Not everyone loves no-kill bass regs on troubled Susquehanna River
Maybe it's just me. For the last several years I have been thinking a lot about the implications of anglers hooking and temporarily removing spawning bass from beds and making their eggs and fry vulnerable to predators such as bluegills.
My son is currently conducting research with largemouth bass at the University of Illinois on the question, involving bass and bluegills in ponds with simulated tournament fishing, and we have often discussed the issue of whether catching spawning bass has serious implications for recruitment in bass populations.
In northern states, my understanding is that the jury is still out, for largemouths at least. In Pennsylvania, of course, the question remains controversial. Tournaments are prohibited during the bass spawn and anglers are still discouraged from targeting beds. However they are no longer prohibited from casting to spawning beds the way they once were, so long as they immediately release spawning bass unharmed.
But anyway, my state of mind made me very receptive to statements made at the recent Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission meeting in Harrisburg. About three dozen bass fishermen attended the session to either protest against or endorse the commission's recent implementation of no-kill, no harvest bass-fishing regulations on the Susquehanna River. The restrictive rules came in response to a smallmouth bass population in steep decline.
The anglers seemed to be either tournament fishermen or guides and outfitters. The tournament anglers are peeved because no-kill regs essentially mean no tournaments held on the river. That's ironic because the tournament anglers are fanatical about releasing bass unharmed and protecting bass. But no harvest means no bass kept in boat livewells and brought in for weigh-ins before their careful release.
The tournament anglers said that's just not fair, especially considering the fact that guides are allowed to take clients fishing during the spring spawn and catch and release bass off spawning beds.
"Out on the river in the spring there's a guide's boat on every spawning bed," one tournament angler told Fish & Boat commissioners. "Them dragging bass off the beds is killing more fish and doing way more damage to the fishery than us holding tournaments. We don't kill fish!"
I think he's right — I think all of the tournament anglers are right, and I don't believe they are being selfish. They care about the resource as much or more than anybody. It would be nice to see the commissioners make an exception to allow them to continue holding tournaments on the Susquehanna. It helps the economy of the region. But I don't think the commissioners will. And I understand their reluctance to favor any group.