Category Archives: Conservation

NOAA Fisheries Now More Responsive to Needs of Recreational Anglers

Russell Dunn, National Policy Advisor for Recreational Fisheries, with a nice rainbow runner caught off Ft. Pierce, Florida.

Russ Dunn
from The Fishing Wire

Read a new leadership message from Russ Dunn, National Policy Advisor for Recreational Fisheries, in honor of National Fishing and Boating Week.

Anglers motoring a boat in California’s Sacramento Delta at sunrise. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Jeremy NotchMore than 10 years ago, NOAA officially launched the National Recreational Fisheries Initiative with the opening of the National Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Summit on April 16-17, 2010. Days prior to the Summit, ESPN published a column musing about the demise of recreational fishing as we knew it. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded just three days later. Bookended by these events, the first national Summit opened a challenging long-term dialogue. It produced a very clear message: marine recreational fishermen had long-held frustrations with federal fisheries management they wanted addressed.

We left that first Summit understanding the need for institutional change, active public engagement, and the value of public-private partnerships. And we responded by changing the way we thought about recreational fisheries from top to bottom. We expanded agency planning, focus, and accountability around recreational fisheries through a series of detailed regional and national action plans between 2010 and 2019. And, we codified our new approach in the groundbreaking Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Policy in 2014.

Since 2010, active engagement and partnership with the recreational community has become deeply ingrained in agency culture. From quadrennial national summits to annual roundtable discussions in every part of the country, the agency works to stay current and connected. We have funded recreational fishermen to research and address many on-the-water priorities such as barotrauma and release mortality, marine debris, habitat restoration, and fish migration. We are working to educate the next generation of anglers, captains, and guides. We accomplish this by supporting programs as varied as the Marine Resource Education Program and the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing Academy.

In 2019, we reached another milestone when we signed a formal Memorandum of Agreement with leading recreational fishing community members at the Miami Boat Show. The MOA established a formal framework for communication and collaboration on mutually beneficial projects. They will advance our goals of supporting and promoting sustainable saltwaterrecreational fisheries for the benefit of the nation.

This year we established a new collaborative partnershipwith Bonnier Corporation—publisher of Saltwater Sportsman and Sport Fishing magazines—to promote sustainable recreational fishing.

Over the past 10 years NOAA Fisheries has accomplished quite a lot with the recreational fishing community, but we know our work is not done. We will continue to support sustainable saltwater recreational fishing now and years into the future for the benefit of the nation.

Which brings us to today. COVID-19 has upended life and business across the country and the world. This includes recreational anglers, for-hire operators, and the businesses that depend on them. In April and May, the agency worked quickly to allocate the CARES Act funds appropriated by the Congress and we will continue working to understand its impacts. As we collectively navigate the uncharted waters created by the COVID-19 virus, know that we do so together.

This National Fishing and Boating Week, let’s all rededicate ourselves to working together and facilitating a safe return of the American public to the water and fishing. So go grab your rod! I hope to see you out on the water soon.
Russ Dunn
National Policy Advisor for Recreational Fisheries

What Are Cicadas?

You may hear a humming sound when near woods this spring and early summer.  What is often called locusts locally are actually cicadas and there are a variety of them.  Some come out of the ground and transform into adults every year, other groups emerge every five, seven, 13 and 17 years. 

   The most talked about are the “17-year locusts,” a big group that comes out every 17 years in huge numbers and are named “Brood IX.” This year as many as 1.5 million adults may emerge per acre in some areas.   

Female Cicadas lay their eggs on woody parts of trees and bushes. When the eggs hatch, the nymphs go into the ground and grow, eating plant roots. They grow for the years for their species, emerge from the ground, then climb up a tree or bush a few feet and come out of their shell, developing wings.

Males “sing” by rubbing membranes on their body making the sound we hear that attracts females.  After they mate, the cycle starts over.   

My grandfather died when I was six years old, but I vaguely remember his small farm.  A tiny field was surrounded by pine trees, and whenever I visited, I would go out there and find Cicada husks clinging to the bark and collect them.  Sometimes I found a one or two, other times dozens.   

I have found the husks around Griffin, too.  At the hunting club and on my land, if I look carefully, I can find them.  The light brown husks are hard to see on the bark but they do stick out a little to help spot them.   

A few years ago I was fishing Lake Sinclair and we could hear the Cicadas singing in the woods. The surface of the water was covered with dead bugs. Their bodies were reddish brown and were everywhere.   

After fishing about three hours without a bite, I finally decided to “match the hatch” and tied on a red worm.  I immediately started catching bass. The bass were feeding on the dead Cicadas that had died in the water and fell to the bottom and were so focused on that food source any other color did not attract them.   

Carp are usually hard to catch on artificial bait, but during the Cicada hatch they come to the top and eat floating bugs.  You can tie a fly that looks like the dead Cicada and catch them on a fly rod, about the only time you can do that.   

This year the reason there are so many Cicadas is the 13 and 17 Cicadas cycles are matching, so both groups are coming out at the same time.   

Listen for the humming sound and know that is just one of amazing parts of nature’s life cycle.

Manta Ray Conservation and Best Cobia Fishing Practices

Photo: Cobia swimming with a manta ray. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Manta Rays and Cobia
from The Fishing Wire

Cobia frequently follow giant manta rays in their migrations, and fishermen targeting the cobia sometimes accidentally hook the rays. Here’s a Q&A from NOAA Fisheries with two well-known Florida skippers on the process and on protecting the relatively rare rays.

As cobia season gets underway in the Southeast U.S., NOAA Fisheries reached out to one of our best resources: our fishermen. We wanted to find out what they do or recommend to fish for cobia while protecting threatened giant manta rays. Understanding the challenges fishermen face helps NOAA biologists and fishery managers find a way to protect threatened and endangered species and still offer fishing opportunities.

 Captain Butch Constable and Captain Ira Laks both helped us answer the following questions. Capt. Constable has been fishing offshore in Jupiter, Florida for more than 45 years. Capt. Laks has been a charter captain and commercial fisherman out of Palm Beach, Jupiter, and the Treasure Coast for more than 30 years.  Both fishermen observe individual giant manta rays along the beaches of southeast FloridaWe appreciate the input these captains provided when we asked questions about cobia fishing. What time of year do you typically see manta rays arrive along Florida’s east coast? 

Capt. Constable: The manta rays used to show up in March, sometimes as early as February in cold weather years, and stay through May. Manta rays would move up the coast as water warmed. However, now there are no manta rays any more off of Jupiter in the early springtime. Warmer water temps have caused a shift in species and now the giant manta rays seem to stay further north. These days no mantas seem to be found in the spring south of Hobe Sound. I discovered another large ray, the Roughtail stingray, often has cobia swimming alongside so I look for them when sight casting.

Capt. Laks: Most of the sight casting for cobia from Jupiter south is done around big sharks. The challenge with that kind of fishing is keeping a hooked cobia away from the shark so that it does not get eaten.

What are some of the best fishing techniques you use when fishing for cobia around manta rays? 

Capt. Constable: The best advice is to practice and really have good casting skills from behind and to the side of manta ray. Do not cast in front of the manta ray. That way you can make a bad cast or two and reel in and recast without spooking the fish or hooking the ray.

Capt. Laks: I like to come up slowly and from behind on either side of the manta and keep as much distance as possible to make a good cast. My best approach is with the winds behind me and the angler. That allows for a longer cast and it’s less likely to spook the manta with the boat. It also allows for several attempts in order to make that perfect cast to catch the cobia and not hook the ray. Are there any specific tackle or lures you would recommend to reduce foul hooking manta rays but still are effective at catching cobia? 

Capt. Constable: Single hooks! No reason to fish any sort of treble hook. Safer for angler when unhooking, safer for reducing snagging the ray. It would be good if a single hook series of baits and lures came out promoting cobia fishing in a responsible way. Also, anglers should use an oversize landing net and not a gaff for most cobia. Safer for fishermen and for cobia if kept or released.

Capt. Laks: I specialize in live bait fishing and use only single hooks. Treble hooks are not necessary when live bait fishing for cobia. A single hook reduces the chance of snagging a manta ray if a bad cast is made in front of the ray.

If a manta ray becomes foul hooked or snagged, what can fishermen do to reduce injury and trailing line?

 Capt. Constable: I recommend moving the boat in front of the ray, reeling up the line and trying to pull the lure gently from that direction. The hook will often pull out of the fish and not leave the lure or trailing line. If not cut the line as close to the ray as possible.

Capt. Laks: I like to position the boat and move carefully as close as possible to the manta. Then I cut the line so as to leave the minimum amount of trailing line as possible.

Have you ever seen a hooked manta ray or a manta ray showing evidence of vessel interactions (e.g., prop scars or cuts)? 

Capt. Constable: I have seen a few lures and jigs in rays but cannot recall prop scars or major injuries.

Capt. Laks: I have seen a few with larger scars but not sure the cause of those injuries.

What are some best practices for safe maneuvering your vessel around manta rays? 

Capt. Constable: I believe approaching slowly and carefully from behind so that it allows the captain to position the boat in a safe way and not spook the ray or the fish. This gives anglers the time to set up their cast and when the fish is hooked, it will usually swim away from the ray at first. Cobia will sometimes try to return to the ray but if the boat is behind, you can often hold the fish away from the ray and land the fish safely and determine its size.

Capt. Laks: Do not set up in front of the ray. I recommend staying a distance away to allow the manta to stay calm and act normally. I can then set up to fish for cobia from behind and to the side of the animal. 

Capt. Laks: I also wanted to remind anglers that just seeing one of these large and amazing creatures is a thrill all by itself. It is a fortunate part of an amazing day of fishing and the overall fishing experience.

Idaho’s Fish Marking Program Has Come a Long Way


By Braden Buttars and Joe DuPont, Idaho DFG
from The Fishing Wire

You set the hook and immediately your rod doubles over and there is no doubt you have hooked a big one (salmon or steelhead – you pick). Line starts peeling from your reel and you hold on for the ride. After some intense moments of thinking you may have lost the fish and some spectacular jumps, your buddy finally slips a net under the fish.

After a shout for joy, what is the first thing you say? How many of you said, “Is it clipped”? I suspect many of you did seeing a clipped adipose fin distinguishes a hatchery fish from a protected wild fish telling anglers it is legal to harvest. Many of us take it for granted that hatchery fish have a clipped adipose fin, but have you ever wondered what it takes to make this happen?

Joe DuPontThe Idaho fish marking program started in 1975 with a small group of people directed to tag salmon and steelhead raised in Idaho’s hatcheries. Their primary objective was to insert tiny pieces of wire, known as coded-wire tags, into the snouts of over one million salmon and steelhead. Each of these tagged fish also needed their adipose fin clipped to signify it contained a coded-wire tag. The recovery of these coded- wire tags would then help us evaluate how Idaho hatcheries contributed to fisheries in the Columbia River and ocean.

Northwest Marine TechnologyIdaho’s fish-marking program has changed dramatically since 1975. In 1984 the fish-marking program was directed to remove the adipose fin from more than 9 million Idaho hatchery steelhead so that anglers could distinguish hatchery fish from wild fish. This required a small army of people equipped with scissors working 40 hours a week for about three months to accomplish this task.

Once, to meet a deadline at Dworshak Hatchery in 1987, over 130 different temporaries were hired to keep four marking trailers operating 16 hours a day to remove the adipose fins from almost 3 million steelhead in 10 days. By the early 1990s, almost all hatchery Chinook Salmon released in Idaho were fin clipped, and hundreds of thousands of PIT tags were being injected into smolts to help answer specific research questions and provide managers real-time data to better manage fisheries.

It got to the point that Idaho’s fish marking program could not accomplish this alone and Federal Agencies also began to help. Despite this, Idaho’s fish marking program clipped and tagged approximately 11 million juvenile salmon and steelhead each year. All this work was done by hand requiring a dedicated force of temporarily.

In 2002 Idaho began to automate the fish marking program allowing more fish to be processed with less error. The first AutoFish Trailer was purchased in 2002. In 2004 Idaho purchased two additional AutoFish Trailers and two more were purchased in 2014. With this new technology, the Idaho Fish-Marking Program is now able to processes around 17 million salmon and steelhead from 9 Idaho hatcheries that contribute to major salmon and steelhead fisheries throughout Idaho and the Pacific Northwest.

Now that Idaho’s fish marking program has been using automated trailers for 18 years, they have refined this process to where most fish never need to be touched by a person. To make this happen, the automated trailers are parked right next to the raceways where the fish are being raised. This allows the fish to be directly pumped from the raceway, run through the marking trailers where their adipose fins are clipped and coded-wire tags are injected, and then discharged back to a nearby raceway with no direct human contact.

The first time you step into one of these marking trailer is seems more like you are entering a high tech computer facility than a place where fish are being marked. These automated trailers have the ability to sort individual fish by size using video imaging so that the right size fish goes into the right machine. This is required because each machine is programmed precisely to handle certain sized fish. Once a fish is sorted into the right machine, it gently clamps the fish in place and in a fraction of a second it can insert a coded-wire tag, clip its adipose fin, and confirm that the adipose fin was removed adequately. All this is accomplished without removing the fish from the water or using any type of anesthetic which reduces stress on the fish.

For more detail on how this process click on this video link fish marking video.
Roger Phillips

Because of this technology, we now have an accurate count of all clipped hatchery fish at each hatchery and how these fish were marked or tagged. The application of these technologies allows fisheries managers to evaluate, track, and manage fish to provide for the protection and recovery of wild fish, while maximizing commercial and sport use of hatchery fish.

In case you were wondering, in 2019, Idaho’s Fish-Marking Program was responsible for marking 16.35 million juvenile fish (10.7 million salmon and 5.65 million steelhead) as well as manually inserting 398,443 PIT tags across 9 anadromous fish hatcheries managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Removing Billfish from the Water: Don’t Do It!

Don’t do this!
Don’t Remove Billfish from the Water

Anglers love hero shots with their fish, especially if it’s their first one. Of all the billfish species, sailfish lend themselves particularly well to this type of photo, since they’re usually small enough to lift up, have particularly gorgeous colors and that massive sail to hold out like a giant flag.

But don’t do it! Removing any billfish species from the water, even for a few moments for a photo, is illegal, both in Costa Rica and the United States. Studies have shown that by scraping the fish over the gunwale of the boat, we are actually harming internal organs and removing the fish’s protective slime layer that acts as a barrier coat against harmful diseases, parasites and infections. Even though you intend to release the fish, by removing it from the water you may have just signed its death warrant instead.

Here are a few things you can do to still get a great photo of your catch. First, be ready with the camera. Few things are more frustrating for your captain or mate than having the fish ready at boatside while someone fumbles for a camera deep inside a duffle bag or backpack. Be ready! Take a few shots during the fight, with the angler grinning from ear to ear.

Once the fish is ready for release and the leader has been cut, the angler can don a pair of gloves, lean over the side and hold the fish by the bill and the sail as it’s revived alongside the boat. The cameraperson should lean out over the side and shoot back toward the angler and the fish. After a few moments, the fish is ready for a healthy release.

Another option: the extended selfie stick and GoPro. Many crews are now using this setup to shoot wide-angle shots back at the boat and anglers. It’s simply a GoPro set on camera mode to shoot every second or so after the shutter is activated. It’s mounted to a long pole that’s held out away from the boat, and the images it reveals are usually very memorable.

Video is a third way to remember the fight. Using that same GoPro, mount it to either a fixed mount on the boat or just hold it in your hand to capture a full video of the fight and the release. All smartphones have a video capability these days as well.So really, the need to remove a marlin or sailfish from the water just isn’t there. Be smart, keep them in the water where they belong.

Courtesy The Presidential Flamingo Fishing Rodeo, Joan Vernon: www.preschallenge.com

Barging Juvenile Salmon and Steelhead through the Columbia and Snake Rivers

Note: I found this especially interesting! Ronnie

It is thought that fish may miss critical migration cues in the barges that they would otherwise pick up during in-river migrations.

Dam!
By Allison Lebeda, Joe DuPont, Lance Hebdon, and Jonathan Ebel.
Idaho Fish & Game
from The Fishing Wire

Barging Juvenile Salmon and Steelhead through the Columbia and Snake Rivers does not work as well as natural migration.

Juvenile salmon and steelhead born in Idaho waters must swim hundreds of miles and navigate a network of eight dams before they can reach the Pacific Ocean. Migrating through the mainstem hydrosystem can be one of the more daunting obstacles these young fish must face.

These fish, which we commonly refer to as “smolts” can pass through a dam in one of three ways.

First, they can be swept through the turbines, where the water forces large blades to rotate at high speeds.

Second, a series of screens can guide smolts away from the turbines where they will be routed through channels and pipes around the dam. We call this the juvenile bypass system.

Third, they can be carried over one of the dam’s spillways where they will plunge over a hundred feet into turbulent waters below.

Thanks to recent changes in the operations of the dams, most smolts pass over the spillway. The diagram above depicts the three passage routes that smolts can use to pass dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

NOAA Fisheries
In the late 1970s, poor adult returns of salmon and steelhead prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (from hereafter referred to as “the Corps”) to develop a fourth method of passing large numbers of juvenile fish past the Snake and Columbia River dams: barging.

Initially, two barges were available to transport juvenile fish, but gradually more barges were added, and by 1981, the barging program had the ability to barge large numbers of fish on a daily basis. Today, between 15 and 22 million smolts are collected from the juvenile bypass systems at Lower Granite, Little Goose, and Lower Monumental dams and placed in one of eight available barges.

Barging typically occurs from late April through July, and transports smolts through the hydropower system until they are eventually released below Bonneville Dam. Collection and transportation, known as the Juvenile Transport Program, is a considerable collaborative effort by the Corps with private, federal, and state agencies. Each barging trip lasts two days and covers nearly 300 river miles, but is ultimately faster than the migration for fish that must pass through the dams on their own power.  


At first glance, barging juvenile salmon and steelhead through the hydropower system seems the obvious solution to increase adult returns. Immediate survival of barged juveniles is nearly 98% compared to the 40-60% survival rate often experienced by smolts that must make the full journey past the dams in-river.

Barging was the dominant method of passing smolts through the hydrosystem from 1981 through 2006 when 60-100% of smolts passing the dams were put on barges. However, with increased spill over the dams, the addition of surface spillway weirs, and upgrades to existing juvenile bypass systems, the relative benefits of barging have declined in recent years. The proportion of smolts put on barges now ranges from 10-50% of the run as a result of increased spill over the dams and the consequent decrease in fish entering the juvenile bypass systems.

Despite high survival of barged smolts to the release site downstream of Bonneville Dam, transported fish often return at lower rates as adults than fish that migrated down the Snake and Columbia rivers on their own.

One explanation for this is multiple species of smolts are often confined in crowded conditions when being barged, which can increase stress and allow diseases to spread more easily between fish. Additionally, returning adults that were barged as smolts tend to migrate upstream slower, fall back over the dams more often, and stray more than fish that were not barged.

It is thought that fish may miss critical migration cues in the barges that they would otherwise pick up during in-river migrations.

Ongoing research using smolts tagged upstream of the hydrosystem and tagged at Lower Granite Dam has helped modify the barging program to improve survival of barged fish. Of fish that enter a juvenile bypass system, those that are subsequently transported tend to return as adults at higher rates than fish that are bypassed and returned to the river.

This is important because millions of smolts migrate past these dams this way each year. But, it is not as simple as one may think. The relative benefits barging provides to smolts varies by the timing of their migration, what species they are, their size, and whether they are a hatchery or wild fish.  For example, endangered Snake River Sockeye Salmon do not benefit from barging in most situations. This may be because they are smaller, can be easily descaled through abrasion, and prefer uncrowded open-water habitats found in lakes.

Meanwhile, steelhead benefit from barging in many situations potentially because they are larger, more resilient, and prefer faster flowing habitats not found in reservoirs. Both these species migrate at the same time and are transported together. Unfortunately, there is no current way to separate the two species after they have entered the juvenile bypass systems and transport-destined raceways.

For smolts migrating later in the season, those that are barged tend to do better than those that aren’t. This is likely because later in the year, migration conditions tend to worsen for smolts as flows decrease and water clarity and temperature increase. These conditions increase their stress levels and increase predation on them.

When you consider all these things, it certainly adds complexity on evaluating whether a smolt should be barged or not. For now, managers have taken a spread-the-risk approach using barging in concert with improving in-river migration conditions. 

In summary, although barging can increase the number of smolts that reach the ocean, transported fish often return at lower rates as adults than fish that migrate in-river.  Under certain conditions, barging juvenile salmon and steelhead can lead to higher survival and higher return rates as adults. Migration timing, fish size, river conditions, and fish species are just some of the variables that play a role in whether barging can be beneficial or not.

Researchers with the multitude of cooperating agencies continue to learn from and modify the Juvenile Transport Program to best increase adult returns. Barging juveniles through the complex network of dams is not the sole solution to salmon and steelhead restoration, but it is one of multiple tools managers have that can aid in increasing juvenile survival and adult returns in some situations.

Do Big Bass Spawn Early?

  On a more positive note, fishing is getting great.


As I left the campground at Lakepoint State Park a week ago last Monday, I stopped to talk to a fisherman loading his crappie trolling boat to go out. He was rigged with over a dozen rod holders for spider rigging.    He said he had caught a few crappie the week before and it got much better over the weekend as the water level stabilized and the temperature warmed from the sun. And it cleared up a good bit.  He expected to do even better that afternoon.   

It was interesting that every fisherman I talked with had caught a lot of catfish.  The high muddy water did not bother them. I caught an eight-pound blue cat on a shaky head worm on Thursday and several club members said they caught big cats fishing for bass.   

Bass fishing was getting better every day, too.  When I got home many of my “fazebook” friends were posting pictures of big bass they were catching.  Bass were moving into the spawning areas and feeding.  With schools out and many off work, a lot of folks are “Social Distancing” themselves by getting on the water and catching fish.   

Now through mid-May is a great time to get on the water, anywhere from ponds and rivers to lakes and creeks. All species are feeding, and bass will start hitting topwater baits any day now. Most agree that is the most exciting way to catch them.     

A few years ago I learned how early bass would hit topwater baits, earlier than I used to think.  In an early March tournament, my partner and I had fished for about an hour without a bite.  My front depthfinder did not show the water temperature.  I ask him what temperature the back one showed.    When he said “62” I said that was warm enough for topwater and picked up a popper. On my first cast to a dock with it, a five-pounder hit it.  It was big fish for the tournament.   

The most interesting thing about that fish was it looked like a female that had already spawned. That seems early, but I am slowly learning bass, especially the bigger ones, want to spawn as early as possible.   

That is a survival thing.  Many baitfish like shad spawn as soon as the water gets to 65 degrees, usually in early April.  If bass spawn a few weeks earlier, their fry are big enough to eat the shad fry when they hatch, giving them a growth edge over the bass fry hatched in April fish that are too small to eat them. It also helps that the first week or two of their life the bass fry are not competing with the baby shad for plankton, the food both species eat after hatching. If a bass is stunted the first year of its life, it never grows to its potential.Nature is amazing!

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