Chris Macaluso

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posted in: General

February 4, 2016

Louisiana Biologists Are Tracking Potential Monsters in the Depths of Lake Pontchartrain

How telemetry tag data could improve the odds of redfish and trout reaching trophy size 

Ashley Ferguson may not be a fish surgeon, but she’s become pretty handy with a scalpel and sutures over the last four years. Ferguson is one of a half-dozen fisheries biologists with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries who implant telemetry tags in redfish, speckled trout, sharks, and—hopefully—tarpon in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.

Image courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

Each tag sends a unique signal in the form of a “ping” to a series of yellow buoys anchored in strategic locations throughout Louisiana’s largest brackish-water lake. Analysis of data from the buoys is helping biologists better understand how fish use different types of habitat and react to changes in temperature, forage, and salinity.

“We have a buoy on every artificial reef, on each of the major bridges, and in the passes leading into and out of the lake,” says Ferguson. “If one of our tagged fish swims within 500 yards of a buoy, we can download the information and establish a pattern of where those fish are moving—and why.”

The study was launched in 2012 as a cooperative effort between Louisiana State University and the department, but it has been run by Wildlife and Fisheries in the last two years, thanks to grants from the angler-driven Sport Fish Restoration Fund.

Avid Lake Pontchartrain anglers are in on the project in a hands-on way, as well. For three to four days each year, anglers aim to catch trout that are longer than 18 inches and redfish that are longer than 21 inches and keep them in their live wells for the journey to the Percy Viosca, Jr., a converted aging shrimp boat where fish are held in oxygenated tanks.

That’s where Ferguson and her team get to work cutting and stitching.

Once a telemetry beacon is inserted, the fish’s backs are marked with a light blue tag to help anglers recognize them as part of the study so they can be released. From the launch of the project through the end of 2015, the team tagged 244 trout, 64 redfish and 18 bull sharks.

On a rare windless day in early January, I joined biologists and a handful of anglers on Lake Pontchartrain to add to the trout and redfish totals. Gulls diving on hand-sized white shrimp pointed to the location of huge schools of trout and redfish along the south shore. By noon, more than 20 new tags were pinging silently from stomach cavities.

Image courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

Biologists were particularly interested in capitalizing on the ideal fishing weather because of the changes coming to Lake Pontchartrain this winter and spring. Just 48 hours after the fish were tagged, the Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway, a relief valve that directs sediment-laden flood waters from the Mississippi River into the lake when river levels threaten to overtop levees in New Orleans. Bonnet Carre’s gates only open about once a decade, but this year’s opening comes just five years after record flooding that forced the opening of spillways throughout the Mississippi River Basin.

“This year is the first time since we started the study when we’ve had a spillway opening, and we want to see where the fish go, if they leave, and how long it takes them to come back,” says biologist and fish tagger Craig Gothreaux. “Usually, a spillway opening causes a temporary displacement, and the saltwater fish return when salinities come back up a couple of months after the gates are closed. But, do the redfish behave differently than the trout? Does opening the spillway this early in the year have an effect because the water is colder? Hopefully we can figure that out by looking at what we get from the tags.”

What biologists have figured out, spillway open or not, is that many of the area’s renowned trophy trout leave the lake in early June to spawn in the saltier adjacent waters of Mississippi Sound and Breton Sound. Buoys in the passes leading to and from the lake light up again in early fall as trout return to feast on annual crops of white shrimp and menhaden—which get even larger after a spillway opening.

Image courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

“If they leave the lake or just stay here and find the pockets of salty water, we’ll be able to read the buoy data and know,” Ferguson says. “Even if they go to Mississippi or Alabama by chance, we’ll know because researchers there use the same equipment and each tag sends a unique signal.”

Ferguson adds that the data shared among Gulf States is helping track other species, like the endangered Gulf Sturgeon, and will allow for an expansion of tagging efforts across the region on fish like red snapper, grouper, and even highly-migratory king mackerel and tuna.

The TRCP and its conservation partners have recommended expanding on projects like Louisiana’s telemetry tagging effort, which will be essential to the long-term monitoring of fish stocks in the wake of the 2010 oil spill. The data collected will help biologists establish baseline information vital to understanding how future disasters and weather events affect fisheries. The tagging efforts also give anglers an opportunity to be more involved in helping scientists gather important information—consider it a normal day of fishing with a little biology lab thrown in.

Want a peek at the travel routes of these fish? Click here.

To learn more about the TRCP’s work in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, visit our website: trcp.org

This post originally appeared on Costa’s Watery Rave blog

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Chris Macaluso

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posted in: General

Louisiana Biologists Are Tracking Potential Monsters in the Depths of Lake Pontchartrain

How telemetry tag data could improve the odds of redfish and trout reaching trophy size 

Ashley Ferguson may not be a fish surgeon, but she’s become pretty handy with a scalpel and sutures over the last four years. Ferguson is one of a half-dozen fisheries biologists with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries who implant telemetry tags in redfish, speckled trout, sharks, and—hopefully—tarpon in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.

Image courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

Each tag sends a unique signal in the form of a “ping” to a series of yellow buoys anchored in strategic locations throughout Louisiana’s largest brackish-water lake. Analysis of data from the buoys is helping biologists better understand how fish use different types of habitat and react to changes in temperature, forage, and salinity.

“We have a buoy on every artificial reef, on each of the major bridges, and in the passes leading into and out of the lake,” says Ferguson. “If one of our tagged fish swims within 500 yards of a buoy, we can download the information and establish a pattern of where those fish are moving—and why.”

The study was launched in 2012 as a cooperative effort between Louisiana State University and the department, but it has been run by Wildlife and Fisheries in the last two years, thanks to grants from the angler-driven Sport Fish Restoration Fund.

Avid Lake Pontchartrain anglers are in on the project in a hands-on way, as well. For three to four days each year, anglers aim to catch trout that are longer than 18 inches and redfish that are longer than 21 inches and keep them in their live wells for the journey to the Percy Viosca, Jr., a converted aging shrimp boat where fish are held in oxygenated tanks.

That’s where Ferguson and her team get to work cutting and stitching.

Once a telemetry beacon is inserted, the fish’s backs are marked with a light blue tag to help anglers recognize them as part of the study so they can be released. From the launch of the project through the end of 2015, the team tagged 244 trout, 64 redfish and 18 bull sharks.

On a rare windless day in early January, I joined biologists and a handful of anglers on Lake Pontchartrain to add to the trout and redfish totals. Gulls diving on hand-sized white shrimp pointed to the location of huge schools of trout and redfish along the south shore. By noon, more than 20 new tags were pinging silently from stomach cavities.

Image courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

Biologists were particularly interested in capitalizing on the ideal fishing weather because of the changes coming to Lake Pontchartrain this winter and spring. Just 48 hours after the fish were tagged, the Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway, a relief valve that directs sediment-laden flood waters from the Mississippi River into the lake when river levels threaten to overtop levees in New Orleans. Bonnet Carre’s gates only open about once a decade, but this year’s opening comes just five years after record flooding that forced the opening of spillways throughout the Mississippi River Basin.

“This year is the first time since we started the study when we’ve had a spillway opening, and we want to see where the fish go, if they leave, and how long it takes them to come back,” says biologist and fish tagger Craig Gothreaux. “Usually, a spillway opening causes a temporary displacement, and the saltwater fish return when salinities come back up a couple of months after the gates are closed. But, do the redfish behave differently than the trout? Does opening the spillway this early in the year have an effect because the water is colder? Hopefully we can figure that out by looking at what we get from the tags.”

What biologists have figured out, spillway open or not, is that many of the area’s renowned trophy trout leave the lake in early June to spawn in the saltier adjacent waters of Mississippi Sound and Breton Sound. Buoys in the passes leading to and from the lake light up again in early fall as trout return to feast on annual crops of white shrimp and menhaden—which get even larger after a spillway opening.

Image courtesy of Chris Macaluso.

“If they leave the lake or just stay here and find the pockets of salty water, we’ll be able to read the buoy data and know,” Ferguson says. “Even if they go to Mississippi or Alabama by chance, we’ll know because researchers there use the same equipment and each tag sends a unique signal.”

Ferguson adds that the data shared among Gulf States is helping track other species, like the endangered Gulf Sturgeon, and will allow for an expansion of tagging efforts across the region on fish like red snapper, grouper, and even highly-migratory king mackerel and tuna.

The TRCP and its conservation partners have recommended expanding on projects like Louisiana’s telemetry tagging effort, which will be essential to the long-term monitoring of fish stocks in the wake of the 2010 oil spill. The data collected will help biologists establish baseline information vital to understanding how future disasters and weather events affect fisheries. The tagging efforts also give anglers an opportunity to be more involved in helping scientists gather important information—consider it a normal day of fishing with a little biology lab thrown in.

Want a peek at the travel routes of these fish? Click here.

To learn more about the TRCP’s work in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, visit our website: trcp.org

This post originally appeared on Costa’s Watery Rave blog

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posted in: General

February 1, 2016

Glassing The Hill: February 1 – 5

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

Snowcation is over. Both the Senate and House are back to work this week.

It’s primary caucus day in Iowa, y’all, and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton hold leads in the Hawkeye State. Next Tuesday, February 9, is the New Hampshire primary, where Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders hold polling leads.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Meanwhile, back in D.C., the Senate will continue floor consideration of the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015. This bipartisan energy bill has been subject to an open amendment process, resulting in hundreds of amendments being filed on such controversial issues as drinking water contamination in Flint, Mich., the administration’s recent halt of new coal leases on federal lands, and the ongoing financial crisis in Puerto Rico. Senator Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Senator Cantwell (D-Wash.) will need to navigate the amendment process in a way that does not erode support for the underlying legislation, which, as it stands, is widely supported. Senate leadership expects the comprehensive energy bill, the first on the Senate floor since 2007, to be concluded by the end of this week.

One widely-supported amendment is the bipartisan Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act, filed by Senators Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) to create a renewable energy permitting program and expedite project permitting in areas identified as having the best renewable potential and lowest conflicts for wildlife and recreation. The amendment would create a revenue stream from public lands renewable energy generation that would be divided to pay into permit processing fees, counties, states, and a fund for wildlife, land, and water conservation projects. Many sportsmen’s groups have gone on record in support of this important amendment, which may come up for a vote this week in the Senate.

The House will be attempting to override the President’s veto of an Obamacare repeal measure, although the vote is expected to fall short of the two-thirds requirement. The House will also vote on legislation that would prevent the Obama administration from lifting sanctions on Iran.

What We’re Tracking:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Northeast coastal fisheries, to be discussed in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans hearing regarding the EEZ Clarification Act and legislation on exempting importation and exportation of sea urchins and sea cucumbers

Energy infrastructure, in a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing regarding this legislation

The 2016 Water Resources Development Act—legislation that authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out navigation, flood control, shoreline protection, hydropower, dam safety, water supply, recreation, and environmental restoration and protection activitieswill be discussed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Water crisis in Flint, Mich., in a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing

Water quality and the Endangered Species Act will be the subject of a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Stream Protection Rule and how it impacts bedrock conservation legislation, like the ESA and the Clean Water Act

National Parks and other public lands, to be discussed in a House Natural Resources Committee markup of legislation impacting the National Park Service

Emissions regulations on the docket in a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing regarding two EPA bills, including one that would ease up on emission requirements for coal-burning power plants

 

Kristyn Brady

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posted in: General

Big Game Migration Corridors Are Getting More Consideration in Wyoming

Here’s how mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn will benefit

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has approved policy updates that will benefit big game animals along migration corridors. Last week’s decision came after more than a year of developing new science-based conservation strategies for these important movement corridors between winter and summer habitats for species like elk, mule deer, and pronghorn.

“No different than migratory birds, big-game animals must have access to quality habitat where they can rest and nourish themselves along their migratory journey,” says Ed Arnett, senior scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Migration corridors and stopover areas have not received much attention or priority in conservation decisions, and we’re pleased to see that tide turning.”

Image courtesy of Nick Dobric.

Migration corridors are already recognized by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s policy as “vital” habitats, meaning they should be managed to ensure no net loss of population or habitat function. New data has introduced the need to define migratory bottlenecks—where animal movement becomes constrained, perhaps by a highway or fence—and stopover areas where animals feed and rest during migration. These policy definitions become important as the Game and Fish Department coordinates with federal land management agencies and other state agencies on common goals and decisions regarding energy development, mining, or recreational activities that may impact wildlife health and survival.

Updates to the policy were prompted by recent studies of mule deer migrating from Wyoming’s Red Desert to Hoback in the western half of the state. Mule deer are an icon of the American West and highly sought after by sportsmen in Wyoming and beyond. “Healthy populations of mule deer and other big game are a key economic driver for Wyoming’s economy,” says Josh Coursey, President and CEO of the Muley Fanatic Foundation. “The Commission’s decision will begin benefiting the wildlife and people of our state today and provide a model for others to follow in the future.”

“Sportsmen support multiple-use management, energy development, grazing, and other uses of our western landscapes, but we believe that all uses must be balanced with wildlife habitat needs,” says Joy Bannon, Field Director for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, who added that collaboration made the new strategy possible. “Meetings between sportsmen, wildlife managers, and other stakeholders enabled us to collaboratively formulate a reasonable strategy for protecting our migrating elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn.”

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posted in: General

January 27, 2016

Real Conservation Has Been Blocked at Malheur: Who Will Foot the Bill?

A legislative tool could make criminal fines work for wildlife 

For much of the last four weeks, while extremists have occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, we have focused on how sportsmen and women are being robbed of their access to hunt and fish on the refuge and how the militants’ views on public lands management are inconsistent with that of the Burns community. Now, information is being released on just how much damage the incident could inflict to ongoing conservation efforts. With refuge staff barred from the site, years of progress and millions of dollars spent combating invasion species, like common carp, could go to waste.

Image courtesy of Carla Burnside/USFWS.

Fisheries biologists had already installed screens and traps that prevent the carp from moving between bodies of water to spawn in unwanted areas, but the militants’ stakeout interrupted routine maintenance of the screens. Flooding from winter weather has permitted carp again to move freely between these waters. What’s more, the growing carp population could kick up mucky water that would keep sunlight from reaching other aquatic vegetation that is a critical food source for migratory bird species like waterfowl. And when all this is over, taxpayers, including sportsmen, will pay for these losses.

Agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Park Service operate under a law called the Resource Protection Act (RPA), which allows them to benefit from fines collected after an incident like Malheur. The Fish and Wildlife Service is not eligible for RPA funds to help restore damage to the refuge, but it could be.

Image courtesy of Carla Burnside/USFWS.

A bill to divert criminal fines back into the National Wildlife Refuge System has been introduced in previous sessions of Congress, but as of now, the penalties from criminal activity at Malheur will be placed directly into the National Treasury, leaving the Fish and Wildlife Service to pay for the restoration efforts without additional funds. The Malheur occupation is not the first time the refuge system has dealt with criminals jeopardizing conservation efforts. In 2005, a pipeline excavated without permission on the San Bernard NWR in Texas resulted in $7.6 million of damage to fish and wildlife habitat and $11,000 in fines went straight to the Treasury. Eleven years later, the refuge still hasn’t seen the funds to perform the necessary restorations.

Let’s not allow Bundy’s gang to leave a similar legacy at Malheur. If there’s any benefit to their attention grabbing, let it be the discussion of real solutions for funding repairs and mitigation at the refuge and for ongoing land management issues in the West.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

Learn More
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