Category Archives: Conservation

Bald Eagles

When you see a bald eagle soaring overhead, floating on the air like it is weightless, you can see why it is a symbol of our nation. The bald eagle is an impressive bird, looking strong and in charge of everything in its world. The dark brown body and stark white head contrast vividly against the sky that holds it.

I will never forget the first time I saw a bald eagle. I was fishing at Lake Oconee and followed it for about 15 minutes as it soared over Double Branches. Several other boats stopped and also idled along, watching it as it hunted for fish in the lake.

While I was growing up there were no bald eagles in the east Georgia area around McDuffie County. I spotted a few like the one at Oconee while fishing area lakes in the late 1980s and they have gotten more numerous since then.

During the 1970s there were no active bald eagle nests in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. They have made a gradual comeback since 1979 when the DNR started “hacking” or releasing young captive birds on the coastal islands of Georgia. They have spread to the extent that last year nests were found in 35 different counties in the state.

During the 2003/04 nesting season the DNR found a total of 84 occupied eagle territories across Georgia and there were 67 successful nests in them. Those nests produced a total of 104 young eagles. That is an increase of 4 successful nests and 7 more young eagles than the year before.

Bald eagles are some of our biggest birds, reaching a huge size. They can be 40 inches tall and have a wingspread of 7.5 feet. They probably mate for life and produce only one or two young each year.

Eagle nests are amazing. They are usually built in tall dead trees on or near the water and eagles will use them year after year. Some eagle nests are huge, getting up to 5 feet wide, 12 feet tall and weigh up to 1000 pounds. They are made out of sticks and really stand out in a tree out on the lake.

Although eagles will eat waterfowl and carrion, their main food is fish they catch out of lakes, rivers and the ocean. It is amazing to watch one soar high about the water and suddenly swoop down with talons outstretched, plucking a fish out of the surface of the water. It is surprising how big a fish the eagle can grab and fly away with, heading to a perch to eat it at its leisure.

The most eagles I have ever seen at one time as on a trip to Pamlico Sound on the coast of North Carolina. We went into a big swampy area off a river and there were a lot of dead trees standing in it. Almost every tree had a eagle nest in it. There were probably 20 nests with pairs of eagles flying around, catching fish and taking them to their young.

Ospreys are often mistaken for eagles. They live in the same areas, build similar nests and fish for food. Ospreys are smaller than eagles and are lighter in color. They breasts are speckle white and brown, unlike the dark brown breast of eagles. They are more common that eagles and you are more likely to see them on area lakes. If you are looking at a big bird from below it, and it has a light colored breast, it is an osprey, not an eagle.

Eagles face a new threat. Last year several dead eagles were found around Clark’s Hill lake and it was determined they died from Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy(AVM), a disease that attacks the nervous system of eagles and coots. Coots that are infected are sometimes eaten by eagles and they seem to get the disease from them. Not much is known about AVM and there is nothing that can be done about it at this time.

Eagles were sacred birds to Native Americans and there are a lot of myths and tall tales about eagles from our history. I hope their populations continue to grow and everyone has a chance to stand in awe as a bald eagle soars by.

Excise Tax on Tackle

Excise Tax on Tackle Helps Support America’s Fisheries
Most people don’t realize that when they buy fishing gear, they are directly helping the fish they love to catch.

By Joe Overlock, Fisheries Management Supervisor, Maine DIFW
from the Fishing Wire

Most people don’t realize that when they buy fishing gear, they are directly helping the fish they love to catch. It is all thanks to a law passed in 1950 called the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act (named after the congressmen who spearheaded the effort). This law created an excise tax on fishing tackle, equipment, boat fuel, and other items. Most consumers aren’t even aware that this tax exists because it is paid by the manufacturer. Every time eligible equipment is sold, the tax is applied. Federal agencies collect the tax and direct it to a special fund that is distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. A requirement of the DJ Act essentially says that for a state to receive funds, all money generated from the sale of licenses must only be used to support the functions of that agency and cannot be used for other purposes. Because Maine’s license revenues are constitutionally protected, Maine is eligible to receive this funding.

This agency partnership between MDIFW and the USFWS is a huge win for Maine’s inland fish populations and our anglers–and for conservation across the nation. For eligible activities, these funds match state dollars at a rate of 3:1. Yes, for every $1 of state funds, we receive $3 of match through this program! This money is utilized to pay the salaries of fisheries biologists that work every day to preserve, protect, and enhance fisheries resources; funding is provided for special restoration and enhancement projects such as the Reclamation of Big Reed Pond; funds are used to develop water access sites so that we have the ability to recreate on Maine’s waters forever; plus a whole lot more.

In addition to the DJ Act there is also an important fund created to benefit wildlife species. The Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act was the model for the DJ Act and was enacted in 1937. The revenue for this funding source comes from a tax applied to the sale of firearms and ammunition. Wildlife resources benefit from this tax in the very same way fisheries populations benefit from the DJ Act.

The coolest thing about these programs is that you, the users, see a direct return on your investment. You buy gear to pursue the activity you love, money from that purchase goes to preserve, protect, and enhance those populations, you get better fishing or hunting, and then you want to buy more gear! It is truly a “user pay – user benefit” system.

So, don’t feel guilty the next time you buy a new fishing rod or spend a little extra on that expensive lure that you might not “need”. Your purchase is an important piece of the puzzle that drives the work we do, and I thank you for your help.

To learn more about the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program please visit: https://wsfrprograms.fws.gov/

Search of Old Sawfish

SawSearch search of old sawfish goes to the United Kingdom
from The Fishing Wire

Old sawfish saw


Not only the most distinctive feature of a sawfish, the rostrum (saw) also contains vital information.

“SawSearch” has taken researchers Kelcee Smith, from Louisiana State University, and Annmarie Fearing and Dr. Nicole Phillips, from The University of Southern Mississippi, to all corners of the U.S. in the search of old sawfish saws over the past five years. Last June, with support from the Shark Conservation Fund and The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, this research led them all the way to the United Kingdom. SawSearch is a global initiative to find, photograph, measure, and collect tissue samples from old sawfish saws. Phillips, Fearing, and Smith are extracting DNA from the tissue samples they collect, using the data to assess the relative health of remaining sawfish populations. The DNA from the old saws provides the researchers with baseline information of what sawfish populations were like before they were heavily exploited, which can then be compared to DNA from the sawfish populations of today.

SawSearch UK might sound like a leisurely holiday, but most of their time in the UK was spent working in the basements of museums, entering data, riding trains, hauling equipment from city to city, and conducting outreach events. After a year of intense planning, the team spent a total of 30 days in the UK, travelled ~12,000 miles, visited 31 collections, collected data and samples from 528 sawfish specimens, and held 11 outreach events. The rewards of the long days of sampling and travelling came with each collection visited, every specimen pulled from a drawer, and every museum curator they met along the way.

Museums play a critical role in all SawSearch expeditions by preserving natural history specimens and revealing the unique stories behind them in their data archives. The people behind these collections, the curators, conservators, and collections managers, dedicate their time to the maintenance of these collections for decades. “We were enthusiastically welcomed into every collection we visited during SawSearch UK and everyone was so excited about our project. After long days sampling, traveling, and conducting outreach, these interactions with the museum staff really kept our energy up,” says Fearing. “During our visits, they went above and beyond by helping us take photographs, record data, searching for extra information, and even connecting us with other curators to help us find more saws. I don’t think there was a museum curator that didn’t offer us tea as soon as we arrived, even though it was 80 degrees outside. They put kindness first and I’ll never forget that,” says Smith. The team also used each visit to a museum as an opportunity to connect with the public, teaching them about sawfish and the importance of natural history collections. They often set up a table right in the middle of museum galleries, answering questions about sawfish while collecting tissue samples from the saws. “Making that connection between museums, the public, and research is one of the greatest things about SawSearch. It’s my favorite part and I know Nicole and Annmarie love it too,” says Smith.

In addition to the museums and universities the research team visited, they were also able to find a few saws at some not-so-traditional venues. During their stay in Edinburgh, Scotland, Fearing and Smith discovered a saw in an unexpected place, at a fish and chips shop across the road from their hotel. “As we walked passed a fish and chip shop, I heard Kelcee gasp and then felt her yank me backwards.” says Fearing. “She told me to look inside the fish and chip shop and there, hanging on the wall, was a green sawfish saw.” The next day, they went into the restaurant to talk to the owner, explaining how they had traveled all the way from the U.S. to sample saws just like the one he had on his restaurant wall. The owner was perplexed, but kind, and allowed them to collect a sample; excited to tell the story of how he got the saw and intrigued that it could be used in scientific research. “I mean really, what are the chances that we would find a saw across the street from the hotel? Sawfish aren’t native to the U.K.,” exclaims Smith.

One pervasive idea that the researchers came across was that if specimens do not have location data, they are not useful in research. “These saws are valuable to us and there is a longer-term vision for this initiative. The goal looking forward is to be able to take a tissue sample from a sawfish from an unknown location and be able to determine where that animal came from. Such a tool could be used for enforcement purposes, to improve our knowledge of historic sawfish populations and understand how they have changed over time, ultimately translating this data into more effective conservation strategies to promote recovery” says Phillips. “Not only are sawfish saws without location information still valuable, I hope to go back to these curators one day and tell them where these specimens most likely came from”. “One curator was so happy when we told her specimens without location data are still valuable. She had been keeping these saws in hopes that one day someone could potentially use them and was relieved that she had been keeping them in the collection for a reason. Moments like these are one of my favorite parts of using collections for this project,” says Fearing.

You can help! If you own a sawfish rostrum and are willing to donate a small sample for this important research or have seen one somewhere, please call 1-844-4-SAWFISH or email n.phillips@usm.edu.

(Samples are collected under Endangered Species Act permits # 20590 and 17787)

Management of Menhaden

Science, Not Politics, Should Guide Management of Menhaden
By Steve Kline, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
from the Fishing Wire

Menhaden baitfish


Virginia should do the right thing and let experts guide the future of bunker, says this national conservation group.

Hunting and fishing traditions have deep roots in Virginia—residents have a constitutional right to hunt, and more than 800,000 anglers a year turn out to fish the same waters that George Washington did. But Virginia is also the only state along the Eastern Seaboard that still allows the commercial reduction fishing of Atlantic menhaden, a critical forage fish.

The last holdout of an antiquated fishing industry, reduction fishing of menhaden—or bunker, as you’ll often hear them called on docks around the Chesapeake—involves the harvest of billions of tiny fish that are then reduced to meal and oil for use in a variety of applications, from food for farmed salmon to cosmetics.

There may be many uses for menhaden outside the water, but their real economic and ecological value comes from keeping them in the water.

Atlantic menhaden comprise the very foundation of a diverse ecosystem, which includes some of the most popular gamefish species in the world. From a fisheries management standpoint, it doesn’t get any simpler than this: Fewer menhaden in the water means fewer striped bass, bluefish, cobia, redfish, and weakfish. And that means the potential collapse of a recreational fishing economy worth far more than any reduction fishery.

However, as the sea fog recedes, it becomes clear why Virginia allows this practice to continue.

The commonwealth manages menhaden not through its science-based Virginia Marine Resources Commission, but rather through its state legislature. It begs the question, if the commission is good enough to manage all the other marine fish stocks in the state, both recreational and commercial, why isn’t it being permitted to do its job when it comes to menhaden?

It’s clear to us that Virginia should not allow this reduction fishery to continue while risking the future of the state’s recreational fishing economy. State legislatures are no place to manage species, and if the Marine Resources Commission is good enough to manage striped bass, they ought to be managing what stripers eat, too.

Science should always guide fisheries management decisions to the greatest extent possible. It’s not realistic to take the politics out of the equation completely, but the state of Virginia needs to stop letting politics be the only guiding force in the management of menhaden.

Read more conservation features at www.trcp.org.

Have You Ever Caught A Tagged Fish?

Tagging: How to get Hands-on with N.C. Fisheries Management
Ever catch a tagged fish and wonder what it’s all about?
from The Fishing Wire

Biologists tagging a fish


N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries researchers are tagging more than 15,000 striped bass, red drum, southern flounder, spotted seatrout, and cobia per year. Reporting a tagged fish is one of the easiest and best ways to get involved and to do your part to help manage North Carolina’s fish resources, while putting cash in your pocket.

Tagging animals has long been a method for monitoring wildlife. Fish, ducks, birds, black bears, grizzly bears, deer, monarch butterflies, to name a few, are tagged for different management purposes. Although the look, size, and location of tags may differ, the overall purpose is to gain insight into stock identity, abundance, age, growth, movements, migration, mortality, or behavior.

So why do fisheries managers use tagging, and why is tagging such an important tool in the fisheries management tackle box? Because it works. Unlike other animals, fish spend almost their entire lives out of sight of the researchers who are trying to learn about them, which makes studying them difficult, time consuming, and usually costly. For instance, to manage any of our state species, researchers need to know what stocks are mixing and when or where they’re migrating. Without tagging studies, researchers would have to rely on long-term surveys or word of mouth, and they would never know the finer details of movements, migrations, and population mixing that tagging data can afford. Likewise, for completing stock assessments, fisheries managers need accurate and timely information on mortality, stock delineation, growth, and more. Tagging studies are a great tool in the tackle box because they’re a cost-effective approach to gain this information, and the results are available quickly compared to long-term surveys and studies.

How are tagging data used in a stock assessment?

Stock assessments are sophisticated statistical computer models and simulations of fish populations that require three primary categories of information: catch, abundance, and biology. To ensure the highest quality stock assessments, the data used must be accurate and timely. Combining the cost-effective and timely tag-return data with the catch-at-age data currently collected by the division is a powerful, cutting edge approach to improve estimates of mortality and population size compared to traditional age-structured computer models alone. Combining these data allow for greater accuracy in estimates of stock status and allow for more informed and responsive management of North Carolina’s fisheries.

How can you have an impact in fisheries management?

The division needs your tagged fish data. It is only through the cooperation of the recreational and commercial fishermen returning tag and species information that the division collects the data necessary for the program to succeed. By returning information about your tagged fish, you’re directly impacting the accurateness and effectiveness of fisheries management. For instance, by returning information about the tagged fish that you caught, the division learns information such as how far and where the fish traveled, which gives information about movements and migrations. Measuring your fish gives us accurate, real-time growth information and lets us learn more about the biology of the species; and letting us know if you harvested or released the fish, helps us better understand both the harvest and catch-and-release fisheries, which is an important factor in stock assessments. So, if you want to help better and more accurately manage North Carolina’s fisheries, don’t forget to return your tagged fish data.

What do you do if you catch a tagged fish?

The division doesn’t ask you to change your catch behavior. The division simply encouragew all anglers who encounter a NCDMF tagged fish to return the tag or tag number and ancillary information to the division. Please cut off the tag(s), then write down the tag number, catch date, whether the fish was harvested or released, capture location (waterbody or nearest landmark) and total length of the fish. Save the tag and other information and call the division at 800-682-2632 or report the tag online. Those who return red tags to the division with the catch information will receive a $100 reward. Those returning yellow tags will receive a hat, $5, or other reward. A letter will also be mailed to anyone returning tags, stating where and when the tagged fish was released, days at large, distance traveled, and the length of the fish when it was released. Finally, all tag returns are entered for a division end-of-year cash drawing.

Helpful Hints:

*Cut off the tag, do not pull it out.
*If you are releasing the fish, cut the tag as close to the body of the fish as possible.
*Record the tag number in case you misplace the tag before reporting it.
*If the tag has algae growth, do not scrape the algae off. Scraping the algae can lead to tag damage that inhibits the division from recognizing what fish it came from. If you come across algae growth on the tag, either send the tag to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries or let the tag soak in soapy warm water until the algae comes off.
*Be careful when handling fish you intend to release. Handle it as little as possible, using wet hands or wet gloves. Return the fish to the water quickly to give the fish the greatest chance of post-release survival.
*Be alert! Tags are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, so they don’t change the fish’s behavior. That means that you might not see one if you’re not looking. Please report all tag and species information to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.
*Some fish will have two tags, so check both sides of the fish and report both tags.

Halt Offshore Wind Development Along Atlantic Coast

Recreational Fishing Alliance Calls On President to Halt Offshore Wind Development Along Atlantic Coast

Are wind generators bad for fish?


Washington, DC – In a letter submitted to President Donald Trump on Thursday, February 7, 2019, Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) Executive Director Jim Donofrio requested an immediate halt on all work on proposed industrial wind farms along the Atlantic Coast. The request was prompted in response to the issuance of 6 commercial offshore wind leases by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) since 2016 along the Atlantic Coast. BOEM is the federal agency under the Department of Interior that oversees offshore renewal energy development in federal waters. Donofrio called for work being conducted under this permits to be halted citing a failure of the agency to fully investigate and assess the impacts that offshore wind energy generation facilities will have on valuable commercial and recreational fisheries.

In his letter, Donofrio articulated the fishing community’s concerns with the pace at which the leases have been issued and the lack of a comprehensive ecological evaluation on the potential impacts that offshore wind development may have on fish stocks. While the idea that adding new structure in the form of wind turbines to the ocean, particularly in areas where the bottom is comprised of fine sand, will attract fish and create new fishing opportunities for anglers, one cannot over-look the literature coming out of countries that have aggressively developed their coast lines with wind turbines. Studies from Denmark and other European countries find that fish stocks display measurable behavioral and migratory responses in presences of noise (vibrations created by the massive blades) and electromagnetic fields (EMF) produced by the turbines and the miles of underwater cables required to transmit the electricity generated to shore.

Applying these findings to the lease areas proposed for development off of Atlantic coast the US, there is the very real threat that once installed, offshore wind farms may disrupt north/south and inshore/offshore migrations of important fish stocks such as striped bass, bluefish and pelagics. It is also unknown how the inshore/offshore movements of demersal species such as summer flounder will be impacted. It would be extremely unfortunate to build these facilities in hast only to find out that EMF from the transmission cables disrupts the seasonal movements of summer flounder into Mid-Atlantic bays and estuaries. RFA finds that associated risks far outweigh the benefits of offshore wind and demands that development be halted so that all potential impacts can be fully vetted.

“The companies that are pursuing these projects have no legal obligation or regard for American commercial or recreational fishermen who have been on these grounds earning a living for decades,” explained Jim Donofrio. “Our jobs and our fisheries must come first.”

In a recent article included in Making Waves, RFA’s newsletter, RFA outlined the numerous concerns associated with offshore wind facilities. Specifically, the article outlined the economic cost of offshore wind which falls on the backs of rate payers. In many of these projects, the vast majority of the capital comes from rate payer subsidies, federal and state assistance and tax credits, not from private sources. Offshore wind has proven to be one of the most expensive forms of electric generation but companies, many of which are foreign, are scrambling to secure leases because US tax payers will foot the bill for the planning, construction and operation of their facilities and then in turn, the companies can sell the electricity back to rate payers at an above market rate.

Also cited in the February 7th letter to President Trump are the navigational and safety at sea issues associated with the proposed offshore wind facilities. The United States Coast Guard and the United States Marine Corp have both expressed concerns that wind turbines would interfere with their missions along the East Coast.

BOEM has conducted 7 competitive lease sales and now has 12 active wind development areas with at least one in each state from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Total lease areas off the Atlantic Coast are expected to exceed 1.4 million acres excluding the submerged lands developed and used for transmission lines. Make no mistake, once fully built, off-shore wind stands to have a significant and permanent impact on our fisheries.

“There is absolutely no reason we should be rushing to develop offshore wind with the US producing more clean, domestic natural gas than ever,” stated Donofrio. “BOEM needs to slow down and carefully review all the impacts associated with offshore wind before jeopardizing our marine resources and straddling US tax payers with higher electric bills.”

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For more on the Recreational Fishing Alliance, visit www.joinrfa.org

Salt Effects On Stream Health

Road Salt Effects On Stream Health
By Scott Maxham, Izaak Walton League
from The Fishing Wire

Salting roads affects streams


As the days shorten and get colder, our thoughts shift from outdoor activities to spending time indoors with friends and family. When it’s time to snuggle up by the fire, many of us might think it’s also time to put stream monitoring and the Clean Water Challenge on hold until spring. But there is still work to be done, even when the temperature drops.

Although we typically suggest biological stream monitoring (finding macroinvertebrates) in the fall and spring, we should not forget about water quality during the summer and winter months. Each season presents specific threats to stream health. In winter, road salt can cause serious damage to water quality. That’s why the League created the Winter Salt Watch campaign – to help volunteers like you measure salt (sodium chloride) levels in local streams and alert local agencies when they spot a problem.

How exactly does road salt work – and how did we get to using up to 20 million tons of it every year?

Road Salt: A Brief History

Road salt was first used in New Hampshire in 1941 – and its use quickly snowballed. As automobile accidents decreased in New Hampshire, other snow-covered states took notice and began using road salt. In the 1950s, the U.S. highway system began a rapid expansion, and the increased mileage of roadways required even more road salt. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Americans began to realize the harmful effects of road salt on nearby lands and waters. Cities began to be more mindful of salt usage, but ultimately we were hooked and there was no easy alternative. Over the past two decades, some cities have looked into using salt alternatives, but other de-icers have failed to gain traction due to cost concerns.

Today, we use 10 to 20 million tons of road salt every year, depending on the length and severity of winter weather. The majority of the road salt we use comes from salt mines across the country (the same salt that is ground up for use on your dinner table). It is difficult to know when these salt supplies will run out, but it is certainly much cheaper to use domestic salt – on both our roads and our tables – than to import it from other major salt producers such as China.

The Science of Salt

Salt has the ability to both raise the boiling point of water and lower its freezing point. Fresh water will freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Salt water will resist freezing to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. However, road salt does not start working until it has dissolved into a liquid, so new technologies include applying a salt solution or pre-wetted salt to allow it to start working immediately.

Other elements, such as calcium chloride, can drop the freezing point of water much lower than 15 degrees. However, they are typically not used on roadways because they cost twice as much as rock salt.

Salting Local Streams

When road salt is used to melt ice, it eventually runs off into the soil near the road. When winter is over, spring rains flush this salt into our streams, rivers, and lakes. This is a slow process. Even if we quit using road salt today, the salt already in the ground can persist for decades, and the salt content in our streams will rise as salt continues to percolate through the soil.

I frequently used chloride test strips with children during Creek Freaks stream monitoring events. After the kids figured out that chloride gets in the water through salt (sodium chloride), they sometimes asked if that is normal or if the fish can just live with salty water like they do in the ocean. Unfortunately, most freshwater fish cannot adapt to salt in the water. Salt can also be harmful to the aquatic macroinvertebrates that we look for during stream monitoring – these freshwater bugs can only tolerate so much salt before the stream becomes uninhabitable.

The Cost to You

We all know that fast food and convenience munchies are often laden with salt. But did you know that we use more than 10 times the amount of salt on our roads than is used in all American food processing each year? Doctors have become increasingly concerned that as road salt infiltrates our drinking water supplies, it can cause problems for people with high blood pressure because water treatment plants cannot remove all the extra sodium.

Road salt can hurt your wallet too. Rust damage due to road salt can shorten the life of your car (and drop the resale value). Road salt and its application cost the U.S. some $2.3 billion a year – much of that paid through your tax dollars! One study in Ohio found that the state uses 176 pounds of road salt per person each year.

Traveling safely is important to us all. However, we need to ensure efforts to keep our roads safe do not destroy water quality in the process.

It’s easy to check how much salt is in your local stream using chloride test strips, which provide an instant reading – and you can get a FREE chloride test kit from the Izaak Walton League! Sign up for your free kit and start collecting data now to get a long-term look at chloride levels and the health of your local streams.

Florida’s Tampa Bay

Taking a New Look at Hard Bottoms on Florida’s Tampa Bay
from The Fishing Wire

Although Tampa Bay doesn’t have colorful, high-relief coral reefs like the Florida Keys, it does have areas of fossilized corals, limestone outcroppings, rubble and artificial reefs, collectively known as “hard bottom.” In fact, research from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is showing these rare habitats may serve as a critically important stop-off for juvenile fish as they graduate from nursery areas in the bay to offshore habitats in the Gulf.

“Hard bottoms are known hot spots for algae, fish and invertebrates,” said Kerry Flaherty-Walia, a researcher with the FWC. “We’ve known how productive they are in offshore areas, but new technology has helped us identify which fish are using them in Tampa Bay.”
FWC’s Fisheries Independent Monitoring Program has been sampling fish populations in Tampa Bay since 1989, documenting species and size in different parts of the bay. The new research, funded through the Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund, uses video technology and high-tech fishing apparatus rather than the traditional seine nets to document what species are utilizing specific habitats.

Using the new methods, scientists have documented 19 fish species in quantities equal to or greater than captured in nets over the past 21 years, including three species never seen before in Tampa Bay and 11 that were rarely observed. The results also reflect a dramatic increase in the total number of fish documented, with significantly less effort: 64 stations measured in this study vs. 337 net hauls.

“We found fish in quantities equal or higher than we’d ever seen in the net sampling – including red grouper, grunts, Atlantic tarpon, gray snapper, gag grouper and black sea bass,” Flaherty-Walia said. “We even found snook, which was interesting because we knew it was in the bay but not necessarily using hard bottom habitat. Grunts large enough to be reproducing also were found.”

Researchers used two GoPro video cameras, mounted on a PVC frame with a bait box to attract fish, that were dropped on hard bottom habitat for 20 minutes. Dual cameras provided “stereo” vision allowing researchers to identify fish as well as their size without capturing them.

Immediately after the cameras were retrieved, hook-and-line fishing gear was deployed in the same area on timed intervals to minimize the impact of an individual angler’s skill to collect additional data from the fish that can’t be collected looking at videos or pictures.

Pinfish and a stingray also share hard bottom habitat.

The two-year project, which will continue through 2018, is an extension of TBEP’s focus on hard bottom habitat as a valuable and rare resource in need of special attention. The information collected will be used to inform strategies for better managing and protecting hard bottom in the bay, said Maya Burke, science policy coordinator for TBEP. “We’re working with the (Southwest Florida) Water Management District, Pinellas County, and the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County to identify where these habitats, including submerged rock or rubble reefs and limestone ledges, occur. Some areas are even hard to see on side-scan sonar and require video confirmation. That makes the mapping so labor-intensive that we can only do portions of the bay at a time.”

And because the hard bottoms often have very low relief, they may be covered (or uncovered) by sand during heavy storms. “If we can’t see them anymore, we need to be able to know where they’re likely to persist,” Burke adds. Like much of the bay, hard bottom habitat and the organisms that live there are threatened by direct damage from fishing gear or other physical impacts, stress and disease, and invasive species.

The time is ripe for studying hard bottom habitat in Tampa Bay. Last summer Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) staff began a monitoring program, to better understand how these habitats change over time. These hard bottom habitats have a complex network of organisms that attach to and live there.

“We have historic snapshots of hard bottom — like the Environmental Protection Commision of Hillsborough County’s report on benthic invertebrates on artificial reefs — but this important monitoring work will aid in the understanding of these habitats,” Burke said.

Veterans Find Healing and Hope

Veterans Find Healing and Hope on Public Lands
from The Fishing Wire

A visit to America’s public lands is more than an opportunity to see an epic vista, learn about history and experience wildlife. It’s also good medicine.

Connecting with the outdoors can heal the mind, body and soul. For veterans, time in the outdoors can help them recover from traumatic combat injuries and find relief from pain. All across the country, Interior is partnering with groups to make it easier for disabled veterans and others to discover the therapeutic qualities of America’s national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands.

Check out some of the inspiring partnerships and locations that are helping veterans find healing on America’s public lands.

Casting a line for a day of fun and fishing

Fishing is often the line that connects people to their public lands. Florida’s Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area is using this favored pastime to unite veterans and their families for a day of fun, friendship and fishing. This year, Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse hosted the 4th annual Veterans Fishing Classic as part of the Fisheries for Veterans Project — an effort to connect veterans to the therapeutic qualities of outdoor recreation, while promoting stewardship of public lands. The day was filled with fishing and tales of missed catches as 140 veterans and their families attempted to reel in a big one.

Veterans fishing public waters


Veterans and their families enjoy the lapping waves, coastal breeze and thrill of fishing as part of the Veterans Family Fishing Classic at Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area. Photo courtesy of Kathy Williams, FishingCommuities.org.

Preserving history and finding relief at Lake Mead

Deep underwater at Lake Mohave lies a historic aerial ferry that used to serve the lake in the 1930s. This unexpected spot at Lake Mead National Recreation Area is helping disabled veterans find comfort from painful combat injuries. Working with WAVES Project (short for the Wounded American Veterans Experience SCUBA), the park took six wounded veterans on dives to inspect and preserve the underwater artifacts in Lake Mohave. But there was also a benefit for veterans — they experienced relief from pain. Not only has scuba diving helped veterans with physical disabilities, it’s also helped those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Learn more about how Lake Mead is working to give wounded veterans a fresh start through diving experiences.

Experiencing the peace of wild Alaska

For seven years, disabled veterans have trekked to Alaska’s Delta River for world-class fly-fishing and to find peace in this remote location. The Delta River rises from a chain of 21 lakes surrounded by picturesque mountains and is known for its amazing Arctic grayling fishery. Since 2011, the Bureau of Land Management has hosted Project Healing Waters events here to raise awareness of the restorative values of public lands, and most importantly, to give back to those who have given so much to our country. As part of these fly-fishing events, veterans will routinely catch and release 25-100 Arctic grayling in a day, and at night they’ll share stories around the campfire — strengthening camaraderie, building relationships and connecting with their local community. The Delta River event is just one of many Healing Waters outings on America’s public lands. There are also float fishing trips on the Bighorn and Beaverhead rivers in Montana, both of which are ribbon trout fisheries below Bureaus of Reclamation reservoirs.

A participant of a Project Healing Waters event last year hooks an Arctic Grayling along Alaska’s Delta River. Photo by Matt Vos, Bureau of Land Management.
Giving hope by improving access to public lands
Whether it’s with a camera in hand or a shotgun, there’s something thrilling about sitting in a blind waiting for a flock of mallards to take off or listening to the wind whistle through the trees. But for wounded veterans or others with disabilities, the chance to hunt, fish and hike isn’t always a given. To change that, wildlife refuges in Washington have partnered with disabled veteran Rick Spring to build accessible blinds so that all visitors can experience the Pacific Northwest’s outdoors. Rick, who volunteers his time to improving accessibility on public lands, has built three custom blinds for two wildlife refuges — each one large enough to accommodate two wheelchairs. Rick hopes to expand the use of his custom-designed blinds to Oregon and then to the national level so more people with disabilities can have access to the outdoors. It’s Rick’s way of giving hope to injured veterans.

Discovering the restorative powers of the outdoors

The Upper Colorado River spans a unique and beautiful landscape, known for its diverse water features, gold medal trout waters, abundant wildlife and cultural landscapes along the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway. It’s also an ideal place for therapeutic outdoor adventures. A number of organizations and outfitters host whitewater and fly fishing trips on the Upper Colorado River for wounded warriors. These experiences on public lands not only let veterans tap into the restorative powers of nature but also helps them build long-term support networks and connections.

Bonding with horses to improve health and well being

People often form strong bonds with animals. With a saddle and some trust, people and horses work together in a powerful partnership with surprising results. Equine therapy is a proven method to help patients recover from both physical and mental injuries, and improve their confidence, awareness and patience. At Rock Creek Park Horse Center in the heart of Washington, D.C., the Ridewell Program provides active duty military personnel and veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries and PTSD a chance to come to ride and learn about horses with the help of officers from the U.S. Park Police Horse Mounted Unit. Thanks to the teamwork, natural setting and the time spent with horses, doctors and families have noted improvements in their balance and mental wellbeing, as well as pride and joy in the wounded warriors’ accomplishments. These events are able to happen with funding provided through Rock Creek Riders, an all volunteer non profit organization that provides local children, active duty military and veterans the opportunity to heal through the power of riding.

Healing while hunting

Even though physical injuries can change veterans’ lives forever, they can always find adventure and rejuvenation at National Wildlife Refuge System lands across America. At the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, the annual deer hunt for disabled sportsmen is making sure all Americans have access to excellent hunting opportunities, regardless of their physical limitations. Since the refuge started the hunt in 2007 at the Lost Mound Unit of the refuge, more than 1,000 hunters from all over the country have participated. Much of the program’s success depends on partnerships to provide travel for hunters. As part of the program, the refuge also partners with a deer tracking service to make sure the hunters can locate the deer they shot. In addition to providing hunters with mobility limitations the chance to experience a high-quality deer hunt, the event also opens the door to all sorts of recreational opportunities that national wildlife refuges have to offer — from hunting and fishing to birding and hiking.

Calm waters bring peace

Known best for dams and reservoirs, the Bureau of Reclamation also plays a major role in meeting increasing public demand for water-based outdoor recreation facilities and opportunities. Using these resources, Reclamation has several programs with federal, state and local partners that support recovery and rehabilitation for disabled veterans. The Purple Heart Anglers have used Reclamation’s Lake Berryessa and New Melones Lake for several fishing events in California. At a recent event, disabled veterans were bussed to Lake Berryessa and paired with boat owners for a day of fishing. Reclamation concessionaires provided lunch, music and prizes. It’s a great way to say thanks to those who have sacrificed so much for our country.

Help Prevent the Spread of Invasive Species

Take Steps to Help Prevent the Spread of Invasive Species
By Monica Garrity, TPWD Aquatic Invasive Species Team Leader
from The Fishing Wire

Recently a fisherman contacted me at TPWD with a question about decontaminating waders and fishing gear—we appreciate your interest in protecting our natural resources for future generations!

Here is some information—hope it helps:

Any gear used in the water should be decontaminated before you use it on another water body or at another site on a river or creek, especially if you move upstream.

For waders, we recommend that, at minimum, you remove any mud, plants, or other water and let them dry completely. Make sure to pay special attention to gravel guards, boot treads and use a flathead screwdriver or toothbrush followed by a wash-down of the gear with a good strong spray nozzle on a water hose. If you can, go the extra mile and decontaminate after cleaning and before drying. Here are three options to decontaminate your waders and nets—the first option will kill any disease-causing organisms (like whirling disease of fish). Be sure to wear eye protection and gloves, and protect your clothing.

Best option: use a 10 bleach/water mixture—this can cause some waders to fade.

Add ½ gallon of household bleach to a five-gallon bucket filled with water—make a new batch of bleach water every time you decontaminate.
Put the waders and gear in a big Rubbermaid tub or mop sink, weight them down with something that won’t corrode, like bricks or rocks.
Pour the mixture in and make sure everything is submerged.

Set a timer for ten minutes—no less and no more than 12 (for your gear’s sake—10 min is the recommended time).
Rinse the gear and let dry completely—hang waders upside down.

Dump the bleach/water down the sink drain. If outside, dump the bleach water at least 300 yards from the nearest outdoor water source.
Good option: use a 50% solution of Formula 409 or Lysol (buy a big jug of it!)

Make a mix of half Formula 409 and half water—just enough to cover the waders in the tub.

Put the waders and gear in a big Rubbermaid tub or mop sink, weight them down with something that won’t corrode, like bricks or rocks.

Pour the 409/water in and make sure everything is submerged.

Soak for at least 10 minutes and try to agitate (just slosh the liquid in the tub around a bit).

Rinse the gear and let dry completely—hang waders upside down.

Best to dump the solution down the sink drain.

Acceptable option: use hot water; for invasive species but not disease.

Follow the same basic soaking/weighting procedures as above.

Soak for at least 20 minutes in the hottest water your tap can provide—aiming for 120°F.

Add hot water periodically during the 20 minutes if you think it’s needed to keep the water super-hot.

Let dry completely.

Some other options—not the greatest—are to run waders through a very hot cycle in the washing machine or dishwasher and let dry. For other fishing gear, do the same thing—remove any mud and plants, rinse, and let dry completely. For dip nets or other nets that won’t be damaged, the extra decontamination steps described above are good practice—even though they won’t be good (or really necessary) for fishing rods.

Here’s a link to a nice fly-fishing group website that I like because it gives good, clear information and a nice flow chart. Even though the group is in the Rocky Mountains area, the methods apply everywhere. Thanks again for your diligence to protect our waterways!