Congressional Shootout A Blast!

May 20, 2009

Congressional Shootout a Blast!

 Every spring, members of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus (CSC), the largest caucus on the Hill, and the outdoor industry get together for a couple of days to shoot some sporting clays. I haven't been able to make the event for the last couple of years, but this year I was lucky enough to have a clear schedule and a chance to "compete" (and I use that term loosely).I participated on the Shimano team with Phil Morlock (Shimano Environmental Director), Gordon Robertson (Vice President of Government Affairs for the American Sportfishing Association) and Jeff Angers (President, Center for Coastal Conservation). We were fortunate enough to be paired with Congressman Dan Boren (D-Okla.), who is currently the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus co-chair. Unfortunately for the Congressman, he was stuck with the only fishing-related team there. The only good news for him was that we made him look good!

 We started off on skeet (not my strong suit, but I managed to break 19 out of 25), then moved to trap, where I connected on 20 out of 25, and finally sporting clays (apparently not memorable, since I forgot my score). However, it wasn't about the scores (unless you do well, of course). It was about spending time with legislators that care about our resources and our outdoor heritage. Congressman Boren is certainly one of those legislators.

 There's a lot of down time and opportunities to talk when waiting for your turn to shoot. So what did we talk about? Pretty much what any one of you and I would talk about if we have the chance — family, fishing, hunting and enjoying our natural resources. This event is always a good reminder that legislators are people, just like you and me. Fortunately for us, Congressman Boren (and the other members there that day) enjoys doing what we do and is committed to making sure that those who are passionate about the outdoors and the fish and wildlife we pursue and protect have a voice in the nation's capital.In a day and age when the division between party lines is wider than ever, it's reassuring to see democrats and republicans discarding party politics for the purpose of coming together to benefit our outdoor heritage. There's nothing like fishing or hunting to bring folks together, and it's good to know that the members of the CSC are there to make sure we continue to have that opportunity.

 Congressman Boren took the honor of top congressional skeet shooter, so his angling teammates didn't handicap him too bad. As for me, I went home with a renewed appreciation for the CSC and the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation ... and undoubtedly the most bruised shoulder.

 


 

Did you know? You can follow Chris Horton on Twitter. Visit Twitter.com/basshorton.

May 12, 2009
Ethanol Debacle: From Bad to Worse

 In a day when "Climate Change" has become a standard household phrase, the race to reduce our "carbon footprint" has earnestly begun. Couple that with our urgent drive to decrease America's dependence on foreign oil and we're left with one of the largest boondoggles in U.S. history — corn ethanol.

 How many of you would deposit $100 in a bank knowing that you're only going to get $71 back when you withdraw it later? Despite the fact that several studies have concluded we use more energy to make a gallon of ethanol than we actually get in the end, the ethanol industry is doing a fabulous job of marketing corn ethanol as a green energy solution. Ethanol is far from being a good source of "green" energy, but I encourage you to do the research and see for yourself.

 Now the ethanol industry is lobbying the EPA to mandate an increase in ethanol additives to our gasoline. Currently gasoline can contain up to 10 percent ethanol. They want to push that to 15 percent. The proposed rule change has been published in the Federal Register, and we have until May 21 to submit comments.

 Why should you be concerned with the 5 percent increase? If you own an outboard engine, especially an older model two stroke, this bad situation could be much worse for you. There has been no testing or research on the impacts of higher ethanol concentrations on marine engines. Many older outboards are already having problems with 10 percent ethanol, and the newer outboards are rated for 10 percent, but no more. One thing is for sure; we definitely need to do the research and look at the data on what this increase will do beforehand, rather than assess the carnage after the fact.

 If ethanol was truly a good solution and helped the environment, that would be one thing. But I have a serious problem with a special interest group trying to sell us a lie, especially if it costs me thousands of dollars to fix or replace my outboard ... and for what?

 The EPA needs to hear from us. Submit your written comments one of three ways: online (www.regulations.gov; follow the online instructions), e-mail (a-and-r-docket@epa.gov) or fax (202-566-1741).

 In the subject line, be sure to put: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0211 
May 8, 2009
Bad Timing

 I've been pretty lucky lately in my travels. In fact, I haven't had a significant delay that caused me to miss anything in over a year. Well, that all changed yesterday.

 I started off the week at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri where the Reservoir Fish Habitat Partnership met to develop the strategic plan for improving our reservoir fisheries in the future (more on that later). It was a productive meeting, but only the first leg of my trip.

 Yesterday morning, I woke at around 3 a.m., put on my suit and headed to the Springfield airport for a 6 a.m. flight. On top of being sleepy, they had just opened a new terminal and it wasn't very well signed. Trying to find the rental car drop off — in a heavy fog — was quite the challenge.

 Anyway, I made that flight, just barely (had a hiccup in security as they debated whether my new nickel-platted fishing pliers from Bass Pro Shops could be a weapon of choice for terrorists). Anyway, I made it to my connection in Chicago. Everything went well and on time, until we boarded the flight to Washington, D.C.

 After 30 minutes of sitting on the plane and going nowhere, the captain informed us that the brakes weren't working properly (good to know beforehand). After another 30 minutes of maintenance trying, unsuccessfully, to correct the problem, we de-planed and were rebooked for a later flight, effectively ending my opportunity to make it to DC on time.

 Normally, this wouldn't have been a problem. Things happen, and if you're a really frequent traveler, you learn to roll with the punches. However, my change in luck couldn't have happened on a more important day.

 I was on my way to a meeting with the White House — specifically, the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). They wanted to hear from the fishing and hunting community, and BASS was among the few that were invited. Fortunately, Gordon Robertson of the American Sportfishing Association (who was also on the list of invitees) was able to cover for me.

 Basically, from the freshwater anglers' perspective, we urged the administration to establish recreational fishing as a priority for federal land management authorities (Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Corps of Engineers, etc.) when developing public use policy.

 Fishing on federal lands has been an American heritage since those lands were established as a public trust years ago. In light of recent attempts to change public use policy on many of these lands (for example, NPS lead ban announcement — you can read about it in an earlier column), we wanted the President to reaffirm our rights and ability to pursue recreational fishing opportunities on public lands.

 I called Gordon as soon as I landed back in Orlando last night, and the report was very favorable. The CEQ listened intently to our issues, asked great questions and genuinely wanted to work with us moving forward.

 This was just the beginning of (hopefully) many opportunities to work with the White House on issues important to our nation's aquatic resources and our sport. However, for the next meeting, I think I'll take the bus.

 April 17, 2009
Meeting with the Deputy Assistant Secretary

 My last blog was about the recent lead ban announcement from the National Park Service (NPS) and a subsequent letter I wrote, hoping to gain an audience with Will Shafroth, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Department of the Interior. We were dismayed with the apparent indifference of the NPS towards a large constituency of park visitors ... us! What was equally disturbing is the fact that this policy direction was not supported or justified by science. So we needed to speak with someone that had the ability to reign in the NPS. Well, I'm happy to report that we got that meeting on April 6.

 The NPS admitted, right up front, that they had done a poor job of reaching out to our community before the announcement. In short, they jumped the gun and apologized for doing so. Despite the confusing statement by the NPS folks that the first press release was intended for NPS employees only, it became quite clear from the comments of the NPS staff during the meeting that getting lead out of the parks is a good concept, and one they will pursue.

 Why is it a good concept? Does the NPS have data or credible documentation that the rest of the world doesn't have, especially relative to lead fishing tackle? Believe me, they do not. And what ever happened to the Obama administration's promise of government transparency? Public input?

To Mr. Shafroth's credit, he's been on the job for a very short time and probably wasn't familiar with the issue or the potential ramifications. He listened intently to both sides, and it appeared that we got our message across. Of course, it didn't hurt that for the last couple of weeks, his boss' office has been getting a steady barrage of letters from BFN members on this issue. (Thanks to all of you that took the time to voice your concerns!)

 The ball is now squarely in the Department of Interior's court. Our hope is that Mr. Shafroth will help get this train back on the right track. The NPS can either ignore us and move forward — which would mean they operate in autonomy, don't need public input to make decisions and don't have to answer to the people they serve — or they can step back, restart this whole process and use good science and a public stage to guide public policy, as President Obama has directed all federal agencies to do.

 Stay tuned.

 March 26, 2009
Lead Ban Planned for NPS Waters

 On March 10, the National Park Service announced they will seek to remove all lead fishing tackle and ammunition from national parks nationwide. To say this was a shock to the fishing community would be an understatement. Historically, when a federal agency was contemplating massive policy changes that would impact millions of recreational anglers, they presented the fishing community with their reasons for the change, as well as sought our advice and input — before any public announcement went forward.

 Not so this time around. First impression is that the new administration does not value our input nor do they see recreational anglers as a significant stakeholder of public waters. I don't think that is the case, at least I hope not. I believe (or at least I want to believe) that the new political appointees within the Department of Interior were anxious to make a change, and because lead tackle and ammunition portrays a negative image to some, it was an easy choice.

 The fact of the matter is, at least as far as lead fishing tackle is concerned, there isn't any science to support that this tackle is significantly contributing to fish and wildlife mortality. But, heaven forbid we let science play a role in our decisions. Let's make drastic changes based on public perception (though without public input), rather than the facts at hand.

 Here was my response:

 Mr. Daniel N. Wenk
Acting Director, National Park Service
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Room 3113
Washington, DC 20240

Dear Mr. Wenk:

On behalf of our 530,000 BASS members nationwide, I would like to express our disappointment in the recent news release from the National Park Service (NPS) announcing your goal to eliminate the use of lead fishing tackle in parks. This announcement came without consultation with the millions of anglers who fish on NPS waters, nor was it presented with significant and credible justification for doing so.

Normally, drastic policy changes such as this undergo a proposed rule process, which facilitates the opportunity for extensive public and scientific review. That does not appear to be the case, and begs the question as to why such a thoroughly vetted approach was circumvented for a unilateral policy change that will have far reaching impacts for millions of Americans and local businesses.

We respectfully request that the NPS withdraw this proposal and establish a consultation process with the appropriate stakeholders and develop a more transparent approach to guide any further action.

Sincerely,
Chris Horton
Conservation Director

March 20, 2009
Reservoir Symposium — Angling for Opportunities

  This week I had the opportunity to co-chair the, "Reservoir Symposium — Angling for Opportunities," at the 74th North American Wildlife Conference in Washington, D.C. It was a great symposium that was intended to emphasize the importance of reservoirs as angling destinations and the need to focus more attention on their restoration and enhancement. My closing comments are summarized below.

 First of all, I want to thank everyone for coming today and especially the Wildlife Management Institute for hosting a symposium dedicated to one of our most important water resources. Reservoirs are often viewed as a problem child, rather than the assets that they are or could be. Sure, they pose problems for native fish management, especially in the west. However, I think everyone would agree that current water demands, and what's coming down the pipe tomorrow, makes reservoirs absolutely necessary. People are going to have water. If reservoirs weren't there to collect and store rainfall, think of what our fisheries would look like? If people depended purely on free flowing streams for drinking water and irrigation, how much water would be left for fish then?

But can we really put a price on the value of our reservoirs? We'd better start trying if we're ever going to get anywhere with restoration and enhancements. We have a hard enough time determining what reservoirs are worth from an angler and sportfishing industry perspective. And the anglers are just one small piece. What's the value of the recreational boating and water sports on reservoirs? Or, the property value enhancements of living on a healthy lake? Or, what would it cost a city water authority to obtain their drinking water from another source? Or, the value of the reduction in our carbon footprint through clean hydropower? If you add up the value of all these benefits, it paints a very convincing picture of the importance of healthy reservoirs.

Reservoirs are woven into the landscape of this nation, yet most people, including legislators, don't recognize the tremendous value they provide. There probably isn't a person in this country that doesn't benefit from reservoirs in some way or another, yet many reservoirs are impaired and go fiscally ignored. We have to start thinking outside of our little fisheries box and start relating the value of our nation's reservoirs to the quality of life they afford.

So what's next? We must get the Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership (RFHP) finalized and moving forward. It must have a broad partnership base of not only anglers and natural resource agencies, but also businesses, local communities, private property owners, recreational organizations, social organizations, youth groups, etc., etc. The RFHP is the ideal vehicle to showcase the value of our reservoirs, along with their problems and necessary solutions. I firmly believe that reservoir rehabilitation and enhancement can be a catalyst for bringing together Americans from different walks of life.

However, a recognized partnership is by no means the final step. We have to find or restore additional, sustainable funding for reservoir improvements, through such avenues as Section 314 B of the Clean Water Act. There are most certainly others out there, but if not, we create them. Just look at the collection of folks we have in this room. That's just from a fisheries agency/lake management perspective. If we can unite the local communities, private property owners and the visiting public, we'll have the political clout necessary to secure sustainable funding and solve most of our reservoir problems.

Why is it important to restore our nation's reservoirs? Because they're assets that provide not only great recreational fishing opportunities, but they contribute to the quality of life of millions of Americans. They've been neglected for far too long.

November 5, 2008
War Not Lost

 Most anglers realize that we've just lost one of the biggest battles over angler access in our nation's history. However, the Supreme Court's decision not to hear the Parm vs. Shumate case in Louisiana isn't the end of the war. It's the beginning, and it's winnable ... provided anglers are willing to help themselves.

 This loss at the federal level, though disheartening, wasn't unexpected. We'd like to think that our forefathers had the ability to see into the future and determine how laws that they were writing then would offer lasting protection for their principles of the day, but that's unrealistic. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that we don't have a federal common law right to fish on navigable waters of the United States, according to the interpretation of the 5th Circuit Court and now verified by the Supreme Court of the United States through their refusal to hear the case.

 So, where are we? The ball is now in the angler's court, so to speak. If Louisiana had strong state laws to protect anglers' rights to fish navigable waters, this would never have been an issue. It's hard to believe that Louisiana, the "Sportsman's Paradise," doesn't have measures in place to protect those sportsmen when it comes to public waters. It's now up to anglers to change that by introducing solid access legislation, then following up with the support necessary to pass it.

 It is possible. Senator McPherson of the Louisiana Legislature did anglers a great service by introducing legislation to fix the problem this past summer. Unfortunately, the Louisiana angling community let him down and didn't offer the support needed to pass it. I don't know if they just assumed they would win in the Supreme Court, or just weren't aware of the bill. Rest assured, if and when he introduces it again, anglers must speak up or forever hold their peace. If every angler would send an e-mail or letter of support to their respective state representative, rest assured, the measure would pass. If they rely on someone else to do it for them, we'll be forever trespassing on waters of the United States.

 Unfortunately, Louisiana isn't the only state that needs to shore up their access laws. There are other battles waiting to be fought. The upside is that several states do have good laws that protect angler access, so the battle can be won. The question is, who's going to be with us on the battle field when it's fought in your backyard?

 June 5, 2008
It means more coming from you!

 Last week, I traveled to Baton Rouge, La., to visit with some state legislators about angling access in the state. By now, most everyone should be aware of the ongoing, historic case concerning angler access to navigable waters in Louisiana. This case threatens to set a national precedent regarding anglers' ability to fish millions of acres of "navigable" waters in Louisiana and the rest of the country.

 As it stands right now, based on the lower court rulings, anglers are not going to fare well. The case is currently on its way to the US Supreme Court, but experts aren't optimistic that the Supreme Court will even hear the case, much less give us a favorable outcome.

 So, do we just give up? If we continue to lose in the courts, as we have over the last decade, how do we turn the tides in our favor? Simple ... change the laws, more specifically, the state laws. That's just what Senator McPherson (co-chair of the Louisiana Sportsmen's Caucus) is trying to do. He introduced a bill that would fix the problem, and we've kept everyone informed on the progress of that bill through this Web site.

 However, for an issue that seems (and should be) a hot button for Louisiana anglers, you sure wouldn't know it. Senator McPherson has been the only senator to speak for the bill. There are certainly several opponents (senators with large property owners in their districts), but there are many that are confused or are not aware of the importance of the bill to their constituents. That's because anglers, for the most part, have failed to pick up the phone or send an e-mail to their senator letting them know just how important it is. After all, who are the legislators responsible for, a few big land owners or thousands of people from all walks of life? If you don't keep reminding them, I can assure you, a few, wealthy individuals will get their way every time.

 This goes for every angler in every state, not just Louisiana. You have the ability to make change, but you have to invest some effort. I can help strategize, educate and spread the word, but you hold the key — your vote — and it's easy to use it. It can be as simple as a phone call, e-mail, fax or letter. If enough people would take five minutes to remind their elected officials of just who it was that put them there, and why they are there to begin with, we could make the world a better place — not just for anglers, but for everyone.

 March 21, 2008
Conroe is back!

 Don't believe me? Just ask Ricky Weaver or Tyler Goetzman, both of whom landed big sows this year from a lake that was given up for dead not too long ago.

 Conroe has been the center of controversy for many south Texas anglers for the last couple of decades. Once a nationally recognized destination for big bass, the lake's reputation changed drastically after hydrilla and other aquatic plants were annihilated by grass carp in the early 1980s. The onslaught of carp sparked a controversy that, to this day, sits heavily on the minds of Texas bass anglers. For years, the perception was that the lake was ruined. Combine that with the lack of cover for anglers to target and Conroe was pretty much a destination for jet skiers and homeowners who like the thought of having a giant, sterile swimming pool in their backyard. Incidentally, many of these homeowners were responsible for the barrage of carp, not the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).

 Fast forward some 25 years. The fishing is as good today as it ever was — so what's changed? Many local anglers that don't know any better will automatically point to the resurgence of hydrilla (hydrilla returned to appreciable coverage in 2004). However, unless these two bass are some sort of genetic freaks that can achieve this size in four years (pretty much impossible), there has to be a different explanation. Granted, it's probably because of plants alright, but the native kind. Not an exotic plant from Asia (hydrilla).

 Well before hydrilla returned to Conroe, the TPWD took the appropriate action to get the lake back to its previous glory as a bass factory. Though they have stocked bass on several occasions, the best thing they could ever do was fix the habitat problem – and they did just that. Working with the US Army Corps of Engineers in Lewisville, Texas, Mark Webb (TPWD Biologist) has been spearheading an aquatic plant restoration project which has resulted in over 1,000 acres of native aquatic plants in the lake. It's much more likely that the re-establishment of native plants resulted in these two lunkers than the reappearance of hydrilla.

 
But the return of Lake Conroe could be short lived if we aren't careful. The hydrilla continues to expand, and many of those same homeowners are pressing for another bombardment of grass carp. Fortunately, the TPWD and local anglers are better organized today than they were in the early '80s. Grass carp are being used as a tool, but much more sparingly this time around. Incremental, conservative stockings of a few grass carp per hydrilla acre are occurring. However, TPWD monitors the coverage of the exotic plant. As soon as it starts to decline or even hold steady, the carp stocking will cease. So far, the majority of the homeowners are on board with this approach.

 In the meantime, the Seven Coves Bass Club (a BASS Federation Nation club) under the leadership of Ron Gunter, is taking action to prevent Conroe from succumbing to the same fate that it did in the 1980s. Through a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Ron and SCBC are helping Mark continue his vegetation establishment project. Even if the grass carp numbers creep up to a level that could negatively impact all vegetation, not just hydrilla, they are working diligently to ensure that new vegetation will be present to recolonize the lake and continue the production of quality bass, like Ricky's and Tyler's.

 Aquatic plants, especially natives, are a recipe for a bass bonanza, and the proof is in the pudding!

 March 4, 2008
Classic Workshops a Success

 Some folks out there might think that the Classic is a big end of the year party for BASS staff and BASS Federation Nation board members. There are a lot of late night dinner parties and banquets, I'll admit. However, for us in the Conservation and Federation Nation Departments, we seize the Classic as an opportunity to educate our leaders in the sport on important issues that they'll be addressing over the coming months. Our days begin early and end late, with the Classic festivities and the weigh-in thrown in as recess periods.

 Each year, we bring in the BASS Federation Nation conservation directors for a series of educational workshops. On the even number years (such as for the 2008 Classic), we also invite the state fisheries agencies. This year saw a good turnout from each. It's a great opportunity for the BFN leaders to build relationships with their state fisheries agencies, while also getting the information they need to successfully engage various issues when they return home.

 We were fortunate to have Representative Mike Pitts, South Carolina Sportsmen's Caucus, open the workshops on Friday morning. Jim Martin, conservation director for Berkley, closed out the four-day meetings with an exceptional, motivational speech on Sunday, just before lunch. In between was a whirlwind of information. Here's a quick recap of some of the topics we covered:

 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Grants — Several state BFN's gave an update on the progress of their NFWF projects. Their presentations covered project specifics, but also the NFWF grant process and how to write successful grants. The projects presented were quite impressive and served to motivate other BFN chapters to apply for these grants this year.

MPA's and Washington Issues — Gordon Robertson of the American Sportfishing Association gave an update on Marine Protected Areas and the potential/current efforts for these marine sanctuaries to move inland. When they do, he stressed the need to make sure any type of protected area is biologically justified, based on good science and with a provision to adjust restrictions when populations recover. Gordon also brought us up to speed on events and legislation in Washington that could, or will, have a bearing on anglers and our fisheries.

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permit System (NPDES) — Mat Dunn of the NMMA updated everyone on the new EPA regulations regarding NPDES permits for recreational boaters, along with the proposed federal legislation to fix the problem. We are confident that we can prevent recreational boaters, including bass boats, from having to secure such a permit, but it will take a concerted effort from the angling and boating community to get the job done. Stay tuned.

Will Courtney and I presented an overview of the Louisiana navigable waters case. Unfortunately, anglers have lost in their quest to convince the courts (both state and federal) that they have a right to fish public, navigable waters in Louisiana. The final push will be with the U.S. Supreme Court, but if we lose there, each state without current protection will need to pass laws to clearly give anglers the right we assumed we had for over 200 years.

The Aquatic Plant Management Society and the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Foundation partnered with BASS to present an aquatic vegetation management symposium that covered everything from the importance of plants for fish, the problems created by exotic plants, control options and a hands-on plant identification session.

Mark Webb (Texas Parks and Wildlife) and Ron Gunter (Texas BASS Federation Nation) gave a presentation on an integrated approach to habitat management on Lake Conroe, Texas, where funds from a NFWF grant are being used to both control exotic vegetation and facilitate the establishment of native aquatic plants to improve the fisheries.

I gave an overview of the National Reservoir Partnership that BASS and several state agencies are spearheading. About 70 percent of the fishing pressure in this country is on impounded waters, so it makes sense that we should develop a national partnership to address reservoir fisheries habitat.

Don Bonneau (Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources) gave an overview of the Iowa Lakes Program, where the state legislature funds projects to restore water quality, promote community involvement and improve fishing success. The Iowa program is a great example of what the National Reservoir Partnership will attempt to achieve on a national level.

Yep, Classic week is fun, but it's also rewarding on many fronts. The feedback from the conservation workshops has been very positive. In fact, many of the BFN conservation directors are already hard at work addressing many of the issues that we covered.

The morning after the Classic is always bittersweet. Bitter because so many of the BFN conservation directors that inspire me everyday are returning home. Sweet because I can finally get some sleep!

 January 24, 2008
BASS Membership — More than a magazine

 I just wanted to say a big "Thank you!" to you BASS members out there. Many of you may not realize it, but your $25 membership fee gets you more than a great fishing magazine. Belonging to the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society is practically the best way for a bass angler to make a difference for our fisheries and our sport.

 No, we're not a non-profit conservation organization like Ducks Unlimited, Coastal Conservation Association, or the National Wild Turkey Federation. We are a for profit company with a vested interest in the sport of bass fishing. However, because of our members, we have both the financial strength and the political capital to effectively protect and enhance your freshwater bass fishing opportunities.

 The BASS Conservation department doesn't generate revenue for the company. In fact, between staff salaries, travel to important meetings, supporting scientific conferences and funding critical habitat projects and angler access improvements, the BASS Conservation Department spends considerable resources on behalf of our members and the fisheries we cherish. Yet, every year the company doesn't hesitate to budget for those efforts because BASS is truly dedicated to conservation. Why? Because if we didn't, who else would?

 I left a career as a state fisheries biologist because I truly believe that there is no other company or organization that has the potential to make a bigger difference for my favorite pastime — bass fishing. Your BASS membership gives you a voice on natural resource issues that you won't find with any other warm-water fishing organization. Half a million members tend to make a pretty strong statement in Washington D.C., at state capitols across the nation and with local city and county governments. BASS' appointment to the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council, the National Fish Habitat Action Plan Board and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation is a testament to that fact.

 Just take a look at our list of accomplishments in 2007. Between the BASS Conservation Department and the BASS Federation Nations, we were quite successful. However, none of that would have been possible without you, the member. Your membership is the critical element in our effectiveness with conservation issues. The more members we have, the more effective we can be.

 So, when it's time to renew your membership, I hope you'll take a moment to consider the importance of doing so. Sure, you get a great magazine, but you're also making a statement. It is a testimonial that you are passionate about our aquatic resources and the future of our sport. You're joining an elite group of anglers who are willing to take a stand.

 Display that BASS shield proudly. You are truly making a difference!
November 30, 2007
Politicking and fishing

 It's cold in Missouri, or at least it's cold by my Florida-resident standards. Fortunately, the reason I'm here keeps me motivated ... and my teeth from chattering. I'm at the Big Cedar Lodge attending the annual meeting of the National Assembly of Sportsmen's Caucuses.

 Don't let the title intimidate you. Yes, there are a lot of politicians around, but they're all here for one reason — to look out for our interests.

 A few years ago, a small group of state legislators organized by the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation got together to discuss how they could defeat anti-hunting and fishing legislation more effectively and better represent the interests of hunters and anglers in their states. Now there are 35 organized state sportsmen's caucuses made up of hundreds of elected officials that are looking out for both our heritage and the resources we all hold dear. I can assure you, the success of this organization couldn't have come at a better time.

 Usually, these types of meetings are focused on hunting-related matters. With gun control issues and campaigns against hunting from the antis always rampant, it's no wonder that hunting issues get a lot of attention. Their backs are always against the wall. And, quite frankly, hunters tend to be more vocal than anglers, though we far outnumber them in every state.

 Over the last couple of years, however, angling-related issues have been getting more and more of the spotlight — most notably, angler access and Marine Protected Areas. I was fortunate enough to work with the CSF staff in developing a brief on freshwater angling access issues that was provided to all the legislators in attendance. Basically, we need to ensure that state laws protect our rights to freely fish public and/or navigable waters. We've encouraged them to go back to their respected states — your states — and determine if adequate protection exists in current statutes. If not, we can help them to fix it.

 Anyway, I just wanted to give you a little update on where I am, and on a great organization that will help secure our angling future. When Election Day rolls around for your state senators and representatives, find out which ones are members of the state sportsmen's caucus. Those that are, from my experience, are good people with the same values and passions as you and I. They are certainly worth considering for your vote.

 Back to the meetings I go....
August 17, 2007
So what if a few fish die?

 There seems to be a lot of chatter about tournament fish care on the message boards lately. Not surprising, given the fact that we are in the middle of summer and a massive heat wave across much of the U.S. It's great that so much debate is focused on the need to improve tournament fish survival. However, like a lot of the message board banter, there seems to be a two-sided disagreement on whether or not it matters if a few fish die. The point I'd like to make is that we're missing the point.

 Regardless of whether or not you believe tournaments can have an impact on our fisheries, as ethical anglers that care about the resource we should be diligently striving to make sure that we return all of our fish alive and healthy. Although there might or might not be measurable, defendable results at the bass population level, there is certainly a measurable impact on public perception.

 A couple of dead fish floating at an access area after a tournament weigh-in can effectively negate — if only in the eyes of the public — any positive conservation work done by local bass clubs, even if the local club wasn't responsible for that particular tournament. Despite the fact that bass anglers have done as much or more for our fisheries than any other group of anglers, one poorly run tournament, or the mishandling of a few fish by careless anglers, can tarnish the image of all bass anglers. For this reason, it's vitally important — and not open for debate — that we do our absolute best to keep our fish alive.

 At BASS, we take this charge seriously. For starters, we publish Keeping Bass Alive, the authoritative guidebook for fish care, both for tournament organizers and anglers. It's the only collective source of information, based on the best science available, for tournament fish care. We'll soon be revising this publication to include the latest findings and techniques.

 We are continually evaluating and modifying our own weigh-in system, ever striving to make sure that our post release survival is as close to 100 percent as we can possibly achieve. We don't count our survival at the bump table, or even when the fish leave the stage, but all the way to the actual release from the boat. Speaking of which, we've custom designed a fleet of 750-gallon, live-release boats that can safely carry 750 lbs. of fish each. One pound of fish per gallon of water — that's the guideline used by the states and aquaculture industry, and that's the guideline that we use. In addition, each boat has four independent compartments that allow us to release one load of fish in multiple locations. Our goal is to always leave the lake or river just as we found it.

 We try to set an example with our own tournaments, but we want to help the tournament angler as well, regardless of their competitive level. In addition to Keeping Bass Alive, we will soon be updating our Conservation page with video tips that cover everything from landing the fish to the weigh-in stage. It's critical that every angler do their best from the hook set. Even the best run tournament can result in poor fish survival if the angler doesn't do his or her part. After all, the fish spend most of their time in the angler's — not the tournament organization's — possession.

 Properly caring for our fish is important in the public eye. It's important to the future of our sport. And, most importantly, it's the right thing to do!

 August 1, 2007
Grass Carp

 Much to my surprise (and to the Georgia and Alabama DNRs' as well), not much flak was launched at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to stock grass carp in Lake Eufaula on the Chattahoochee River. Despite several public meetings and opportunities to comment, the lack of angler input is about as good as an endorsement for the stocking as far as the Corps is concerned.

 Hydrilla, a plant thought by many anglers to be the ideal bass habitat (unless, of course, you live on a lake or tried to fish a water body that is 80 percent covered by the stuff) has made its way into the reservoir and is starting to spread. As shallow as Lake Eufaula is, the potential exists to have the majority of the reservoir impassible with mats of hydrilla very soon. In an effort to avoid the same mistakes and costly controls of a similar infestation in Lake Seminole, just downstream, the Corps will try to use grass carp to keep the newly established exotic plant at bay.

Now, I don't like grass carp as a means of plant control, especially in large reservoirs. The problem is that no "magic" formula has been found (and likely never will be) to stock grass carp at just the right numbers to control only the hydrilla, without impacting the native plants (which, honestly, are a much better form of fish habitat than a monoculture of hydrilla). The real problem is that grass carp work relatively slowly, sometimes taking up to two years before evidence of their feeding can be seen. Impatient homeowners keep pressuring for more carp because those already stocked don't appear to be helping. If the Corps gives in and you get half again too many carp, they eat everything, including many of the native plants.

 Where's the tipping point? Nobody really knows how many grass carp it takes to tip the balance too far, but when it does tip, it's too late. You can't get them out once they're in there.

 However, in the case of Lake Eufaula, herbicide control is probably not feasible. The hydrilla is currently in a portion of the reservoir that has more current, and therefore insufficient contact time for the herbicides to be effective. (Herbicides, by the way, are another issue I'll talk about sometime, but they aren't as bad as most anglers think!) So, grass carp may be the only option, but I still have a big problem with how this thing is being handled.

 The Corps apparently thinks they don't need a stocking permit from the states prior to releasing the grass carp. The fact is, they do and should get one! This would ensure that the states have some oversight in how many carp are going into the reservoir. It adds another layer of safety to prevent that tipping point from being reached. The Corps is authorized by Congress to manage reservoirs for flood control, hydropower, navigation, etc., but the states have clear jurisdiction over the fish and wildlife living in those waters, especially when using one exotic organism to control another.

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