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Monday, June 28, 2010

American Shad Migration in the Delaware River 2010

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) biologists from Area 5 have completed two surveys at Raubsville (RM 178.9) and Smithfield Beach (RM 218.0) for adult American shad in the Delaware River. Both surveys generally collected similar information on the adult shad migration in the Delaware River; however, their primary purposes were different. The Raubsville survey is designed to provide a relative index of abundance of adult shad for judging the strength of the returning run, while the Smithfield Beach survey focuses on obtaining artificially fertilized brood stock eggs for supporting PFBC’s restoration plan of returning a self-sustaining wild shad run into the Lehigh and Schuylkill Rivers.

The Raubsville index was generated from electrofishing once a week for adult American shad beginning the first week in April (04/08/2010) and terminating the first week of May (05/06/2010). A total of 110 shad, 27 females and 83 males, were collected, for an overall average catch rate of 22.0 shad/hour. Other than the second week of the survey, weekly catch rates were excellent ranging from 17.1 – 39.0 shad per hour. The poor catch rate (1.9 shad/hour) observed during the second week of the survey was most likely related to a temporary lull in passage of shad early in the season in that particular reach of river.

Biological data from shad captured at Raubsville showed that sizes and weights ranged from 415 - 563 mm total length or 16.3 - 22.2 inches (females: 17.1 – 22.2 inches; males: 16.3 – 21.6 inches) and weight ranged from 654 – 2,253 grams or 1.4 – 4.9 pounds (females: 2.4 – 4.9 pounds; males: 1.4 – 4.3 pounds). Scales and otoliths were also collected for estimation of age, but they have not yet been processed. Interestingly, the sex ratio was highly skewed towards males (3 males for every one female). The early termination of the Raubsville index may have caused the index to underestimate returning females, which tend to immigrate later than males.

Figure 1. Catch-per-unit-of-effort for American shad in the Raubsville electrofishing survey during the 2010 migration.
Figure 1
The Raubsville index represents the re-initiation of an historical survey conducted from 1997 through 2001 in the exact same reach of river. Comparison of catch rates amongst years indicates that the shad run observed during 2010 was within the same magnitude in prior years. The observed sex ratio in 2010 sampling (0.32 females to every one male) was slightly below the range as observed in previous years (0.38 -1.58 females to males). The shad catch in 1997, was also highly skewed towards males (i.e., 0.38 female to every one male) as observed in 2010; whereas in 1999 the sex ratio favored more females being caught (i.e., 1.5 females to every one male). The catch in 1998 and 2001, were approximately one female to one male being landed. However, no conclusions of annual trends can be inferred due to the limited time duration of available data.

Figure 2. Catch-per-unit-of-effort for American shad in Raubsville electrofishing survey during the historical sampling overlaid with total shad passage at Easton Dam fishway. CPUE is unavailable for 1998 for the Raubsville survey. Monitoring of the 2010 shad passage through the Easton Dam fishway has not yet been completed.
Figure 2
The Smithfield Beach survey represents a long-term egg collection operation by PFBC. Spawning shad are collected via multiple mesh floating gill nets deployed from dusk till approximately midnight. All shad caught are retrieved, stripped of gametes, and mixed to provide fertilized eggs. Collected eggs are then shipped to our van Dyke hatchery where they are hatched and reared for eventual release back into the Lehigh and Schuylkill Rivers. This is the first year that a small, but very valuable portion of fertilized eggs from a restorative standpoint, were given to the Shad In Schools program sponsored by the Delaware River Shad Fisherman’s Association in cooperation with PFBC.

A total of 812 shad, 431 females and 381 males, were collected in 15 nights (May 9 – June 1, 2010) for an overall catch rate of 3.6 shad/net or 0.93 shad/hour. The observed catch rate of shad in 2010 at Smithfield beach is suggestive of a strong returning migration of shad in this pool. Relative to past years, the 2010 shad run was the 4th highest peak in CPUE since 1997. Sizes ranged from 425 - 585 mm total length or 16.7 – 23.0 inches (females: 18.3 – 23.0 inches; males: 16.7 – 22.2 inches) and weight ranged from 695 – 2,244 grams or 1.5 – 4.9 pounds (females: 1.6 – 4.9 pounds; males: 1.5 – 3.1 pounds). Scales and otoliths were also collected for estimation of age, but they have not yet been processed. As with the Raubsville index, catches were initially predominately male, with nearly 100% of catch was males in the first three nights, but by May 16th the nightly catch was dominated by females ranging from 1 to 3 females captured for every one male.

Figure 3. Catch-per-unit-effort for American shad in Smithfield Beach egg take operation.
Figure 3
One interesting observation for the 2010 shad run was the apparent overall smaller size (i.e., total length) of female shad than was typical in prior years. Most of the catch for the 2010 season originated in the smallest mesh nets; whereas in prior years these nets generally only caught males, with the typically bigger females being landed in larger mesh nets. It is perplexing as to why the females tended to be of a small size.

Possibilities could be a combination of gear avoidance, the presence of younger females from the 2007 year class as three year olds, natural mortality of larger females from the spawning population (i.e., the loss of the 2005 female year class as five-year-olds or they simply did not return to spawn this year), poor YOY survival from the June 2006 flood, slow growth of shad in offshore waters, etc. In contrast, the size of males collected at Smithfield Beach from the 2010 run, were more typical as observed in past years.

The apparent shift in the peak size frequency to a smaller size (450 mm TL) group in the 2009 catch was due to the strong contribution (75%) of the 2005 year class as four-year-olds. The influence of the abundant 2005 year class upon catch of males in the 2010 assessment catch appears evident again, considering the dominance of the 475 mm TL size group; however this will need to be confirmed with age determination.

Figure 4. Size distribution of shad collected at Smithfield Beach.
Figure 4 - Females
Figure 4 - Males
Staff at Area 5 is encouraged by the increased catch of shad at Smithfield Beach, relative to prior years. Historical surveys by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, for shad young-of-the-year suggested 2005 and 2007 represented strong production years, which do appear to be influential on the 2010 shad run. Whatever the cause(s) the 2010 shad migration represents an increase from previous years.

Delaware Estuary Striped Bass 2009-2010 population surveys

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission completed striped bass electrofishing surveys in the Delaware Estuary on May 29, 2009 and May 27, 2010. Striped bass were collected in 2009 from 21 historic striped bass spawning population indexing sites between Rancocas Creek, NJ, across from NE Philadelphia, and the Commodore Barry Bridge, which joins Chester, Pa with Gloucester Co., NJ. In 2010, sampling occurred between Rancocas Creek, NJ and Raccoon Creek, NJ, which is located about a half mile downstream from the Commodore Barry Bridge. The twenty-one index sites have been sampled each May since 1995. In 2009 and 2010 additional electrofishing was completed at Trenton Falls, the upstream limit of the tidal area. Additionally, fish flesh samples were taken for contaminant analyses from two separate groups of striped bass: those between 20-26 inches long and those between 28-37 inches long.

In 2009, thirteen days of electrofishing resulted in a total catch of 259 striped bass between 6 and 49 inches long while in 2010 twelve days of electrofishing resulted in a total catch of 264 striped bass between 5 and 42 inches long. The largest fish captured to date by electrofishing was 49 inches. Pink United States Fish and Wildlife Service tags were inserted into 134 of the striped bass collected in the 2009 survey and 149 in the 2010 survey. See photo 1. Only those fish 16 inches and longer were tagged. The information gathered from anglers, who report catching a tagged striped bass, allows biologists to monitor striped bass movement, determine where Delaware Estuary fish are harvested, estimate their annual fishing mortality, and document angler release rates. The tagging study has also provided evidence that at least some striped bass show fidelity to specific spawning sites.

From 1995-2009 the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has tagged 3,200 striped bass in the Delaware Estuary and tidal Schuylkill River combined. To date 600 (19%) of the 3,200 tags have been returned. Eleven to thirteen percent of the returns have occurred during the first year that the fish have been tagged. Recreational anglers, including those on charter boats, have accounted for 88% (n=531) of the returned tags, while commercial fishermen have accounted for 8% (n=48). Reporting rates have probably varied among these groups. Four percent (n=21) of the returned tags have been credited to other collections, such as scientific research. Twelve striped bass have been captured twice. Tags have been returned from as far south as North Carolina and as far north as Massachusetts. The greatest percentage of tags by far has been returned from New Jersey (44.5 percent). See Figure 1.

Some striped bass have traveled incredible distances in a short period of time or over a one year period, with some returning to the same site where they had been captured a year or two earlier. Three examples follow.
  • First, a striped bass tagged near the Philadelphia Navy Ship Yard was caught 17 days later by an angler fishing near Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
  • Second, fifteen to twenty striped bass were captured a year or two later by the electrofishing crews from Delaware and Pennsylvania at the same 1000 yd. sampling sites where they had been tagged a year or two earlier.
  • Third, one striped bass tagged near Chester, PA in May, 2009, was caught and released by an angler fishing in Indian River Inlet, DE (near Rehoboth Beach, DE/ Ocean City, MD) in November, 2009, and was then recaptured by an electrofishing crew in May, 2010, at the same site where it was first tagged in 2009.
Analysis of the catch per hour of electrofishing data since 1995 indicated that there has been a downward trend in the total number of striped bass and the number of striped bass between 12 and 27.9 inches electrofished in the Pennsylvania portion of the Delaware Estuary during the spring spawning run. Further analysis revealed, however, that while the trend was downward there was still no statistical difference in the number of fish being captured (the annual abundance indices). Furthermore, the number of large striped bass (28 inches long and longer) has remained relatively stable since monitoring began.

Although an apparent decline in abundance has taken place, the striped bass population is still large and anglers have reported truly excellent catches of striped bass from the Delaware Estuary in recent years. Twenty-five fish days, with fish ranging from 18 to 40 inches or more have been reported by anglers and five to 15 fish angling trips have been commonplace from the end of March through late May. The new (2008) slot limit that pertains only to tidal water in April and May permits the harvest of two fish per day, 20-26 inches long (28 inch minimum size limit, 2 fish per day creel limit the rest of the year), has been well-accepted by anglers. Many anglers continue to catch-and-release fish for sport or do so because of a PCB health advisory in effect. Typical baits are blood worms, cut herring or other fish, live lined fish, and raw clams cut into thirds. Lures may also be productive, although they are not the terminal tackle of choice.

If you plan to fish for striped bass in the Delaware Estuary, it is recommended that you review the Pennsylvania Summary of Fishing Regulations and Laws for the Delaware River and Estuary since striped bass fishing in the Delaware is regulated differently than striped bass fishing in inland Pa. waters and all NJ waters, including the Delaware River and Estuary. The regulations in the Delaware also vary by location (tidal vs. non-tidal) and month. Furthermore, anglers are advised to consult the rear of the Summary Booklet for the health advisory related to these fish.

Figure 1. State-by-state returns of striped bass that were tagged by the PFBC in the Delaware Estuary from 1995-2009. Three thousand two hundred striped bass have been tagged and six hundred tags have been returned.
Figure 1
Note: UN represents tags returned for which no state of capture was identified. 

Striped bass
Area 6 Fisheries Manager Mike Kaufmann with a tagged striped bass. Note the three inch pink spaghetti-like tag near the tip of the pectoral fin on the fish (click here for larger view of tag).

Striped bass
Former Area 6 Fisheries Biologist Bryan Chikotas with a nice female striped bass electrofished from the Delaware Estuary

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Report Issued on Trout Fishing

An old and familiar Chinese proverb states “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” According to Anna Harris, an economist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, if a man has learned to fish for trout he fished an average of 11 days a year in 2006, had an above average education, earned an above average income, spent $4.8 billion in pursuit of his prey, which generated $13.6 billion in economic output and 25 percent of the time — he was a she. 
These are only a few brief highlights contained in a more detailed economic report compiled by Harris, Trout Fishing in 2006: A Demographic Description and Economic Analysis, just released by the Service. The report is an addendum to the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation published by the Service. The National Survey is a partnership effort with States and national conservation organizations and has become one of the most important sources of information on fish and wildlife recreation in the U.S. It is a useful tool that quantifies the economic impact of wildlife-based outdoor recreation. 
The 2006 Survey is the eleventh in a series of surveys conducted about every 5 years that began in 1955. In addition to the national report and fifty state reports, the Service produces published addendums including such topics as trends in fishing and hunting recruitment and retention, the net economic values of wildlife-related recreation, and wildlife watching trends and economic impacts. 
The report provides a range of fascinating statistics comparing all freshwater fishermen and women’s fishing tendencies and the frequency of activity in a regional and state by state presentation. That information forms the foundation for insights into the behavior of trout anglers, their spending habits and the economic significance their spending has and could have on economies large and small, nation-wide and in local communities. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Studying the Delaware River

The New Jersey Division of fish & wildlife just released their 2009 report on the Delaware River.  The Delaware River is NJ's largest estuary and an importand spawning ground for species like striped bass, American shad, Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon, blueback herring, menhaden, American shad and others.

Conducted for 30 consecutive years, this survey provides very beneficial data on species populations and trends.  The full survey can be found on the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife website at: http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/artdelstudy10.htm#catch

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Outdoor Nation Youth Summit & Festival.

Central Park, NYC June 19-20, 2010

The Take Me Fishing™ campaign is a proud partner of the inaugural Outdoor Nation Youth Summit & Festival.
Outdoor Nation is a growing community of young artists, athletes and advocates from across the country that have joined together to champion and preserve the outdoors for future generations. According to research by the Outdoor Foundation, kids say cost, time, getting dirty and a risk of danger are among the top reasons they don’t spend time outdoors. To help combat this growing trend, Take Me Fishing is joining the Outdoor Foundation, Backpacker, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the North Face and other partners for a two-day event in the most renowned urban park in the world.

Adventures NYC Festival

Outdoor Nation will kick-off at the 6th annual Adventures NYC festival—a spectacular day of outdoor adventure in Central Park! This event is free and open to the general public.
The Take Me Fishing campaign is proud to join with South Bend Sporting Goods and The Sports Authority for an exciting display in the Take Me Fishing Zone.
Visitors to the booth may win instant prizes or enter-to-win prizes such as:
  • One (1) $1000 gift certificate to The Sports Authority
  • One (1) Camping Kit valued at $745.97 which includes: One (1) TNF Rock 32 – 3 person tent; Two (2) Aleutian Bx Sleeping Bags; Two (2) Terra 65 Internal Packs; Two (2) TSA ¼ ton chairs.
  • One (1) Men’s Diamondback Edgewood Hybrid Bike valued at $369.99
  • Two (2) N Gage Packs valued at $100 each
  • Two (2) Ready 2 Fish Multi-Species Combos valued at $50 each
  • Two (2) Ready 2 Fish Bass Combos valued at $50 each
  • Fifty (50) Ready 2 Fish Expansion Kits valued at $14.99 each
Attendees will be able to fish in portable, stocked fishing tanks, watch fishing clinics and demonstrations and receive giveaways. Take Me Fishing ‘Master Caster’ and N’GAGE spokesman Aaron McAlexander will be on-site to demonstrate casting tricks and provide casting instruction.
The event will also include climbing walls, Dagger & Wilderness Systems Paddle Sports Center, Outdoor Career Fair, music & entertainment and dozens of exhibitors.

Youth Summit

Five hundred youth from all 50 states will take part in a ground-breaking summit to champion the outdoors and build a strong Outdoor Nation for all Americans. The youth delegates, including Aaron McAlexander, will divide up into groups to discuss how to impact youth participation in outdoor activities through one of five lenses, or tracks. They include: health, diversity, careers, service, recreation, education and media & culture. Active participation will be limited to youth delegates. The general public is invited to listen-in.
For more information visit OutdoorNation.org.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

2010 America's Most Endangered Rivers: Upper Delaware River, PA / NY

Upper Delaware Named America’s Most Endangered River

Gas drilling threatens drinking water for 17 million people

Amy Kober, American Rivers, 206-898-3864
Patrick Carullo, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, (570) 685-8774
June 2, 2010

Washington, DC — The Upper Delaware River, the drinking water source for 17 million people across New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania is at risk from shale fracking for natural gas, a process  that poisons groundwater and creates toxic pollution. This threat landed the Upper Delaware in the number one spot in America’s Most Endangered Rivers: 2010 edition.

“Unless we stop the threat of rampant shale fracking, the drinking water for 17 million people across the Northeast will be threatened by toxic pollution,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “We can’t let natural gas companies fatten their profits by putting our precious clean water at risk.”

American Rivers called on the Delaware River Basin Commission to ban any shale fracking in the Upper Delaware watershed until a thorough study of impacts is completed and the pollution potential of shale fracking is fully documented and assessed.  American Rivers also urged Congress to pass the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009 and to resist special interest pressures to include federal subsidies of shale fracking for natural gas in upcoming energy legislation.

“The action of American Rivers in highlighting the threat of shale fracking to the Delaware River and the 17 million plus people who drink its water and use it as a priceless recreational resource is a welcome wakeup call to the governments of New York and Pennsylvania whose casual indifference to the perils of shale fracking to the Delaware River is an act of almost breath-taking irresponsibility,” said Albert Appleton, former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the creator of the Catskill Watershed Protection Program for the portions of the Delaware River Basin within the New York City watershed. “It is now up to the Delaware River Basin Commission to aggressively carry out its mandate to protect the waters of the Delaware for if it doesn't, New York and Pennsylvania will have an economic, social, and public health disaster of unprecedented dimension.” 

“This is an intrinsically contaminating process; wherever gas drilling has occurred, environmental destruction has occurred. The total cumulative impact of this industrial activity results in water pollution, air pollution, and soil contamination. Once these precious resources are destroyed, they are gone forever,” said Barbara Arrindell, Executive Director of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability.

The entire Upper Delaware River and its watershed are located over a geological formation known as the Marcellus Shale. In order to access the reserves of natural gas in the shale, multinational energy corporations have acquired drilling rights to large tracts of land in the watershed. Two companies alone, Chesapeake Appalachia and Statoil, have a stated goal of developing 13,500 to 17,000 gas wells in the region in next twenty years.

Energy companies have requested permits to take clean water from the river to mix with over 250 chemicals (some toxic, undisclosed, and proprietary), to make hydraulic fracturing fluid for injection into wells to release the gas. Each well requires between three and five million gallons of water for fracturing. Extracting natural gas from shale results in surface water and groundwater pollution as well as soil contamination and erosion.

In 1978, Congress designated roughly 73 miles of the Upper Delaware River between Hancock, NY and Mill Rift, PA as one of the original National Wild and Scenic Rivers, and made it a unit of the National Park System. The river is a popular destination for sightseeing, boating, camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, and bird watching.  Additionally, several endangered, at-risk, or rare species live in the river and along its banks.

About America’s Most Endangered Rivers
Each year, American Rivers reviews nominations for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers™  report from river groups and concerned citizens across the country. Rivers are selected based upon the following criteria:
  • A major decision (that the public can help influence) in the coming year on the proposed action
  • The significance of the threat to human and natural communities
  • The degree to which the proposed action would exacerbate or alleviate stresses caused by climate change
The report is a call to action and emphasizes solutions for the rivers and their communities. By shining the spotlight on key decisions that will impact the rivers, and by providing clear actions the public can take on their behalf, the report is a powerful tool for saving these important rivers.

American Rivers Senior Vice President for Conservation Andrew Fahlund is available for interviews, both pre and post embargo.  Please contact Amy Kober, 206-898-3864 for booking.

Reporters wishing to direct readers to the report online may use the following link:  www.AmericanRivers.org/EndangeredRivers

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Shark Fin Soup Ban in Hawaii

Hawaii has become the first state in the US to ban shark fin soup.  The ban becomes effective July 1, 2010 and bans the possession, sale and distribution of shark fin.  The bill, signed by Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, has become the model legislation for groups and people trying to have similar laws passed in the US, Canada and even Hong Kong.

According to environmental groups, millions of sharks per year are harvested solely for their fins and blame the shark trade as a primary cause of the worldwide decline in sharks.  Some shark species have suffered declines of 90% and more.

Hawaii's new law carries with it fines of $5,000 to $50,000 for the first offense and up to a year in jail for repeat offenders.

With a shark fin market that is small compared with China and Japan, many view this law as a symbolic statement for the protection of sharks.  This follows on the heals of the United Nations rejecting a ban on fishing for hammerhead sharks proposed by the US at the CITES convention this past March.

Sharks are highly vulnerable to overfishing because they take relatively long to reach maturity and have few young. Some experts contend that one third of the worlds 64 species of open water sharks currently face extinction.