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Study to reel in smallmouth bass

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Study to reel in smallmouth bass

May 18, 2007



Researchers with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Penn State University are hoping a pilot study using specially tagged fish will help them reel in data about smallmouth bass fishing pressure and harvest on the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers.


“The objective of the pilot tagging study is to estimate catch-and-release rates of smallmouth bass on the Susquehanna River as well as harvest rates,” said Leroy Young, PFBC Fisheries Management Division chief. “This will give us better information than is currently available on the effects of alternative regulations on the smallmouth bass fishery. The results of this initial tagged fish study will also help us determine if a larger effort along these lines would be worthwhile in 2008.”


The data, coupled with data obtained from a related angler use and harvest study, will greatly enhance the agency’s understanding of the fishery and thus aid it in making future fisheries management decisions. Tagged bass are marked with tags that look like a piece of plastic spaghetti trailing behind the pectoral fin. These tags were specially designed so that bass that are caught multiple times can be reported.


The first time a tagged bass is captured, and an angler intends to release the fish, the angler should clip off the outermost portion of the tag and leave the inner portion of the tag containing duplicate information. Anglers should retain the tag and call the toll-free phone number listed on it. Anglers should not pull the tag out of the fish because doing so may injure the fish.


If the bass is captured a second time, the remainder of the tag can be removed and the fish released. Anglers harvesting bass should be on the lookout for both the spaghetti tag as well as a small anchor button under the skin when filleting fish as they may have taken a bass that was caught and released twice before and no longer bears an external tag. Those finding anchor buttons in harvested bass should also call the toll-free phone number printed on the button.


All tags must be reported no later than December 31, 2007.


The tagged smallmouth bass study is part of a larger research project designed to measure catch, harvest, economic expenditures and angler opinions associated with fishing on sections of the two rivers for the period April through October. The Susquehanna River survey reach extends from Sunbury to the Holtwood Dam near the Maryland border. The survey reach on the Juniata River extends from Port Royal to the mouth near Duncannon.


Creel clerks have already begun to interview anglers at access areas using a statistically structured sampling design. In visiting access areas, clerks will ask anglers about their fish catch and the amount of time spent fishing. Creel clerks will also ask how much anglers spend on travel (gasoline and hotel costs), fishing tackle, and other gear such as bait. Finally, anglers will be asked about their satisfaction associated with fishing and their feelings about public and private access on these rivers. In addition to these on-the-water interviews, airplane flyovers will be conducted three times each week to count anglers and boaters who use the river.


“This is a large scale effort to get important information on what is widely considered to be one of the best riverine fisheries in the nation,” said PFBC Executive Director Doug Austen. “The results of the survey will provide valuable information that can then be used in setting the management directions for species such as smallmouth bass, catfish, walleye, carp, rock bass and American shad.”


The Statistical Consulting Center at Penn State worked with the Commission to develop methods to estimate angler effort over the course of the fishing season.


“The Fish and Boat Commission has really stepped up to the plate on this study because we are using some of the newest technology available,” said Duane Diefenbach, professor of wildlife ecology, and assistant leader of the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit at Penn State. “We are using some of the same techniques that we developed for the hunter surveys done in the state – flying planes up and down the river counting anglers wading and fishing from shore and from boats.


This research is similar in theory to a three-state turkey study being done in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania that Diefenbach is also the principal investigator on, working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the other states’ resource management agencies. “The state agencies are responsible for collecting and tagging birds, just as the Fish and Boat Commission will collect and tag fish for the bass-tagging study,” Diefenbach said. “Penn State is responsible for data collection and analysis. The Fish and Boat Commission will begin tagging fish in the rivers in late May.”


This is the second large-scale river angler survey the PFBC has undertaken in the past decade. In 2002, Pennsylvania partnered with the neighboring states of New Jersey, New York and Delaware to measure catch and harvest of all fish species on the Delaware River and Delaware Estuary. That survey revealed significant recreational activity on that river. The Delaware River survey documented that approximately 120,000 angling trips occurred on the tidal and non-tidal portions of that river combined from March 17 through October.

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