Category Archives: Conservation

Leave Young Wildlife Alone


SEEING YOUNG WILDLIFE ALONE? IF YOU CARE…LEAVE THEM THERE

SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. (April 5, 2021) – In the spring, it is not unusual to see young wildlife that appear to be alone. Before you attempt to help – remember that it is best to leave wildlife where you find them, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division (WRD).

“When you take wildlife out of their environment and bring them into your home, it often takes away that animal’s ability to then survive in the wild, where they belong,” explains Kaitlin Goode, program manager of the Georgia WRD Urban Wildlife Program.  “In most instances, there is an adult animal a short distance away – even though you may not be able to see it.  Adult animals, such as deer, spend most of the day away from their young to reduce the risk of a predator finding the young animal.”

The best thing people can do when they see a young animal is to leave it exactly as they found it for at least 24 hours. If the animal is still there after this time period, reach out to the local WRD office for guidance (https://georgiawildlife.com/about/contact).

Young wildlife demand a great deal of care and have specific nutritional requirements. If they are not cared for properly, they will not be releasable or retain the ability to survive on their own. Persons not licensed and trained in wildlife rehabilitation should not attempt to care for wildlife.  In fact, Georgia law prohibits the possession of most wildlife without a permit.

For more information, visit www.georgiawildlife.com and click on “Living With Wildlife” or contact the local Wildlife Resources Division office (https://georgiawildlife.com/about/contact).

Sea Grass Restoration Promises Fishery Improvements


By Mike Naylor, Maryland DNR
from The Fishing Wire

Anglers and boaters have experienced firsthand how the resurgence of SAV beds on the Susquehanna Flats has led to water so clear that the bottom of the bay is often visible 10 feet deep in midsummer.Submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) is increasingly recognized as vital to aquatic ecosystems. Its importance is extolled during retellings of extreme weather events, e.g. how the widespread destruction of SAV following Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 affected the Chesapeake Bay.

The benefits of healthy underwater grass populations are easily observed: lately, anglers and boaters have experienced firsthand how the resurgence of SAV beds on the Susquehanna Flats has led to water so clear that the bottom of the bay is often visible 10 feet deep in midsummer.

Since the late 1990s, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has been working with federal, state, and local partners to increase the acreage and diversity of SAV in Maryland’s part of the Chesapeake Bay. The department’s Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Division has been doing this through direct restoration–planting plants or seeds of native SAV species in areas where they are not currently found.

In the early years, this team’s efforts focused on growing plants in laboratories and schools. Plants were started either by seeds or through cloning, grown for a few months indoors until mature, and eventually planted into the bay. Growing adult plants was expensive, time-consuming, and laborious. Moving adult plants to the water from wherever they had been grown was back-breaking work.

The effort needed help, so starting in 1999 the department partnered with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to grow wild celery in Maryland schools. Students would plant and raise wild celery while doing in-class experiments, then bring their grasses to us and plant them. The “Bay Grasses in Classes” project expanded rapidly. By 2003 the partnership had 330 schools growing grasses and taking thousands of plants to many places through-out the state so the students could wade into the bay to plant them.Biologists and ShoreRivers volunteers collect widgeon grass seeds near the mouth of Eastern Bay.

These efforts resulted in redhead grass beds in the Severn River, sago pondweed beds in the Magothy River, and wild celery beds in Long Creek and in several reservoirs including Piney Run Park and Clopper Lake. Some of those grass beds persist to this day, 20 years after planting. The program was successful, but expensive and time-consuming, and grant funds dwindled.

Bushels of widgeon grass flowering shoots awaiting transport for processing.

To keep restoration going, the department and partners had to find simpler and less expensive techniques. These were found in scientific journals of others doing SAV restoration using seeds. Some groups were collecting the flowering shoots of eelgrass and placing them in floating mesh bags, out of which the seeds would fall when fully developed. Instead of growing plants from seeds across several months, during which they require constant care, the researchers could spend a few days collecting seed-bearing parts of plants, spread them in suitable areas, and walk away to let the seeds fend for themselves. The team adopted these techniques immediately and have been using them ever since.

During this process, the team realized that planting adult plants yielded small restored beds due to the large amount of labor involved in growing and transplanting plants. After planting, managers relied on these restored plants to produce seeds. Gathering and planting seeds directly cut out the middleman. Instead of relying on a small number of plants to make seeds that could be eaten by waterfowl or blown onto shore, the team collected millions of seeds and placed them in appropriate growing areas.

It worked!

Every year, funded by a small grant, a two-person crew from DNR spends a few days with Mike Norman of Anne Arundel Community College planting SAV seeds in late spring, then scouting for and collecting SAV seeds from all over the bay in late summer and fall. In 2020, DNR worked with the Mid-Shore Riverkeepers and the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance to plant seeds in the Sassafras, Miles, Chester, Tred Avon, and Nanticoke rivers.

DNR crews and volunteers collected millions of seeds of redhead grass, widgeon grass, sago pondweed, and wild celery. Working over the summer during the COVID-19 pandemic has been very challenging, with workers driving separately and carefully maintaining social distancing while working within the short window of time during which seeds are viable.

Team of biologists distributing redhead grass seeds in the Wye River, with Wye Island in the background (photo courtesy of ShoreRivers)Recent successful projects have been documented in Kirwan Creek south of Kent Narrows, in the upper Chester River, on Pleasure Island, and on Gibson Island. A roughly equal number of plantings have failed, which is a pretty good track record for in-water restoration work. As with so many things, this restoration work is further evidence that a small group of motivated people can make a big difference for the bay!
dnr.maryland.gov/waters

New Georgia Hickory Shad State Record

New Georgia Hickory Shad Record

SWAINSBORO, Ga. (February 9, 2021) – A day of fishing is good, but you know what makes it even better? A day you catch a new state record! Christian Blake Jones of Swainsboro, GA was out targeting crappie when he reeled in this new state record hickory shad. His catch, caught on the Ogeechee River (Emanuel County), weighed 2 lb, 3 oz, and broke a 25 year old record (1 lb, 15 oz caught in 1995), according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division (WRD).

“It is beyond exciting to hear about a new state record, and it emphasizes the fantastic fishing opportunities found in Georgia,” says Scott Robinson, Assistant Chief of Fisheries for the Wildlife Resources Division.  “Who will catch the next one? It might be you – but you have to get outdoors and Go Fish Georgia!”

Hickory shad (Alosa mediocris) are gray or green above with a silvery side, large prominent scales, a horizontal row of dark spots behind the gill cover, and a deeply forked tail. They are most similar to American shad and blueback herring, which have a lower jaw that is equal or only slightly projecting beyond the upper jaw. Gizzard and threadfin shad both have an elongated ray in the dorsal fin.

Both Hickory and American shad are anadromous species that spend most of their life in the Atlantic Ocean, and then return to their natal rivers to spawn once they reach sexual maturity. In Georgia, the shad spawning run usually begins in January in the southern rivers and fish can be found until May below the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam near Augusta. American and hickory shad are commercially harvested in the Altamaha and Savannah rivers. However, these fish can also be targeted by anglers utilizing recreational fishing gear in any of Georgia’s coastal rivers and are primarily caught on artificial lures, such as curl tail grubs. The Ogeechee River near the US Highway 80 Bridge and near the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam on the Savannah River are two of the more popular areas to target shad with recreational tackle. Are you a recreational hook and line angler that targets shad? WRD would love to know! Reach out to our office at 912-285-6094 and share your experiences.

Georgia anglers support fisheries conservation! Did you know that your license purchase allows Georgia WRD to continue to do important research, maintain and operate public fishing areas and more? Purchase a Georgia license at www.gooutdoorsgeorgia.com.

For fishing tips, be sure to check out the weekly Fishing Blog post at https://georgiawildlife.blog/category/fishing/.

Information about state-record fish, including an application and rules, can be found at https://georgiawildlife.com/fishing/recordprogram/rules or in the current Sport Fishing Regulations Guidebook.

Not Too Shocking: Your Electrofishing Questions Answered


DWR biologists electrofishing while sampling fish populations on a water body. Photos by Meghan Marchetti/DWR

By Alex McCrickard, DWR Aquatic Education Coordinator
from The Fishing Wire

Have you watched some of the videos from aquatic biologists at the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and seen a boat outfitted with long, wand-like poles with dangling cables? Have you ever showed up to a river or stream and witnessed a crew of biologists with large backpacks and long rods extending into the water? This unusual-looking activity is called electrofishing, and it’s modern science in action.Electrofishing in action.As Virginia’s state fish and wildlife agency, DWR is responsible for the management of our fish and wildlife resources for the benefit of the public. Our agency staff work hard to conserve and protect our freshwater fisheries across the Commonwealth. The best way to monitor the health of fish populations is to catch a number of fish from one area at one time. While our aquatics biologists are all excellent anglers, there is a more efficient, safe, and effective way to catch the fish!

Electrofishing is a common method used in fisheries science; this type of biomonitoring is truly one of the most effective ways to monitor our fisheries.

Fish can really help tell the story of the health of a certain waterbody. They are in the water 24/7 and are constantly exposed to the elements. Some species are more tolerant to pollution than others. The make-up and diversity of a water body’s fish population can help tell the story of water quality and inform our agency’s biologists. In turn, all of this influences sound management decisions that can improve habitat, water quality, and fish health, which benefits the general public and anglers who cherish Virginia’s freshwater resources.

So, you now might be wondering what exactly happens during electrofishing? What’s going on behind the scenes during these surveys? Our electrofishing FAQs below cover these basics.

What is electrofishing?
Electrofishing is a technique used in fisheries science to sample fish populations. Sampling is when biologists study a number of fish from a certain area, measuring and examining them and recording the statistics. When biologists electrofish, a generator or battery gives off an electrical current that runs through the water. Volts, amps, and frequency can be adjusted based on water temperature, conductivity, and other variables. Electrofishing can take place on foot with a backpack unit on a small stream or river. For larger rivers and lakes, electrofishing typically takes place from a boat or barge.

From a boat, the anodes enter the water from a long boom off the bow. Electrical current travels from anode cables back to the cathode(s)–in many cases, the metal hull of the boat acts as the cathode. The electrical field typically expands 5 to 7 feet in circumference from each anode and down about 6 to 7 feet. The size of the electrical field can vary depending on conductivity, voltage, and frequency of electrical current.

Fish are temporarily stunned as the electrical current causes their muscles to contract.  The fish then float towards the surface where they can be easily netted.

Is electrofishing harmful to fish?
Electrofishing has the potential to be harmful if not used properly; however, biologists have the training and experience to operate the equipment safely and effectively while minimizing impacts to fish. Prior to any sampling, biologists adjust and monitor electrofishing settings to the target species in a particular habit. In some cases, electroshocking is avoided during spawning periods and habitats of certain rare and endangered species to eliminate even the perception of harm.

Does electrofishing affect different species of fish differently?
Yes, the frequency of the electromagnetic current can affect species differently. For example, low frequency electrofishing tends to only affect catfish species. When we sample tidal rivers to assess the catfish populations, we solely use low frequency.

High frequency sampling is often used for standard community assessment of multiple species. Because of their larger surface area, big fish such as bass and muskie are more susceptible to electroshocking than small fish such as minnows and darters.

Electrofishing is only efficient in shallow water, so sampling is usually conducted when all species and sizes of interest are likely to be vulnerable to this technique.

Why do DWR biologists electrofish? What’s the goal for sampling and what do DWR biologists do with the fish during electrofishing?
Electrofishing is an effective method to assess the health of a fishery in a non-lethal manner. It allows biologists to evaluate the health, variety, size distribution, and abundance of fish species on a given body of water and how that population can change over time. Length and weight measurements further allow biologists to assess overall fishery health. This type of sampling allows DWR to look at interactions within a fish population. Furthermore, we can track status of endangered and threatened species or the status of spread of any invasive species. All of this information influences sound management decisions that benefit the public who recreate on these resources.DWR staff weigh, measure, and evaluate the fish netted during electrofishing, keeping careful records of the information.

The information collection during electrofishing helps DWR fisheries biologists make sound management decisions for fish populations.

Is electrofishing safe for the DWR biologists?
Yes, because of their training and experience, DWR biologists are safe when electrofishing. Our biologists wear non-breathable waders that keep them from being shocked while using backpack electrofishing units. For electrofishing boats, numerous electric cut-offs are in place to prevent accidents, and the boat is grounded. All DWR biologists wear personal flotation devices while sampling on boats. DWR biologists have also had formal training in electrofishing principles and techniques (for example the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service electrofishing course), which contributes to the safe operation of electrofishing gear.Electrofishing a stream with backpack equipment.

In what kinds of waters do you electrofish?
Electrofishing takes place in freshwater and tidal freshwater rivers and streams. Because of the high conductivity of saltwater, it is not conducive to electrofishing.
Can anglers use electrofishing equipment to catch fish?
No, it is unlawful for the general public to use electrofishing equipment to catch fish.

Snook, Bass and Other Species Thrive in Florida Stormwater System

Hayley Rutger, Mote Marine Labs

from The Fishing WireMote’s Dr. Jim Locascio holds a juvenile snook from a Sarasota County canal. Credit: Dr. Nate Brennan/Mote Marine Laboratory

Dozens of fish species — including common snook and largemouth bass — use certain parts of the upper Phillippi Creek system, according to the first fish survey of this urbanized network of canals, retention ponds and wetlands in Sarasota County, Florida.

The survey — led by Mote Marine Laboratory and funded by Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) — found the highest numbers and diversity of fishes around upper creek areas mimicking natural habitat: curving canals or ponds with wetland vegetation and sections of slower-moving water. Less naturalistic canals, with shorelines straightened for optimum drainage, generally hosted fewer fish of fewer species.

Urban waterways can lose ecosystem value — for example, ability to support economically important sport fish — due to pollution, altered water flow and loss of natural habitat. Scientists around the nation are investigating how to help these waterways better serve wildlife, ecosystems and communities. Phillippi Creek drains approximately 60 square miles (145 square kilometers) of Sarasota County land, with downstream waterways richer in natural habitat and upstream waterways bearing a clearer human fingerprint: more straightened, channelized canals, sediment traps and retention ponds.

“We want to understand how to balance the role of these waterways between stormwater management and ecosystem function,” said Mote staff scientist Dr. Jim Locascio. “Can upper Phillippi Creek be enhanced to benefit fish without sacrificing its performance as a drainage system? That’s what we hope our survey results will lead into. First we needed to learn how the system is functioning and understand whether some creek areas are more productive in supporting fish.”

“Typical stormwater drainage systems were designed to transport excess water directly from residential areas to the sea; this concentrates flow through a narrow area,” said Mote Staff Scientist Dr. Nate Brennan, who was also involved in the project. “Such systems can experience flash-flooding as well as very reduced flow, and they can transport nutrient-laden sediment downstream, all of which affects how many species can survive in the canals themselves and in downstream ecosystems such as estuaries and seagrass flats. However, slower and more consistently flowing waterways can be refuges with higher diversity of prey animals as well as high-value, predatory fish such as snook and largemouth bass. Upper Phillppi Creek is dominated by straightened canals, but it also includes good refuge areas and sites with potential to create more; that really interests us.”

Since the 1980s, Sarasota County has significantly enhanced its measures to prevent floods and enhance water quality, most commonly using wet ponds. Ponds help delay the discharge of runoff, capture sediments and protect downstream ecosystems. County officials and Mote scientists each want to know whether further enhancements will help support fisheries.

Based on discussions with Sarasota County and SBEP staff, Mote scientists surveyed fish and select invertebrates (such as shrimp) at about 70 sites – most along upper Phillippi Creek, north of Bahia Vista Street and east of Beneva Road, and one downstream from this junction: Red Bug Slough preserve. Sites represented three habitat types: canals with generally straightened shorelines maintained to drain storm water; secondary stage canals with more bent shorelines, restored wetland areas, a natural preserve and sediment traps; and retention ponds known as the Celery Fields.From left: Mote scientists Dr. Jim Locascio, Dr. Nate Brennan, and Greer Babbe use a seine net to survey for fish in Sarasota County’s stormwater canal system. Credit Conor Goulding/Mote Marine Laboratory.

“Canals are a common feature around Florida and around the world, which means the results of this study could be far reaching,” said John Ryan, Environmental Manager for Sarasota County’s Stormwater Environmental Utility. “Nature friendly drainage designs could add value to the lives of a great many people who live on the world’s coasts.”

During March-May and September-November 2016, Mote scientists and interns used purse seine nets to catch, identify, count and release fish and invertebrates, measuring a sample of them. The scientists documented temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and the presence or absence of vegetation.

In all, the researchers counted 36,136 fishes and invertebrates in 37 scientific groups. Overall, the most abundant species were the native eastern mosquitofish (scientific name: Gambusia holbrooki), which were 46.5 percent of all animals counted. Also abundant were non-native tilapia (Oreochromis spp., 13.3 percent), native  grass shrimp (Palaemonetes spp., 11.5 percent), and native sailfin molly (Poecilia latipinna, 9.2 percent). Native blue killifish (Lucania goodei), native least killifish (Heterandria formosa), and native Seminole killifish (Fundulus seminolis) were semi-abundant.

The highest biodiversity sites — with the most species and the most evenly distributed numbers of animals in each species — were secondary stage canal habitats. Their complex curves, vegetation and flow patterns can mimic natural habitat. Less biodiversity was found at retention pond sites, followed by the least naturalistic sites: canals.

Common snook (Centropomus undecimalis) — a favorite Florida sport fish — were found at 15 sampling sites in seven areas. Among those areas, 61.6 percent of snook were in secondary stage canal habitats, especially two sediment traps. All snook were juveniles that had completed their larval, or baby, stage within the past two years.

“Of the juvenile snook we found, a notable number were in sediment traps, which are used to keep sediment from moving downstream but also appear to mimic the natural systems where the snook larvae settle and become juvenile fish,” Locascio said. “In wild tidal creeks, snook may settle in terminal ponds with reduced flow. Sediment traps may be creating similar habitat as a byproduct. However, we need to better understand how the snook are affected during maintenance, when the sediments are removed. This is one good opportunity for follow-up research.”

Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) juveniles and/or adults were found at 30 sites in eight areas, with 69.2 percent in secondary stage canal habitats.

According to Mote’s report, “…secondary stage canal habitat which included preserves, sediment traps and restored wetlands were most important for snook and largemouth bass and maintained the highest levels of diversity.”

“Some engineered habitats are mimicking natural habitats and functioning as recruitment areas for these fish in upper Phillippi Creek,” Locascio said. “That is a very positive finding, and there is more that could be done if additional areas can be enhanced and then monitored through future surveys.”

Locascio continued: “Some fish-friendly enhancements might even save money; for instance, say you have an area that’s difficult and costly to manage. Why not use that as a habitat restoration site, ultimately improving conditions for fish and decreasing maintenance costs such as removing vegetation?”

Other recommendations from this report include:

  • Build fish-friendly features resembling the current sediment traps but varying in design to enhance their appeal to snook and bass. Then follow up with a monitoring program and fish-tagging studies to determine which designs help support fish.
  • Find even more options for fish-friendly upgrades at multiple scales along Phillippi Creek by applying the current results to a mathematical model published by others in 2015. If the model applies to Phillippi Creek fish habitat, it could provide a wealth of additional ideas for fish-friendly, waterway management. 
  • Make better use of non-native tilapia, which are abundant in the Celery Fields retention ponds but may not travel far due to weirs that limit water flow. It the weirs could periodically release a pulse of water — and tilapia — safely and strategically, those tilapia may provide additional food to native, predatory fish downstream.

“The next steps are exciting,” added Brennan, “because they can involve eco-engineering where we consider stormwater management goals but add components like ecosystem health and societal benefits.  Places like stormwater canals that are often hidden from society can actually be transformed into attractive, productive urban ecosystems that improve property value and natural productivity.”

NC Study Indicates Some Fish are Caught Repeatedly–Possibly Skewing Population Estimates


By North Carolina State University
from The Fishing Wire

A new study reports that, for several species of oceanic sport fish, individual fish that are caught, released and recaught are more likely to be caught again than scientists anticipated.

A new study reports that, for several species of oceanic sport fish, individual fish that are caught, released and recaught are more likely to be caught again than scientists anticipated. The findings raise some interesting questions for policy makers tasked with preserving sustainable fisheries.The study makes use of data from tagging programs, in which researchers tag fish and release them into the wild. When those fish are caught, and the tag information is returned to the researchers, it can give scientists information that informs fishery policies.

“Fisheries researchers who work in tagging programs have long noticed that certain fish seem to get caught repeatedly, and we set out to determine the implications of this phenomenon,” says Jeff Buckel, co-author of the study and a professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University.

To that end, researchers examined decades’ worth of Atlantic coast tagging datasets on four fish species: black sea bass (Centropristis striata), gray triggerfish (Balistes capriscus), red grouper (Epinephelus morio), and Warsaw grouper (Hyporthodus nigritus). Using a computational model, the researchers determined that—for the black sea bass and both types of grouper—survival was significantly higher after the second, third, and fourth release as compared to the first release.

“Think of it this way,” says Brendan Runde, first author of the study and a Ph.D. student at NC State. “Let’s say you tagged 1,000 fish and recaptured 100 of them for a first time. After re-releasing those 100 fish, you would only expect to recapture 10 of them a second time. But that’s not what we’re seeing. We’re seeing much higher numbers of fish getting recaptured after the second time.

“Our hypothesis is that this increase in catch rate stems from selection for robust individuals,” Runde says.

In other words, because some fish don’t survive the first release, and you can’t catch a dead fish, the fish that were robust enough to survive their first encounter were more likely to survive following catch-and-release events.

The finding could have a significant impact on stock assessments, which inform fishery policies.

“One might assume that every catch and release in a recreational fishery is a unique fish,” Buckel says.

“So that if 5 million black sea bass were caught and released in a given year, that would mean there were at least 5 million black sea bass in a fishery. For these three species of fish and likely many others, that’s just not true. At least some of those 5 million catches were the same fish getting caught over and over again.”

“Reliable estimates of how many unique fish are released are critical to accurately assessing the health of the population,” says Kyle Shertzer, a co-author of the study and stock assessment scientist at NOAA Fisheries.

“On the positive side, the study also suggests that for many species fish mortality from being released appears lower than we thought,” Buckel says.

“For those species, if a fish survives its first release, it has an even better chance of surviving subsequent releases.”

“We think that the issues raised by our findings are likely relevant for many marine fish stock assessments that rely on catch-and-release data—though this will vary based on the species and the details of how each stock assessment is performed,” Runde says.

The paper, “Repetitive capture of marine fishes: implications for estimating number and mortality of releases,” is published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science.

Angling–A Safe Haven During the Pandemic


from The Fishing Wire
Randy Zellers

LITTLE ROCK — In the face of a global pandemic, Arkansans rediscovered their bond with nature and enjoyed angling more than they have in the last few years. Thanks to a recently completed study by Louisiana State University, scientists may have a few more answers into how to keep the momentum going.

The study, led by Stephen Midway, Ph.D. at LSU’s College of the Coast and Environment, evaluated the effect of the pandemic on fishing license holders.

Jessica Feltz, a human dimensions biologist who works for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Fisheries Division, coordinated the Arkansas portion of the survey, gathering contact information for Arkansas anglers who purchased a license between March and May of this year.

“That was the period the research is focused on, because it was during that initial COVID response when schools and businesses closed or went to virtual options,” Feltz said.

“That was when we noticed much more activity on lakes and rivers in Arkansas, but this research is important to verify what we saw.”Nearly 1,600 participants who were randomly selected from the AGFC’s fishing license database completed surveys.“

Dr. Midway set a goal of 1,000 survey responses for each state, so we do feel confident in our results,” Feltz said.Not only did more anglers purchase licenses, but those who historically purchased fishing licenses went more often. A review of license sales indicates an increase of 19.6 percent in purchases from March to May 2020 as compared to the same period in 2019, and survey responses show that 32 percent of anglers said they fished more than they would in a typical year. The average number of fishing trips taken during the initial COVID-19 response was 10.9 trips per angler.

This time period also falls during one of the peaks of fishing activity in Arkansas.

While many states saw massive shutdowns of boating accesses, boat ramps in The Natural State remained largely open. The only boating access points closed during the initial COVID-19 response were those on the Buffalo National River and any smaller ramps that were part of a local park that had been closed in response to the virus. Army Corps of Engineers boat ramps remained open as well as state park ramps and AGFC-owned ramps. Campgrounds in many areas were closed, which may have curtailed some plans for extended fishing trips. Three-quarters of respondents said they saw no change in their ability to go fishing as a result of any access closures, but some did indicate the initial closure of some public parks, campgrounds and boat ramps as an obstacle they needed to overcome during their fishing excursions.

The increase in fishing activity may have been the result of the perception that fishing, by and large, presents a low-risk to catching the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“This perception was confirmed by the survey, which indicated that 98 percent of the respondents said they felt fishing was at least a somewhat safe activity during the pandemic,” Feltz said. “It’s nice to know people felt fishing was something they could still enjoy during this time.”Feltz says it’s too early to tell if the same increase will occur in hunting this fall, but she says the information gained through the survey will help the agency plan outreach and goals for next year.

“We are just moving forward with discussions on how we can retain these new anglers and anglers who have rediscovered fishing,” Feltz said.

“In addition to notices and reminders on how to renew their license, we are hoping to encourage them to expand their outdoor experiences. Maybe take up trout fishing or travel to a new fishing destination in Arkansas for a fresh adventure. We historically have spent a lot of effort getting people to make that first step to becoming lifelong anglers, now we need to switch gears to keep them on that path.”

Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications, Arkansas GFD

Chattooga River Conservation for Trout

Text by Greg Lucas
Photos by Taylor Main

from The Fishing WireWatching an experienced team of fisheries biologists and volunteers work with a helicopter pilot to fill and drop brailer bags of trout in a remote river is a little bit like experiencing a ballet — lots of moving parts have to come together with just the right timing to make it all work.

Chattooga, Wild and Scenic River. The very words conjure up all sorts of images. If you have done a bit of whitewater paddling in the region, the Chattooga’s roaring sound pouring over and around boulders is sweet music to your ears. It is one of the longest and most spectacular free-flowing mountain rivers in the Southeast, cascading some 50 miles from its headwaters in North Carolina to the state line between South Carolina and Georgia.

But if you are a fly fisherman, or fisherwoman, or, heck, fly ANGLER, then you know the upper reaches of the Chattooga River as something special, particularly in the State of South Carolina, where we are not as blessed with trout waters as our neighboring states of Georgia and North Carolina. For it is a place where an angler can get lost in thought, lost in the music and rhythms of a river that is truly Wild and Scenic, like no other in the Palmetto State.

And thanks to an amazing partnership between the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, and Trout Unlimited, large numbers of rainbow, brook and brown trout are stocked in the upper portions of the Chattooga River once a year, a helicopter gently laying them in backcountry areas too remote to easily be reached by vehicle. On Nov. 2, an 11-mile backcountry reach of the Chattooga River was stocked.

The Chattooga, which for a good distance forms the border between South Carolina and Georgia, was the United States’ first Wild and Scenic River, designated as such in 1974. The Wild and Scenic designation resulted in the closure of most of the access roads used for trout stocking in this 11-mile section, and that’s the reason the helicopter stocking effort started.

The first helicopter trout stockings of this part of the Chattooga began about 50 years ago, and this program has been refined considerably over time. The Chauga River in Oconee was similarly stocked with trout by helicopter on the next day, Nov. 3.

“We want trout anglers to have the experience of fishing in this remote and beautiful Wild and Scenic River,” said Dan Rankin, SCDNR Upstate regional fisheries biologist. “But we also want to give them a reasonable chance for success.”

The trout fishery in this 11-mile segment of the Chattooga River is largely supported by stocking hatchery trout reared by SCDNR at Walhalla State Fish Hatchery, and by Georgia DNR at Burton State Hatchery.Trout begin their journey in an aerated truck, then are transferred to a helicopter “bucket” for stocking.

These partner agencies and organizations—SCDNR, U.S. Forest Service, Georgia DNR and Trout Unlimited–have worked together as the “Chattooga River Fisheries Coalition” since 1986 to improve the trout fishery.

“We are stocking two different ‘management units’ of the Chattooga River by helicopter,” said Rankin. “One two-and-a-half-mile reach is the ‘Delayed Harvest’ area, and the eight-and-a-half-mile upper reach of the ‘Rock Gorge/Big Bend’ area has different regulations from the Delayed Harvest Area.”

Delayed Harvest, according to Rankin, is a “fish-for-fun” reach where catch-and-release with single-hook artificial lures is required Nov. 1–May 14 of each year. This stretch reverts to general fishing regulations (5 trout daily limit, no tackle restrictions) from May 15-Oct. 31. The helicopter stocked about 2,500 adult trout (10-plus inches) of rainbow, brown, and brook trout in this section.

The Rock Gorge section of the Chattooga River, which is considered a backcountry area, has no tackle restrictions and a 5-trout daily limit year-round. During the Nov. 2 helicopter stocking, SCDNR stocked 15,000 sub-adult (6-inch) brown trout and 1,000 adult brown trout (10-plus inch) in this segment. Georgia DNR will helicopter stock about 10,000 rainbow trout at a later date.

“The idea,” Rankin said, “is that some of these smaller brown trout, and then later the rainbow trout from Georgia DNR, will survive next summer and grow out to a nice size for anglers.”

Watching the gathering of equipment at Russell Bottoms, alongside SC 28 just before the bridge that leads to Georgia, is quite a spectacle. Dozens of trucks are lined up in a row, with people alternately running helter-skelter around the field (when the helicopter sets down the “Bambi Bucket,” to be filled with trout) and then standing around for long chunks of time while the chopper delivers its load to a remote section of the Chattooga River. Scenes like this are likely the genesis of the phrase “Hurry Up And Wait,” which is so appropriate for any gathering of government employees, whether it be fisheries biologists or infantry soldiers.

Completing the scene is that everyone is wearing many articles of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which includes a hard hat, eye protection, face coverings/masks, closed-toe shoes (leather boots preferable), gloves, and green and yellow fire-resistant Nomex pants and shirts.

The Forest Service is very diligent about PPE, not surprisingly, since being in close proximity to a helicopter is dangerous work. There is zero cell coverage at the site, which makes coordination a real challenge.The helicopter makes quick work of ferrying the load of trout to the remote stretches of the river.

The helicopter was already on the scene when SCDNR videographer/photographer Taylor Main and I arrived around 8:20 a.m. Keith Whalen, Forest Service fisheries biologist, got Taylor suited up in all the appropriate PPE, and after the safety briefing (mandatory if you are going to get near the helicopter while the fish are being loaded), Taylor began what would be many hours of photography and videography. Over and over, she captured SCDNR Freshwater Fisheries staff netting trout from the hatchery truck into two 50-gallon plastic buckets, then carrying them to the helicopter’s “Bambi Bucket,” which was at the end of a 150-foot line. The bucket was already “watered,” and SCDNR staff poured the trout into the bucket, the chopper lifted off, and away it went.

The trout are bound for the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River, the river that runs through South Carolina and Georgia, and the anglers who will pursue them.

Industry-funded Research on Dorsal Spine Aging Shows Promise in Largemouth Bass Conservation




Craig Springer,
USFWS – Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration
from The Fishing Wire

There are “lumpers” and there are “splitters.”

Some fisheries scientists think that largemouth bass and Florida bass should be split into two species.  Others lump them together as one species as mere diverging strains or races.  This much can be agreed upon:  bass in southern climates grow big, and fishery managers are careful to conserve the trophy fish coveted by anglers at all experience levels.

To that end, Summer Lindelien, a fish biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has endeavored the last four years to learn more about how Florida’s largemouth bass, Florida bass, and their hybrids grow over time.  Excise taxes paid by fishing tackle manufacturers and on motor boat fuels fund her research in grants administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.

The research is bearing fruit that promises to yield better bass fishing in Florida—if not anywhere the 19 species and subspecies of the black bass family swim. More research is in the works and necessary to take further steps.

Lindelien and her FWC colleagues are developing a new method to determine age and growth rates of trophy largemouth bass that would otherwise be missing in population assessments and ultimately, fishing regulations.  Hard bony structures are best for determining a fish’s age, body parts such as scales and ear bones that put down rings at each year of growth.  The latter is most reliable but there is a downside:  it is 100 percent lethal.  Dorsal spines may be the alternative. The method shows great promise as Lindelien learned while a graduate student at the University of Florida. She and her colleagues also completed a six-waterbody study to refine the efficacy of reading age rings on dorsal spines and are in the midst of evaluating how dorsal spine aging error affects population dynamic metrics.

Lindelien and colleagues caught wild bass known to be hybrids of largemouth and Florida bass, 36 fish in all, varying size from 12 to 22 inches long.  Six bass each were acclimated in six tanks and three from each tank where randomly picked to have three dorsal fin spines extracted with surgical scissors and snips cut flush with the bass’s back. The fish were monitored for injury and mortality for 35 days afterward.None of the bass with missing spines perished. Overall condition between fish with spines intact and those with spines removed did not vary to any great degree at the conclusion of the month-long study. In the end, the method shows much utility as a means for black bass fishery managers to gather more data on trophy fish without deleterious effects on the fish and the fish population. The method also holds promise down the road for citizen-scientists—anglers, that is—to weigh and measure and trim a spine before releasing trophy fish, thus greatly expanding the essential data scientists need.

Lindelien is the first to confirm that removing dorsal spines is benign to largemouth bass. According to Lindelien, as the dorsal spine aging technique is refined it might be employed on other black basses, common and otherwise: Guadalupe bass in Texas, spotted bass in Kentucky, Neosho smallmouth bass of Oklahoma or the rarer Choctaw bass of Alabama and Florida where removing fish of any size is not an option.

Lindelien and her colleagues published the results of the spine extraction research in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management.

Habitat Connectivity Helps Trout Take Care of Themselves


Trout Unlimited’s Poose Creek Project in Colorado served as an opportunity to test, validate and perhaps even contribute toward a framework of knowledge around fish passage and habitat connectivity.Colorado River cutthroat trout like this one didn’t take long to use a fishway on Poose Creek in Colorado.

Brian Hodge/Trout Unlimited
By Brian Hodge, Trout Unlimited
from The Fishing Wire

In our work at Trout Unlimited, we often rely on scientific theory to plan and implement conservation projects. In some instances, we also test hypotheses by monitoring projects and comparing predictions with outcomes, and in doing so contribute towards the broader body of scientific theory.

For TU and our local agency partners, the Poose Creek Project in Colorado served as an opportunity to test, validate and perhaps even contribute toward a framework of knowledge around fish passage and habitat connectivity.

When TU and its partners sampled the headwaters of Poose Creek in 2012-2013, native Colorado River cutthroat trout were almost completely absent from the reach above the one road-stream crossing but relatively abundant in the reach below the crossing.
A 108-foot long, concrete culvert and apron were installed at Poose Creek in the 1960s. Brian Hodge photo.

Moreover, at long-term monitoring stations upstream and downstream of the culvert, cutthroat densities were 0 and approximately 437 fish per mile, respectively. This contrast confirmed a standing assumption that the box culvert under the road was, and had for decades been, a complete fish passage obstacle.

In 2014, TU and the U.S. Forest Service retrofitted the box culvert with a vertical slot fishway, also known as a fish ladder. Although we only designed the fishway to pass adult trout (which are better swimmers and jumpers than their juvenile counterparts), our ultimate goal was to facilitate repatriation by the native cutthroat above the culvert.The exiting culvert was retrofitted with a vertical slot fishway in 2014. Brian Hodge photo.

The fishway project was thus rooted in at least two testable hypotheses: one, that removal or mitigation of the passage obstacle would actually result in fish passage; and two, that the incursion of adult spawners into vacant habitats would result in recolonization by the species (in other words, a few fish would ultimately lead to a lot of fish). Meanwhile, we had much to learn about the effectiveness of fishways for restoring passage to inland (nonanadromous) fish.Slotted baffles in the 150-foot long fishway allow fish to swim up the ladder. Brian Hodge photo.

In 2015 and 2016, we teamed up with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to evaluate the first hypothesis — that the fishway would effectively restore fish passage. We captured cutthroat in the mile of stream below the culvert and injected them with passive integrated transponders, or PIT tags. We then used a series of antennas within and around the fishway to monitor the number of approaches to, attempts at, and successful trips through, the fishway.

The result?

Cutthroat trout began using the Poose Creek fishway within a year of its construction. In fact, the fishway was completed in fall of 2014 and the inaugural trips through the structure coincided with the spring spawning season of 2015. Approximately 4 percent of all PIT-tagged trout approached the fishway, and 100 percent of the fish that approached it succeeded in entering and passing the new structure.

These findings, available here, satisfied our first goal of restoring passage. Nevertheless, questions still remained about the ultimate effect of restoring connectivity.One of four stationary antennas installed in and around the fishway. Brian Hodge/Trout Unlimited

In fall of 2020, approximately one and a half to two cutthroat trout generations after the fishway was installed, we tested the second hypothesis— that restoring fish passage would lead to recolonization of upstream habitats. Specifically, we used backpack electrofishing units to survey a half-mile segment of stream immediately above the culvert, and to repeat a multiple-pass population estimate at the long-term monitoring site (located approximately 0.6 miles upstream of the culvert).

In 2012, the segment of the stream was vacant of cutthroat trout. In 2020, the same segment hosted at least 589 cutthroats. Similarly, the same long-term monitoring station that contained cutthroat at a density of 0 fish per mile in 2012 contained cutthroat at a density of approximately 2,752 fish per mile in 2020 (817 fish per mile excluding the 2020 year-class).

Just as importantly, the presence of multiple age classes, and of young-of-year fish in particular, confirmed that Colorado River cutthroat trout were spawning in and recruiting to the headwaters of Poose Creek.

Of course, we can’t rigorously measure the percentage increase in cutthroat abundance above the fishway because the native salmonid was absent from the long-term monitoring site in 2012. Yet, even without the numbers, we might all recognize the indicator of success.Colorado River cutthroat trout make their way to spawning grounds. Brian Hodge/Trout Unlimited

In the end, our findings at Poose Creek offered support of theory:If we do our part to remove migration obstacles from rivers and streams, the fish will take care of the rest. The benefits could be immeasurable.

Brian Hodge is the Northwest Colorado Director for Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat program.