines will limit the amount of stress a sawfish experiences as a result of capture. Note that a recent change in shark fishing rules requires use of circle hooks, which results in better hook sets, minimizes gut hooking, and also maximizes post-release survival. In addition to capture on hook-and-line, sawfish can easily become entangled in lost fishing gear or nets.

If you observe an injured or entangled sawfish, be sure to report it immediately but do not approach the sawfish.

Seeing a sawfish up close can be an exciting experience but you must remember that it is an endangered species with strict protections.If you are diving and see a sawfish, observe at a distance. Do not approach or harass them. This is illegal and this guidance is for your safety as well as theirs.An important component of any sawfish encounter is sharing that information with scientists. Your encounter reports help managers track the population status of this species.

If you encounter a sawfish while diving, fishing or boating, please report the encounter. Take a quick photo if possible (with the sawfish still in the water and from a safe distance), estimate its length including the saw and note the location of the encounter. The more details you can give scientists, the better we can understand how sawfish are using Florida waters and the better we can understand the recovery of the population.

Submit reports at SawfishRecovery.org, email sawfish@MyFWC.com or phone at 1-844-4SAWFISH.

Sawfish background Sawfishes, of which there are five species in the world, are named for their long, toothed “saw” or rostrum, which they use for hunting prey and defense. In the U.S., the smalltooth sawfish was once found regularly from North Carolina to Texas but its range is now mostly limited to Florida waters.

In general, sawfish populations declined for a variety of reasons. The primary reason for decline is that they were frequently caught accidentally in commercial fisheries that used gill nets and trawls. Additional contributing factors include recreational fisheries and habitat loss. As industrialization and urbanization changed coastlines, the mangroves that most sawfishes used as nursery habitat also became less accessible. For a species that grows slowly and has a low reproductive rate, the combination of these threats proved to be too much.

Engaging in sawfish recovery During my thesis research, which focuses on tracking the movements of large juvenile and adult smalltooth sawfish, each tagging encounter is a surreal experience.The first sawfish I saw was an adult, and what struck me the most was just how big it was. I also remember being enamored by its mouth. Like all other rays, its mouth is on the underside of its body. The mouth looks like a shy smile and I found it almost humorous how different the top of the sawfish was compared to the bottom. After seeing my first baby sawfish, the contrast seemed even greater. It’s hard to believe upon seeing a 2 to 3 foot sawfish that it could one day be 16 feet long! No matter the size, anyone who has encountered a sawfish will tell you it’s an experience like no other.

The hope is that one day the sawfish population will be thriving once again, and more people will be able to experience safe and memorable encounters with these incredible animals. Hopefully, we can coexist with sawfish in a sustainable and positive way in the future.For more information on sawfish, including FWC’s sawfish research visit:
MyFWC.com/research, click on “Saltwater” then “Sawfish.

”For more information on smalltooth sawfish and their recovery watch:
YouTube.com/watch?v=NSRWUjVU3e8&t=3s

Alabama’s Coastal Hatchery


Young Pompano

Alabama’s Coastal Hatchery Restocks Gulf Coast Waters
The Alabama Marine Resources Division (AMRD) maintains the Claude Peteet Mariculture Center (CPMC) located in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  CPMC was created in 1970 when 40 acres of land were donated to the State by Ms. Mildred Casey.  An additional 5 acres was purchased by the State which provided access to the Intracoastal Waterway and a brackish water source needed to fill ponds. 

By 1973, thirty-five (35) 0.2-acre ponds and a small pump station located on the intracoastal waterway were installed on the property.  A small hatchery building used for broodstock holding and egg fertilization and hatching was completed in 1975.   From 1970 through the early 1980s the infrastructure and operational costs of CPMC were primarily funded with federal grants related to the culture and stocking of Gulf of Mexico strain striped bass (Morone saxatilis)in Alabama waters.

During the mid-1980s through the mid-2000s, a variety of species were cultured at CPMC including spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus)red drum(Sciaenops ocellatus), Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus).  During this period the ponds were lined with high density polyethylene to prevent seepage and greenhouse structures with tanks and recirculating water systems were completed.  Beginning in the mid-2000s, shrimp and Florida pompano (Trachinotus carolinus) were the primary species cultured at CPMC.  A saltwater supply line which begins at the Gulf State Park Pier was installed in 2004 but the intake was destroyed by hurricane Ivan.  The intake was not replaced until 2009. 

In July 2013, a new 23,000 square foot hatchery building was completed replacing the old hatchery building.  The new building provides a significant upgrade in fish production capacity.  It contains areas for broodfish spawning, algae production, live food production, egg incubation, larval rearing, and juvenile holding.  The hatchery also includes a greenhouse complex containing several re-circulating tank systems.

Currently, three species of fish popular among Alabama saltwater anglers are cultured at CPMC including red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), Florida pompano (Trachinotus carolinus), and southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma).  Southern flounder broodstock were collected in 2018; however, due to a protracted acclimation period documented by other southern flounder researchers spawning is not anticipated by CPMC staff until early 2020. 

Although most fish reared at CPMC are primarily for stock enhancement purposes, some fish may be tagged prior to release to assist with determining growth rates and movement patterns.  AMRD is also planning to modify the infrastructure to allow for the culture of the Eastern oyster by Spring 2020.  Oyster spat produced in the hatchery will be used to repopulate natural oyster reef areas in Mobile Bay and Mississippi Sound which have degraded in the last decade due to various natural and man-made causes.

Fish Culture Method:Juvenile Florida Pompano Raised at CPMCBroodstock (parent fish) are collected from local waters and relocated to maturation tanks within the hatchery.  Collected fish undergo temperature and photoperiod manipulation within the maturation tanks to mimic natural conditions and stimulate spawning activity.  Broodstock will spawn on their own within the maturation tanks or be removed from the tanks and strip spawned, the technique of manually removing eggs and milt (sperm) which are combined to initiate fertilization.  Fertilized eggs collected from egg collectors built into each broodstock tank or from mixing containers used during strip spawning are counted using a volumetric method and distributed among hatching jars/tanks.   

Eggs hatch within a 36-48-hour period and larval fish are counted by sampling a portion of the water column.  From this point, larvae will either be stocked into ponds or remain in within the hatchery. Tank Culture:Conditions affecting growth and survival are maintained much more easily in a tank system; however, labor and operational costs needed to maintain fish in an indoor culture system are greater than a pond system.  Larval fish are maintained in a temperature-controlled re-circulating system using full strength seawater (salinity greater than 30 ppt).  Twenty-four hour care is provided for larval fish in a tank culture system soon after the eggs hatch.  Once eggs hatch, the hatchlings are considered yolk-sac larvae.  At this point, they have no mouths or eyes, but will develop them over the next 36-48 hours.  

Once fish develop their eyes, they need to eat immediately.  From here, the fish need to be moved from hatching containers to the larval rearing systems for further grow out.Larval fish cultured at CPMC require live foods for the first 14-16 days after hatching.  The fish require a certain size of food particle that can be captured and ingested.  Two types of zooplankton are used to feed the young larval fish.  Rotifers are used as a first food for the first 8-10 days after hatching.  Brine shrimp (Artemia spp.) is used as a second live food.  As fish continue to grow, they require larger sized prey items, thus the need to change food sources.  Larvae are weened onto brine shrimp Artemia spp. starting around 8 days after hatching.  At the same time, larval fish are also introduced to a formulated feed.  Fish will be completely weened to an artificial diet by approximately day 16 after hatching.

CPMC Tank Culture Facilities For red drum and Florida pompano, the culture period is approximately 35-45 days to grow to a 1-2-inch fingerling.  Southern flounder require approximately 60-75 days to grow to a 1-2-inch fingerling.  At 1-2-inches the fish are of ideal size for harvesting and transporting to the release site.  Once fish reach the appropriate size and after a sample of each group of fish pass inspection for common diseases, they are released in coastal Alabama waters.Pond Culture:For extensive systems, ponds are utilized, and less care is required.  Prior to a spawning event, ponds are filled with brackish water, then fertilized with both organic and inorganic fertilizers to establish a phytoplankton bloom. 

This phytoplankton bloom is the food source for the zooplankton in the water.  As the phytoplankton blooms, the zooplankton populations will increase and “bloom” as well.  These zooplankton are the food source for newly hatched fish. Once fish develop and eye, they are transferred to the ponds for further grow out.  During the transfer process, fish are acclimated to pond temperature and salinity.   Fish will grow on the natural foods in the ponds for approximately 20 days.  After that time, a crumbled, pelleted feed will be provided for the rest of the culture period.  The culture period lasts approximately 45-60 days after which fish will be 1-2 inches in length.  Once fish are of size and after a sample of each group of fish pass inspection for common diseases, they are harvested from the ponds and released in Alabama waters.

In recent years, the operations and maintenance of CPMC has been funded through the Fish and Wildlife’s Sport Fish Restoration Program, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and your fishing license purchases.  

Shark Tagging Atlas

Aerial view of a blue shark circling a young dogfish. Photo: NOAA Fisheries

Updated Shark Tagging Atlas Provides More than 50 Years of Tagging and Recapture Data
A citizen science program more than 50 years old has shed new light on the movements and distribution patterns of dozens of species of sharks.

From NOAA Fisheries A 52-year database of the distribution and movements of 35 Atlantic shark species revealed new information on some of the least known species. It also uncovered a few surprises about where sharks go and how long they live.

The bull shark is found in coastal tropical and subtropical seas ranging from the western North Atlantic to southern Brazil.

Scientists collected data for sharks tagged and/or recaptured between 1962 and 2013. The sharks were found in the Atlantic Ocean and associated areas, including the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea. Participants tagged a total of 229,810 sharks of 35 species and recaptured 13,419 sharks of 31 species in that time span. The scientific journal Marine Fisheries Review recently published the data.

This new atlas updates an earlier version covering 1962 to 1993 and adds information on 22 species. Detailed profiles are provided for 14 shark species, including bull and tiger sharks and smooth dogfish. The updated data significantly extended their known ranges and movements.

Collaborative, Long-Running Program – The Cooperative Shark Tagging Program is the largest and longest-running in the world. The program is a collaborative effort among recreational anglers, the commercial fishing industry, biologists, and NOAA Fisheries. Its goal is to study the life history of sharks in the Atlantic Ocean. Initiated in 1962 by biologist and shark researcher John “Jack” Casey at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, the original group of 74 volunteer anglers began participating in the project in 1963.

Since then the program has expanded to include thousands of participants along the entire North American and European Atlantic coasts, including the Gulf of Mexico. “The program’s long-term data has shown the importance of tagging large numbers of each species and recording information in a database to determine shark movements,” said Lisa Natanson, a shark researcher in the Apex Predators Program at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Narragansett Laboratory in Rhode Island.

For example, until the tagging program was 34 years old, no one knew that tiger sharks cross the Atlantic. An International EffortTiger sharks have a wide range and are found close to shore and in the open ocean. Photo: NOAA FisheriesAnglers from 32 countries tagged sharks and persons representing 59 countries participated in returns. There are two principal types of tags: the dart or M tag, in use since 1965, and the fin or rototag, used primarily by participating biologists.

Recreational fishermen, most using rod and reel, accomplished the majority of the tagging, followed by biologists using longline and net gear. Commercial fishermen using long line and net gear returned the most tags, followed closely by anglers using rod and reel. Blue sharks accounted for 51 percent of the tags at nearly 118,000, with sandbar sharks a distant second at just under 36,000. Just over 8,200 blue sharks and 1,471 sandbar sharks were recaptured. Of 20 tagged crocodile sharks, none were recaptured. Most species had more than 100 sharks tagged.

A blue shark also set the record for traveling the greatest distance: 3,997 nautical miles. That shark was tagged off Long Island, New York and recaptured in the South Atlantic off Africa after more than 8 years. A sandbar shark holds the record for the longest time before recapture at 27.8 years. Thousands of Volunteer Citizen ScientistsBasking shark. Photo: NOAA FisheriesAtlas authors Nancy Kohler and Patricia Turner worked in the center’s Apex Predators Program at the Narragansett Laboratory and are now both retired from NOAA Fisheries. They noted that the data collected through this program of citizen scientists would not have been possible for any individual, single institution or agency to accomplish.

“A collective of thousands of knowledgeable volunteer recreational and commercial fishermen accomplished this for little more than the cost of the tags, making the cost/benefit ratio for this program extremely low,” according to the update authors. “The Cooperative Shark Tagging program creates an enormous body of scientific data for understanding distributions and migration patterns for shark species.”The geographic distributions and movements for most shark species—­particularly over large space and time scales—remain largely unknown, but these data are filling in those gaps. This information is vital for developing appropriate management strategies and determining the usefulness of conservation measures.

“Sustainable management is a dynamic process that requires the best available science,” said Karyl Brewster-Geisz, a fishery management specialist with NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Sustainable Fisheries. “Data from the Cooperative Shark Tagging Program, one of the oldest shark data sets, plays an important role in establishing management measures that provide recreational and commercial fishing opportunities while preventing overfishing.”

According to the authors, “Given the fact that shark species are slow growing, long-lived, and highly mobile, with relatively low return rates for tagged sharks, continued tagging efforts are essential to provide this critical life history and population dynamics information.”

For more information, contact Shelley Dawicki.

Problems with Double Crested Cormorants

Double Crested Cormorant

Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service Solicits Public Input on Cormorant Management
Tens of thousands of these fish-eating birds are impacting not only fish farms and hatcheries but also wild fish populations in many areas across the eastern U.S.–here’s a chance to make your voice heard.
from The Fishing Wire

WASHINGTON – As part of ongoing efforts to address conflicts between double-crested cormorants and wild and stocked fisheries, the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is announcing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) and soliciting public input on future management options.

“Balancing the protection of native wildlife with economic and human health needs is fundamental to effective management practices,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. “Today’s action starts the process of improving management and further reduces conflicts with double-crested cormorants throughout the United States.

”Future management actions built on a strong biological foundation ensure cormorant populations are managed responsibly and in compliance with federal laws and regulations, while balancing economic development, human health and safety, endangered species management and other priorities.

“We are building long-term solutions for managing conflicts with double-crested cormorants under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act while maintaining healthy populations of this species,” said Aurelia Skipwith, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This effort, in collaboration with our partners, will ensure continued good stewardship of our natural resources.

”In 2017, the Service completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) evaluating options for issuing individual depredation permits to provide relief for aquaculture facilities experiencing direct economic losses from cormorants across 37 central and eastern states and the District of Columbia.

The EA analyzed options for the issuance of depredation permits for cormorants where there is either significant economic damage to aquaculture facilities, significant damage to native vegetation, significant impact on a threatened or endangered species, or significant human safety risks. Upon completion of the EA on November 15, 2017, the Service began issuing permits to aquaculture facility managers and property owners across 37 central and eastern states and the District of Columbia.

This review did not include potential damage to recreational and commercial fishing by cormorants. Since the publication of the EA, the Service engaged stakeholders to assess the biological, social and economic significance of wild fish-cormorant interactions, and to identify a suite of management alternatives.

The Service is also currently working with tribes, state fish and wildlife agencies and other federal partners to assess comprehensive management options for cormorants across the United States.

“With nearly 30,000 water surface acres across Arkansas used for aquaculture production, our fish farmers contributed $71.1 million to our state’s economy in 2017. However, the United States Department of Agriculture estimates double-crested cormorants cause more than $25 million in damage annually within the aquaculture industry. These birds have become the foremost antagonists of fish farmers. We need commonsense solutions that allow aquaculture producers to safeguard their fish from these predators,” said U.S. Sen. John Boozman (AR).

“I applaud the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for responding to the need of aquaculture producers by increasing the amount of maximum allowable take of double-crested cormorants, and I look forward to working with the Department of Interior and USFWS to ensure we can find commonsense solutions to ease the burden for hard working Arkansan aquaculture producers.”“Arkansans are experiencing the harmful impact of double-crested cormorants across the state. As one of the top aquaculture producers in the nation, Arkansas and its fish farmers are suffering millions of dollars in losses as these avian predators consume critical inventory,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (AR).

“I am glad the Department of Interior is taking this problem seriously and hope that further progress will come swiftly.”“Bird predation costs producers millions of dollars every year. I applaud the Department of the Interior for taking this important step to help aquacultures producers address those losses,” said U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS).

“The double-crested cormorant has been detrimental to Mississippi’s catfish farmers,” said U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (MS).

“I am pleased that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking this issue seriously and is considering options to allow aquaculture producers to manage the populations of these predatory birds that are destroying fish populations.”“I am pleased to see the Department is moving forward in the rulemaking process for the depredation of double-crested cormorants. This is a desperately needed next step for Michigan’s First District, where over-population is threatening the health of our free swimming and recreational fisheries,” said U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (MI-01).

“I am grateful the Administration has committed to this process to ensure a long-term and effective management plan for Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.”“I am pleased with the efforts and action by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to increase the allowable take of double-crested cormorants. This is a necessary step to mitigate more than $25 million in annual damages to the catfish and aquaculture industry,” said U.S. Rep. Michael Guest (MS-03).

“I’m supportive of this proposed rule, which will have a positive impact on Mississippi’s catfish industry, and I will continue to work with FWS to promote Mississippi’s aquaculture needs.”“Science has consistently proven that managing cormorants is necessary to protect not just aquaculture but fishing as well. I applaud the administration for listening to input, increasing the take and promoting sound scientific practices,” said U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman (AR-04).

“Double-crested cormorants can pose a significant threat to American aquaculture. The American Farm Bureau Federation is pleased to learn that the Department of the Interior is moving forward to help provide farmers the necessary management tools to prevent double-crested cormorants from preying on farm livestock,” said President of the American Farm Bureau Federation Zippy Duvall.

“The strong return of double crested cormorants is a significant conservation success. But in the absence of natural predators, cormorants are inflicting substantial depredation on both private and public aquatic resources. This effort by the Fish and Wildlife Service is necessary and appropriate to maintain a healthy ecosystem,” said Former Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dale Hall.

Public scoping for the rulemaking process will begin with the publication of the ANPR in the Federal Register on January 22, 2020, and will continue for 45 days until March 9, 2020. To promulgate a proposed rule and prepare a draft environmental review pursuant to NEPA, the Service will take into consideration all comments and any additional information received on or before that date. You may submit written comments by one of the following methods. Please do not submit comments by both. We do not accept email or faxes.

Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2019-0103.

By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–HQ–MB–2019–0103; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, MS: JAO/1N, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

The Service seeks comments or suggestions from the public, governmental agencies, tribes, the scientific community, industry or any other interested parties. Areas for consideration include but are not limited to: potential reporting and monitoring strategies of cormorants by states and participating tribes; impacts on floodplains, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers or ecologically sensitive areas; impacts to other species of wildlife, including endangered or threatened species; and impacts on prime agricultural lands. Please see the Federal Register notice for more details.

The Fish and Wildlife service will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information you provide. The Service will hold public scoping meetings in the form of multiple webinars in February 2020.More information about the rulemaking process, cormorants and meetings, including how to register, will be posted online at https://www.fws.gov/birds/management/managed-species/double-crested-cormorants.php.

Track of Striped Bass

Track of Striped bass
Born to Run: Hudson River to Canyon Striper
Check out the exciting reveal of the track taken by the second tagged striper in the ongoing Northeast Striped Bass Tag Study.

By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.
from The Fishing Wire

Mention Asbury Park to just about anyone and Bruce Springsteen is typically the response. However, for local surfcasters – perhaps even the late Clarence Clemons, who as legend has it, could often be found livelining eels along the Monmouth County rockpiles in the wee hours after a Stone Pony gig – this rock and roll Jersey Shore town may best be known for the celebrated runs of herring at Deal Lake on the northern border with Allenhurst, and the trophy bass it would attract.

The lake was open naturally to the sea until the early 1890s when a man-made channel (flume) was built to allow the ocean to continue its connection. Significant work has been done by state and federal agencies to keep the flume operational over the years; but for Peter Dello of nearby Ocean, NJ, keeping the flume clear of debris is more of a labor of love.

“I’ve got my own little Maxwell House coffee can, with a long stick so I don’t have to bend down to pick up the trash,” Dello told me by phone during a Thanksgiving stay in the hospital following emergency bypass surgery. Dello has been a fixture on the local beaches where he has surfed for the past 40 years, and just recently began surfcasting.

Last October 22 while doing his regular cleanup, Dello became the second northeast beachcomber to stumble upon a veritable needle in the haystack when he found the Wildlife Computers’ MiniPSAT device from the Northeast Striped Bass Study.

“I was cleaning the beach and picked up this thing. I knew it looked weird,” Dello told me while lying in his hospital bed where local surfers and surfcasters alike have been sending well wishes following his holiday scare and noticeably absent from those beaches where he’d rather be.

“I grew up there, we used to play around in the flume,” he said.The $5,000 satellite tag that washed up along that legendary striper hotspot at the Jersey Shore began its transmission on October 19 after popping free of the striper named Freedom; three days later, it was clanging around inside Dello’s coffee can. In early November, that tag was in the hands of researchers who’ve been diligently working to analyze millions of data points stored inside, telling the tale of a 42-inch striped bass caught and released from a Fin Chasers charter on May 21 in the lower Hudson River. Where she traveled in those 152 days, and how far she went, may surprise every striper fisherman and scientist along the entire Striper Coast, north, south, and east of Asbury Park.Suffice to say, this striper was born to run.

GREETINGS FROM THE HUDSON

The Northeast Striped Bass Study kicked off on May 21, 2019 when a team comprised of staff from The FishermanNavionics and Gray FishTag Research set upon New York Harbor to deploy a pair of satellite tags in post-spawn striped bass for a five-month study. The first large striper to get fixed with a satellite tag, aptly named Liberty, was caught aboard Rocket Charters out of New York City on the East River with Capt. Paul Risi. It was considered finding a “needle in a haystack” when the first tag washed up along the beach in Massachusetts back in the summer and was picked up by a woman walking the beach; check out the amazing results of that tag right here!

The second tagged fish, Freedom, was caught a little west of the first fish on May 21, not far from the Statue of Liberty aboard the charter boat Fin Chasers with captains Frank Wagenhoffer and Dave Rooney. The timing and location of the catch, tag and release project was planned around the end of the Hudson River spawning in hopes of capturing a pair of post-spawn bass; at 42 inches in length, Freedom was precisely the fish we were looking for!On December 5 at a conference at Gray FishTag Research in Florida, we learned the surprising truth behind Freedom. After being tagged in the lower Hudson River on May 21, data show Freedom heading in a southeast direction above the Hudson Shelf Valley, making it to the westernmost tip of the Hudson Canyon just inside the Babylon Valley – a distance of roughly 100 miles – for the Memorial Day weekend.

The information collected inside that Wildlife Computers MiniPAT tag reveals that Freedom spent the next month moving out and about within 20 or so nautical miles of that point, eventually zigzagging her way through Block Canyon out towards Veatch Canyon before heading north towards Nantucket Shoals in early July.

The beauty of these high-tech tags is that they incorporate light-based geolocation for tracking, time-at-depth histograms for measuring diving behavior, and a profile of depth and temperature. Some had questioned whether a larger predator like a white shark consumed the fish before making a beeline offshore; the data stored inside however show that both tagged fish were alive and swimming the entire time at sea.

NEW ENGLAND BOUND

Freedom spent the better part of July and all of August covering ground on the shoals outside of Massachusetts state waters, before heading northwest into Rhode Island Sound in what appears from the data points to be a somewhat circular pattern before cruising past Block Island to pay a visit to Montauk in early October.

For inshore fishermen and surfcasters in particular, Freedom didn’t make herself too available for capture for very long, ultimately sticking to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for travel purposes, finally intersecting with her original May track out of the Hudson River in early October, before the tag disengaged pretty much on schedule east of Sandy Hook, NJ on Friday, October 18, just as the crew from The Fisherman was compiling our fishing reports for the November edition.

According to the tag data, a striped bass named “Freedom” spent much of her summer in the deep waters off Southern New England.

“Our predictions of a big bass attack this past week were right on the money,” reported North Jersey field editor JB Kasper that weekend. Sifting through our weekly reports at the time, it shows we had a pretty good nor’easter around that time, with a mid-week storm pushing wind and waves along the coast until that weekend. “When boats got back on the water on Saturday the 19th the stripers were still there and a flotilla of boats found mixed results,” Kasper noted in his New Jersey edition reports for the weekend, adding “Some of the best fishing was just inside the three mile line on Saturday.

”There’s no telling if Freedom made it past the “flotilla” of New York and New Jersey anglers on the grounds that week, but she did also have one of Gray’s green spaghetti tags affixed around her dorsal – as did Liberty – so there’s still a chance to learn more about both of these fish again in the future. One could roughly assume that Freedom enjoyed a bit of heavy feeding on bunker schools in the region before turning south along the three mile line with the rest of those big fish that anglers were finding off the Virginia coast as of early December. But as we’ve learned from the first two tags, our historic presumptions on striped bass migration might be off by as much as a few hundred miles.

According to the MiniPSAT data, Freedom spent much of the summer at depths of 50 to 75 feet, occasionally traveling to depths of between 150 and 200 feet.

“The science doesn’t always bear out the assumptions,” noted Dave Bulthuis, president of Pure Fishing’s North America division while sitting at the December 5 conference held by Gray FishTag in Lighthouse Point, FL. As one of the Advisory Board Members at Gray, Bulthuis and others spoke at length during the session about the need to provide better, more improved data for researchers managing coastal fisheries.

Dobbelaer stressed the ongoing goal “to get the data we desperately need,” while outlining for the group of advisors the urgency for better, more technologically advanced information. “This striped bass study reflects the movement of two fish caught and released in the Hudson River mouth and draws no conclusion of all striped bass behavior,” Dobbelaer said, adding “however, this groundbreaking movement lets us know that further work is a necessity from the team at Gray FishTag Research. There is so much more research that needs to be done to study the current patters and movements of striped bass.”In other words, if one is an anomaly, and two is a coincidence, it could take three or more high-tech satellite tags to help determine actual patterns.

CRITICAL BUY-IN

Another exciting bit of news learned at the Gray FishTag Research Advisory Board meeting in Florida on December 6 was that NOAA Fisheries is already actively engaged in the satellite tagging efforts. Eric Orbesen, Research Fishery Biologist with the fisheries agency and a specialist in highly migratory species and spatial movement is has worked with Gray FishTag Research professionals in ongoing swordfish research. Orbesen works out of NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami, but his ongoing participation in Gray tagging programs could be a good intro to other NOAA efforts with striped bass out of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, which manages marine resources from the Gulf of Maine to Cape Hatteras.“Our goal is to continue to satellite tag many more striped bass in the Hudson River mouth during the same time of year in an effort to control the data collected on these great fish,” Dobbelaer told the folks assembled at the Florida conference. In fact, based on the early success of this groundbreaking work with striped bass, a new “spaghetti tag” project has also been launched with bull redfish in Northeast Florida where proceeds from the Full of Bull Tournament out of Jacksonville have been used to purchase 100 tag sticks and 1,000 streamer tags along with promotional materials as part of an education program there.

Closer to home for striper fishermen, funding efforts for new Wildlife Computers MiniPSAT devices for the ongoing Northeast Striped Bass Study have kicked into high gear. The 2019 study was funded by the charting professionals at Navionics, which has already signed on again for 2020. The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) through its Fisheries Conservation Trust is also sponsoring a tag in 2020 utilizing monies raised through the annual Manhattan Cup catch and release striped bass tournament. Also kicking off during the holiday season was a new fundraising effort here at The Fisherman Magazine that seeks to find a core group of 1,000 individual investors to participate in the program.

For every $10 donation online, each “investor” will receive an exclusive Release, Reduce & Rebuild sticker to boast their participation in the tagging effort with their names added to an online list at TheFisherman.com. In just the first week of the fundraising, the effort raised $1,200 towards the purchase of additional Wildlife Computers MiniPSAT tags, which are valued at roughly $5,000 apiece. The initial promotional boost has also led to new pledges from within the recreational fishing community; looking ahead to the next round of tag deployments sometime this spring, it’s entirely possible that we have six or seven post-spawn stripers swimming around with pricey MiniPSAT devices next summer.

Keeping Florida Fish Alive


Keeping Florida Fish Alive as Temperatures Drop
With temperatures dropping, can you handle the fish?

While many anglers sing the praises of Florida’s warmer fishing months, seasoned anglers know that winter can offer great fishing opportunities for some of the state’s most sought-after fish species. As the temperatures drop, you’ll spot many anglers, including veteran kayak angler Stephen Stubbs, following spotted seatrout to fresher water, where the fish congregate in large schools.

While this can make spotted seatrout an easy target, this species is also especially vulnerable to fatigue and exposure, so as the winter bite turns on, it’s important to use proper gear and fish handling techniques. This ensures the best chance of survival for released fish. Read on for some tips to help you handle the fishing as the weather cools down and the action heats up.

Prepping for the Day A successful day of fishing begins with preparation. Be aware of the area you will be fishing and local fish you might catch. Know the regulations for your target species and make sure you have all the proper gear. Determining ahead of time which fish you are going to keep versus which fish you will release is an easy step to take and something that Stubbs practices regularly.“My friends and I tend to harvest only slot trout under 19 inches to keep the more productive egg-layers (20 inches and over) in the water to continue the sustainability of this wonderful species,” Stubbs said.

Knowing which fish he plans to release helps to get those fish back in the water quickly, increasing survival and benefitting the fish population.

Some great gear to have in your stash is:

Barbless circle hooks – Are 90% more likely to hook a fish in the mouth. Hooking a fish in the mouth reduces internal harm and decreases dehooking time, getting the fish back in the water faster and increasing its chance of survival.

Dehooking tool – Allows anglers to quickly release their catch while minimizing injuries and handling time.

Correct weight tackle – Using tackle heavy enough to land a fish quickly is important so fish are less exhausted and more able to avoid predators upon release.

Knotless, rubber-coated net – These support the weight of the fish while removing a minimal amount of slime, which protects the fish from infection.

Fish On!Make sure to reel the fish in as quickly as possible. According to Stubbs, the key to landing a nice trout, especially a big one, is to manage the drag tension. Horsing a trout into the boat can usually result in additional tearing of the area they are hooked, especially around the mouth. It can also cause you to lose the fish. Work them in as they tire and keep tension on the line to prevent a hook release. Playing the fish too much can result in an exhausted fish that cannot avoid predators once released.

Landing the FishStubbs reminds anglers to always use a net for landing medium-to-large trout and dip/wet any measuring board with water before laying the fish on the board. That helps reduce the loss of slime and scales. Once you’ve got your catch to the boat, use these additional tips to ensure that fish are landed quickly and safely for the best outcome for both the angler and the fish.

Avoid removing large fish from water. If you must remove them, support their weight horizontally to prevent damage to their internal organs.

Take pictures of your catch while it is in the water. This puts less stress on the fish and the fish will look bigger.If a net is needed to land or control a fish, always use a knotless, rubber-coated landing net. Fish Handling Using the correct methods to handle your fish once you’ve landed them is important to ensure that released fish are in prime condition when returned to the water.

Return the fish to the water as quickly as possible. One of the major factors in the survival of a released fish is how much time it spends out of the water. The more fish that survive upon release today, the more fish there will be available to catch tomorrow.Wet your hands before handling a fish to prevent damaging its protective slime coating.

Don’t use gloves or towels, as this will remove the protective slime.
Never hold a fish by the gill cover or eyes.

Hold fish horizontally to support their internal organs.

Gripping devices can be effective for controlling and handling fish, especially ones with sharp teeth. Grip behind the lower lip and support the weight of the fish in a horizontal position.

Removing the Hook Removing a hook can be tricky. Use these tips to get the hook out and protect your trout (and other catches).If possible, keep the fish in the water while removing the hook.If the fish has swallowed the hook, cut the line as close to the hook as possible. Attempting to remove the hook can do more harm than good. Use non-stainless-steel hooks since they eventually dissolve or pass naturally.

Using a dehooking tool will allow you to remove hooks safely and quickly without touching the fish, giving it a better chance to survive. 

Releasing and RevivingTaking steps to return fish to the water properly can be a significant factor in their survival. With a little extra effort, you can give your fish a fighting chance at survival to reproduce and fight another day.

Place the fish in the water and allow it to swim away on its own; do not toss the fish back.

Revive fish that do not swim away immediately or appear lethargic.Place fish in the water head first – it is easiest to hold one hand on the bottom lip or tail and one hand under the belly of the fish.Move the fish forward in the water – this allows the water to be flow through the mouth and over the gills. The fish must face the direction of water flow.Use a figure-8 motion to move the fish forward constantly, ensuring water continues to flow over the gills. Never jerk fish back and forth, since this action prevents water from properly flowing through the gills.For fish caught in deep water with signs of barotrauma, use a descending device to return fish to depth or vent the fish by inserting a sharpened, hollow tube at a 45-degree angle, one inch behind the base of the pectoral fin.

Practice C-P-R: Catch-Photo-Release. Quickly land your fish, have a friend snap a quick photo during the action and return fish to the water expediently. Then submit your photos on com to earn prizes for your fishing achievements!

Ensure Fish Survive to Help Populations Thrive!The steps you take on the water today can help positively impact the future of your Florida fish populations! Dropping temperatures don’t have to mean a drop in the survival of the fish you release. To learn more about proper catch-and-release techniques, visit MyFWC.com/FishHandling.

The quarterly Gone Coastal column is one of many ways that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Marine Fisheries Management is helping recreational anglers understand complex saltwater regulations and learn more about saltwater fishing opportunities and issues in Florida. We are also available to answer questions by phone or email anytime, and we would love the opportunity to share information through in-person presentations with recreational or commercial fishing organizations.

To contact the FWC’s Regulatory Outreach subsection, call 850-487-0554 or email Saltwater@MyFWC.com.

Tarpon Tagging Program Yields Results

Tracking

Bonefish and Tarpon Trust Tarpon Tagging Program Yields Results
It’s hoped the 5-year acoustic tagging program will help answer many questions about tarpon movements around Florida’s coasts.

The Tarpon Acoustic Tagging Project is a collaborative, five-year program designed to broaden our understanding of tarpon movement and habitat uses. The results will help shape future conservation measures, including the protection of critical habitats and improvements to fishing regulations.  The project is generously sponsored by Maverick Boat Group.

Tarpon Acoustic Tagging is addressing 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 relatively large.

Do tarpon gather in the same areas for spawning each year or move among areas? 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 local 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.Until the Tarpon Acoustic Tagging Project began, there was little information available to answer these questions. Satellite tagging provided spatial and temporal data that was limited to tarpon weighing 80 pounds and larger. After a few months, most satellite tags detached from the fish, making it difficult to study their movements over the important multi-year time frame. Acoustic telemetry has helped to combat these limitations.Why Acoustic Tagging?Acoustic tags provide the ability to track tarpon for five years. They are also small enough that they are being used on tarpon as small as 5 and as large as 200 pounds!

Acoustic telemetry has helped to broaden the scope of tarpon research. When deployed, a tag is surgically implanted in the fish’s abdomen before safe release. The tagged fish swims within range of an underwater receiver, which detects and stores the tag’s unique code. BTT and collaborators have approximately 100 receivers deployed, but we are also able to take advantage of the network of receivers being used by collaborators studying everything from redfish to sawfish. This vast network exceeds 4,000 receivers deployed from Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. As scientists detect tagged fish on their receiver networks they share data with other scientists, effectively expanding the study area.

All years are concurrently playing with the date displayed in the upper left corner. The movements shown here are represented “as the crow flies”, thus the movement tracks may cross land.

How You Can Help

Sponsor a Tarpon: Sponsor an acoustic tag for $3,000. You can name your tarpon and will receive a certificate with its name and initial capture info (general location and measurements).  Sponsors will receive access to a password protected site where they can see periodic updates of their tarpon’s movements.

Sponsor a Receiver: Sponsor and name an acoustic receiver (listening station) for $3,000.  Sponsors will receive periodic reports summarizing the tarpon detections it has recorded.

Help us tag tarpon: Prior to every tagging trip, our team of scientists will notify sponsors  about when and where they will be working, along with contact information. If you are fishing in that area on tagging dates, all you need to do is call us when you catch a tarpon. We’ll come to your boat, transfer the tarpon to our sling, and take implant a transmitter. Remember to always keep the tarpon in the water!

Contact Us Today! For more information and to sponsor a tag or receiver, please contact Mark Rehbein, Director of Development at 703-350-9195 or mark@bonefishtarpontrust.org

Lionfish

Lionfish

Impacts of Invasive Lionfish
Lionfish are native to coral reefs in the tropical waters of the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. But you don’t have to travel halfway around the world to see them. This is an invasive species that threatens the well-being of coral reefs and other marine ecosystems, including the commercially and recreationally important fishes that depend on them.

NOAA and its partners are working hard to develop ways to prevent further spread and control existing populations.

Lionfish have become the poster child for invasive species issues in the western north Atlantic region. On par with zebra mussels, snakeheads, and even Asian carp in notoriety as invaders, lionfish populations continue to expand, threatening the well-being of coral reefs and other marine ecosystems, including the commercially and recreationally important fishes that depend on them. NOAA and its partners are working hard to develop ways to prevent further spread and control existing populations.

History The common name “lionfish” refers to two closely related and nearly indistinguishable species that are invasive in U.S. waters. Lionfish, which are native to the Indo-Pacific, were first detected along Florida coasts in the mid-1980s, but their populations have swelled dramatically in the past 15 years. Lionfish are popular with aquarists, so it is plausible that repeated escapes into the wild via aquarium releases are the cause for the invasion. Lionfish now inhabit reefs, wrecks, and other habitat types in the warm marine waters of the greater Atlantic.

Lionfish continue to expand at astonishing speeds and are harming native coral reef ecosystems in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean. Biologists suspect that lionfish populations have not yet peaked in the Gulf of Mexico, which means that their demand for native prey will continue to increase. Recent research has also revealed that lionfish can tolerate brackish coastal zones, so mangrove and estuarine habitats may also be at risk of invasion.

Impacts to Native Fish and Coral reefs Adult lionfish are primarily fish-eaters and have very few predators outside of their home range. Researchers have discovered that a single lionfish residing on a coral reef can reduce recruitment of native reef fishes by 79 percent. Because lionfish feed on prey normally consumed by snappers, groupers, and other commercially important native species, their presence could negatively affect the well-being of valuable commercial and recreational fisheries.

As lionfish populations grow, they put additional stress on coral reefs already struggling from the effects of climate change, pollution, disease, overfishing, sedimentation, and other stressors that have led to the listing of seven coral species in the lionfish-infested area. For example, lionfish eat herbivores and herbivores eat algae from coral reefs. Without herbivores, algal growth goes unchecked, which can be detrimental to the health of coral reefs.

What’s Next? NOAA has created an Invasive Lionfish Web Portal—a clearinghouse for all things related to lionfish outreach and education, research, monitoring, and management. Interested parties will no longer need to browse through multiple web pages to find accurate information; it will be available in a centralized location.NOAA researcher and lionfish expert Dr. James Morris recently hosted the 7th annual lionfish symposium at the 2014 meeting of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute in Barbados. More than 35 presentations were given on lionfish research around the region.

This meeting built upon the results of a 2013 GCFI lionfish workshop focused on harvesting invasive lionfish: An invasive lionfish food fish market is practical, feasible, and should be promoted.Alternative invasive lionfish end-uses, such as the curio and aquarium trade, are also viable markets.

Regarding consumption and the risk for ciguatera poisoning, invasive lionfish should not be treated differently than other tropical fish species and a general caution statement should be displayed within all establishments that serve fish and on all fish products.Local control is effective at minimizing invasive lionfish impacts at local scales and should be encouraged where possible.

Though no confirmed cases of ciguatera poisoning from eating lionfish have occurred, fears persist. A Caribbean-wide assessment of lionfish ciguatera levels is nearly complete and a report will be publicly available in the coming months. If lionfish are proven to be safe, and if cost-effective harvest and distribution mechanisms are developed, small-scale fishermen may be able to capitalize while simultaneously helping to control the invasion.

Cooperation and communication among local, state, federal, and international partners is crucial for proper management of lionfish and other widespread invasive species. Accordingly, a National Invasive Lionfish Prevention and Management Plan was developed by members of the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force—an intergovernmental organization co-chaired by NOAA. The plan will be publicly available in spring 2015 pending final review and approval. NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries Program is working to finalize their own lionfish plan that will guide the management of this invasive species in the affected sanctuaries in the Gulf and southeastern United States.

Together, these plans will guide the management of invasive lionfish and ensure that all are working toward common objectives.More information on NOAA’s lionfish research programs can be found online.An animated map of lionfish spread is available on the U.S. Geological Survey’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species web page.