Fish culling may not hike tourney numbers

Staff Report

Madison – An assertion by tournament organizers that fish
culling would bring more and bigger tournaments to the state did
not pan out during a DNR tournament study.

The study did reveal what most anglers already knew – that more
released fish die during periods of higher water temperatures.

‘The studies confirmed much of what we had seen from other
states and what we expected here in Wisconsin,’ said Mike Staggs,
DNR fisheries director. ‘The most significant result is that
regardless of the measures tournament organizers have taken to date
to keep fish alive, some bass do suffer delayed mortality,
particularly when water temperatures are high.’

Study results

Bass-fishing tournaments in which participants are allowed to
cull, or sort fish after a bag limit is reached, have a minimal
effect on fish survival when water temperatures are low, but can be
a concern when water temperatures are warm, according to a recently
released report on the impacts of such tournaments in
Wisconsin.

Less than 1 percent of bass caught during tournaments when water
temperatures were low died in the livewell or later after the fish
were released, but that mortality rate climbed to 15.6 percent for
largemouth bass and 33.9 percent for smallmouth bass when water
temperatures were above 80 degrees, according to the report, which
details results from separate studies the DNR commissioned to meet
a lawmaker’s request.

Other key findings are that:

Bass tournaments can boost the host community’s economy,
particularly if the contest attracts out-of-state participants and
spectators. But the additional economic boost of allowing
tournaments that cull was small and it isn’t clear that allowing
culling will attract a lot of new tournaments.

A majority of anglers are opposed to culling for bass
tournament anglers, and that attitude is driven by the perceived
impacts of culling. If tournament anglers do not have to follow
livewell standards, 85 percent of sport anglers are opposed to
culling; that opposition drops to 51 percent if participants are
required to have livewells that meet minimum standards.

Staggs said the most surprising result was that nearly one in
five Wisconsin anglers surveyed said they participated in some sort
of fishing tournament.

‘That was higher than most people thought,’ he said.

Wisconsin law does not allow culling, but lawmakers in 2004
established a pilot program in which four tournaments each in 2005
and 2006 were authorized to allow their participants to cull fish.
Culling involves tournament anglers replacing smaller fish with
bigger fish in livewells, and continuing to fish once they reach
their daily limit. The pilot program was a response to contentions
by some bass anglers and tournament sponsors that big-time bass
tournaments skipped Wisconsin because of the state’s culling
rules.

Lawmakers required the DNR to evaluate the pilot program’s
impact on fish, the economy, and other anglers and boaters and
report back to the Legislature. The agency contracted with the
Wisconsin Cooperative Fishery Research Unit at UW-Stevens Point to
conduct research to estimate tournament and culling mortality, with
the UW-Madison Department of Regional and Urban Planning to
estimate economic impacts from the tournaments, and had DNR
research staff survey anglers and boaters, property owners, and
tournament anglers to learn their attitudes about tournaments and
how they felt they were or were not impacted by tournaments.

The study looked at the three tournaments that participated in
the pilot program in 2005 and four in 2006; a fourth tournament
picked for 2005 was cancelled when its primary sponsor pulled out.
Of the seven events, three were new to Wisconsin – the ESPN/BASS
Bassmaster Elite 50, which brought 50 top bass anglers from across
the United States to Lake Wissota in Chippewa County; the FLW
Everstart Event on the Mississippi River near La Crosse, which
featured 200 anglers from throughout the Midwest; and the FLW Stren
Series in 2006. The first two tournaments did not seek to return to
Wisconsin in 2006 for a culling permit.

Staggs said the full report will be presented to the Natural
Resources Board in April, along with a summary of comments gathered
in November and December during public hearings and a public
comment period. The proposed rules would define when tournaments
need permits, and could limit the number, size, and frequency of
tournaments held on a particular water based on size. They also
address problems such as crowding at boat ramps and concerns about
fish mortality.

No final decision has been made on any changes to the proposed
rules.

The full report on the bass tournament pilot program, including
appendices containing each of the individual study reports, can be
found on the DNR website at http://dnr.wi.gov.

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