WHD and IHNV Found in Georgia

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) announced on August 21, 2021, they are investigating Whirling Disease (WHD) and Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis Virus (IHNV) in the hatchery-raised trout at both the Buford and Summerville trout hatcheries. Preliminary test results were positive for both hatcheries. Georgia WRD is taking steps to prevent the spread of these infectious diseases and has temporarily suspended the stocking of trout and is collecting more samples for disease analysis from the hatchery fish as well as wild populations in the Chattahoochee River downstream of the Buford Hatchery. Additional steps being taken include investigating the source for both pathogens and identifying disinfectant methodologies for treating the hatcheries. These are the first documented cases in Georgia.

Whirling disease is an infectious disease of salmonid fish, caused by Myxobolus cerebralis, a microscopic parasite, was first discovered in the U.S. in 1958 and is currently found in several states. Up until now, the closest outbreak to Georgia is when it was discovered in North Carolina’s Watauga River in 2015. Physical symptoms of WHD include blackened tail, whirling behavior, and deformities of the head and spine. Whirling disease does not infect humans, mammals, or fish that are not members of the salmonid family.

The disease IHNV is an infectious disease of salmonids. It was first recognized in the 1950s in sockeye and Chinook salmon. Young fish are more susceptible, and those that survive may become carriers of the virus and shed IHNV virus particles in their feces, urine, and external mucus. Symptoms of fish infected by IHNV include darkening, protruding eyes, pale gills, lethargy, distended abdomen, and abnormal swimming behavior. Humans are not susceptible to becoming infected by IHNV and fish with IHNV can be consumed.

Both of these diseases can be detrimental to Georgia’s trout species. Mortality rates are very high in both hatchery-raised trout as well as our wild trout populations. Visit the WRD website for more information about these invasive diseases and learn more about what you can do to help prevent the spread of WHD and IHNV. https://georgiawildlife.com/ans#diseases

Georgia Chapter 2021 Outstanding AFS Small Chapter

The Chapter was notified early August that we were the recipients of the 2021 Outstanding AFS Small Chapter Award. The Outstanding Chapter Award recognizes outstanding professionalism, active resource protection, and enhancement programs, as well as a strong commitment to the mission of the Society.

The award will be officially announced during the business meeting at the 2021 AFS Annual Meeting in Baltimore.

This prestigious award is a tribute to many people’s hard work and dedication, particularly the 2020 ExCom and Committee chairs. The rest of the country is learning what many of us have known for some time- we have a truly inspiring and talented group of fisheries professionals committed to conserving, managing, and improving our aquatic resources for today and the future.

As part of the application process, we had to answer the question – What makes your chapter unique and why is it outstanding? Our answer…

The Georgia Chapter possesses a unique sense of cohesiveness and can-do spirit among its professional, faculty, and student members, which helped us not only “get through” an unprecedentedly difficult year but rise to the challenges by adopting new modes of communication, education, and networking. As a result, our membership rolls, meeting attendance, outreach footprint, fundraising, and sense of camaraderie hardly missed a beat in 2020. In fact, we were able to reach an even larger audience, including citizens and potential fisheries recruits whom we might not have reached under traditional circumstances. Although every unit of AFS faced similar Covid-related issues, we are particularly proud of what we were able to accomplish in 2020. These accomplishments are detailed in the sections below and the attachments provided. In brief, they include (1) ramping up our information-dissemination campaigns through adding active Twitter and Instagram accounts (we already had Facebook) and periodic blog posts on topics like aquatic nuisance species and aquatic connectivity, (2) working with the GA DNR to develop and fund educational media (digital flyers, posters, and teaching workbooks) on various fishy topics, (3) developing a new set of web-based resources to connect Georgia high-school and college students to fish-related programs and faculty at colleges throughout the state, and to better understand what skills are needed for different careers in the fisheries field, and (4) for our student subunit at UGA, broadening the monthly seminar series to a much more geographically widespread field of guest speakers, thanks to using a Zoom virtual meeting format. Although we hope 2021 sees the restoration of more in-person interaction, we learned a number of useful lessons and skills in 2020 that we think maintained our effectiveness as a chapter and will enhance our relevance and reach moving forward.

The rest of the country is learning what many have known for some time- we have a truly inspiring and talented group of fisheries professionals committed to conserving, managing, and improving our aquatic resources for today and the future.

Decades of Detective Work Highlighted on the SciShow

Last year Susan Wilde, professor at the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, along with an international research team finally discovered the cause of avian vacuolar myelinopathy (AVM).

This mystery began in 1994 when dozens of dead bald eagles were discovered along DeGray Lake in Arkansas. During a necropsy, lesions were discovered on the brain around the myelin sheath which impacted communication to the nerve cells.

The cause of AVM was a mystery. It seemed to occur only in some freshwater reservoirs in the southeastern part of the United States. Scientists focused on the environmental conditions in AVM-positive waters. They suspected a connection between the non-native invasive aquatic plant Hydrilla verticillata and AVM. Susan later identified a cyanobacterium on the leaves of the hydrilla in 2005. She named the bacterium Aetokthonos hydrillicola (“eagle killer that grows on Hydrilla”). They suspected eagles were preying upon coots and other animals that fed upon the hydrilla and then themselves succumbing to the effects of AVM. The problem was they could not reproduce the toxin in the lab.

Using a more sensitive spectrometer, Timo Niedermeyer, a chemist with the University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, was able to identify a substance that is only made on the leaves where the cyanobacteria grow. He revealed the presence of a brominated molecule. The production of this toxin depends on the bromide in the water. This compound was named aetokthonotoxin (“poison that kills the eagle”).

The next step – find out where the bromide is coming from.

More information: Case closed on decades old mystery of American bald eagle deaths

SciShow, a web series hosted by Hank Green with over 6 million subscribers, on June 21 published a short video about this story.

Attention Aquarium Owners

WE NEED YOUR HELP

It was March 3, 2021 when wildlife agencies all across the United States were issued a warning about the discovery of zebra mussels found in aquarium moss balls.  After further investigation viable zebra mussels were found in multiple pet stores including Georgia.  Although zebra mussels have established populations in numerous locations in the U.S. Georgia has been lucky enough to keep them out of our waterways.

The pet stores have removed the moss balls from the shelves, but some people may have purchased contaminated moss balls.  It is important you check your aquariums if you have purchased moss balls in 2021.  There are steps you can take to remove them from your aquarium and dispose of them properly.  Detailed instructions for disposal of the moss balls and zebra mussels and how you can sanitize your aquariums can be found at https://www.fws.gov/fisheries/ANS/zebra-mussel-disposal.pdf.  NEVER DUMP YOUR AQUARIUM CONTENTS IN ANY LOCATION WHERE THEY COULD REACH LOCAL WATERWAYS.  https://georgiawildlife.com/ans

Zebra mussels are an aquatic invasive species that get their name from their dark zig-zag stripes.  They are a freshwater bivalve that has a maximum shell size of about 3 centimeters, and are usually found in large clusters. They are native to the Black, Caspian, and Azov Seas.

Zebra mussels probably arrived in the Great Lakes in the 1980s via ballast water that was discharged by large ships from Europe. They have spread rapidly throughout the Great Lakes region and into the large rivers of the eastern Mississippi drainage. They have also been found in Texas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California.

One unique feature the zebra mussel has that our native mussels lack are byssal threads extending from underneath their shell that allow it to attach to hard objects, surfaces, or other mussels.  Zebra mussels are suspension feeders, eating phytoplankton, small zooplankton, large bacteria, and organic detritus by filtering the water and straining out the edible material.

Zebra mussels can cause damage in many ways.

  • They filter out algae that native mussels, fish, and other primary consumers need for food.
  • Clutches of zebra mussels will attach to native mussels causing the native mussel to starve.
  • Power plants spend millions of dollars removing zebra mussels from clogged water intakes.
  • They can damage boats by encrusting boat hulls and clog water systems used in boat motors

Learn more about zebra mussels and how they impact aquatic ecosystems and the economy

Threats to Our Aquatic Ecosystems

Written by Jim Page and Rebecca Brown

Aquatic Nuisance Species.  When many folks in Georgia think of those terms, several species may immediately come to mind: flathead catfish, spotted bass, hydrilla, water hyacinth, snakeheads, or blueback herring, just to name a few.  While each of these are classic examples of aquatic nuisance species (ANS) that have been found in Georgia, there are other ANS that occur here that may not be at the tip of the tongue.  Two of these critters are animals that impact both our aquatic AND terrestrial ecosystems:  nutria and feral hogs.   

The Swamp Rat

It’s easy to think of fish when discussing ANS, but rarely do people think about the “swamp rat” that also bears the ANS title.  Native to South America, nutria is a large rodent similar to a cross between a beaver and a muskrat, having a long slender tail and webbed feet.  Introduced into the U.S. during the early 1900’s by fur traders, it was believed that the species would boost the fur industry and generate easy money.  Nutria were kept and raised in captivity in several locales throughout the U.S. as fur-traders banked on the species being the future of the fur industry.  However, the crash of the fur trade brought about the release of hundreds/thousands of nutria nationwide.  The subsequent consequences of such releases were felt soon after.  A voracious eater, these herbivores can consume 25% of their body weight each day (similar to grass carp) munching on the roots of wetland vegetation.  The consumption of these roots caused historical wetlands to transition into open water habitat.  Additionally, the species was found to tunnel along the banks of streams and rivers, causing damage and increasing soil erosion.  Thus, what started as a release with no intentional harm of a cute furry critter resulted in significant ecological impacts and the loss of precious wetlands around the country.  The impacts of nutria continue to this day, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the nutria as one of the top 100 world’s worst invasive species.

Nutria

The Opportunistic Omnivore

Unfortunately, nutria were not the only furry critters to be introduced into the U.S. that have ended up being a nuisance in the aquatic world.  As early as the early 1500’s, early European settlers brought with them domestic pigs.  Unfortunately, some of these pigs escaped captivity and began life anew in the wild.  The additional introduction of wild boar into the U.S. by hunters in the 1900’s resulted in what we now have today:  a feral swine population which is a mix of wild boar, escaped domestic pigs, or a hybrid of the two. 

For many of us, the memories of Wilbur in “Charlotte’s Web” makes us question what can be so wrong with have these potbellied porkies running loose in our ecosystem.  Though they may seem innocent, feral swine, or wild pigs, have caused some of the most significant negative impacts to our ecosystems.  In fact, some scientists say wild pigs are the greatest vertebrate modifier of natural communities in the United States.  A walking vacuum, they will eat just about anything that can fit into their mouth.  In the process of searching for food, they root around in the soil, causing significant destruction to many of our native plant communities and agricultural crops.  The USDA estimates feral pigs cause around two billion dollars of damage each year!

The feeding habits of feral pigs have reduced plant and forest communities and caused an increase in soil erosion.   Adding to the damage is their love for wallowing in moist soil located in and near riparian zones and wetlands, destroying vegetation and loosening the soil in these sensitive areas.  Loosened soil is later washed into local streams and rivers, creating sedimentation and water clarity issues.  Additionally, the waste from pigs contains vectors for disease and nutrients which are added to waterways as part of surface runoff.  Too many nutrients can cause algal blooms or hypoxic zones, which can easily lead to a fish kill.   

The aquatic impacts of feral swine are not limited to freshwater ecosystems.  Since their arrival onto barrier islands along the Georgia coast hundreds of years ago, feral pigs have created significant problems in the marine ecosystem.  In addition to destroying plants on these island ecosystems, the feral pig has created significant harm to one of our most treasured coastal inhabitants – sea turtles.  Egg-bearing sea turtles utilize the beaches of barrier islands for nesting, digging shallow holes above the high-tide mark and depositing several dozen eggs before covering them up and returning to the ocean.  The keen nose of the feral swine has proven to be efficient in detecting the nest of these endangered and threatened turtles, and upon discovering a nest feral pigs will dig up the nest and destroy the eggs.  Such destruction can have detrimental impacts to the stability of sea turtle populations and to our continued efforts to protect them.  

Feral pigs in South Georgia

Our Choices

The introduction of ANS species like feral swine and nutria have taught us many lessons, perhaps none more important than the fact that releasing species in areas outside their native range can have devastating ecological and economic impacts.  Though the introduction of these 2 species was not done with ill intention, it should be a lesson to us that such actions, well intended or not, can create significant challenges and hardships for our native species and environments.  As humans, it is the responsibility of each of us to aid in the proper management of the ecosystems in which we live and call home.  We need protection of sea turtle nests if growth and sustainability of the species our goal.  We need protection of our sensitive wetlands and other terrestrial habitats susceptible to destruction by introduced species like nutria.  We need stable plant communities along riparian zones to reduce the amount of sediments that are washed into our waterways during rainfall, creating turbidity issues and reducing the amount of sunlight in the water needed by plants for photosynthesis.  Sediment pollution in aquatic ecosystems can clog fish gills, causing increased stress for and decreased ability of the fish to resist disease.  An excess of suspended sediments can decrease visibility for visual predators like trout and black bass species.  Eventually these suspended sediments begin to settle and blanket gravel beds with sediments, possibly covering fish eggs and other aquatic organisms.  This sedimentation process alters the geology and diversity of the aquatic ecosystem and degrades viable habitat for aquatic organisms.  Both the nutria and the feral pig contribute to these and other problems, and thus we need to learn from the choices of our past and not continue to repeat them.

Educate Others

Feral swine and nutria are now well-established and, though we wish we could turn back the hands of time, we cannot and thus must live with our choices.  However, the choices of tomorrow do not have to mirror the choices of our past.  It is important as fisheries professionals that we educate the public about the consequences of introducing non-native species into aquatic ecosystems.  It is imperative that we take the time to visit schools, speak to civic groups, utilize social media and other outreach platforms, and share with this generation and the next the importance of understanding the negative impacts our native species will endure should we choose to continue introducing ANS in our state and beyond.  How many of us have reached out to our own family members or friends and shared our knowledge and expertise?    Knowledge is power…spread the word…stop the ignorance!

2021 Virtual Meeting Summary

Written by Jamie Roberts and Rebecca Brown

This past year certainly saw its share of ups and downs, and yet, plenty of great fisheries science and management was achieved throughout the Peach State, which we wanted to highlight through our 2021 virtual annual meeting.  Our meeting theme, “Celebrating Georgia’s Aquatic Diversity,” provided an opportunity to highlight and celebrate not only our richly diverse fishes and aquatic resources but also the resilience of our fisheries biologists, technicians, teachers, students, researchers, and support staff, and the all-important relationships that knit our profession and our Chapter and Society together.

As always, our annual meeting would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of a number of chapter officers, committee chairs and members, and other volunteers, as well as the generosity of our financial sponsors Georgia Power, Georgia Southern University, Lake Specialist, and the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Although things looked and felt a bit different than what we are accustomed to, the Zoom format also had some silver linings worth noting.  For one thing, the format made our meeting accessible to out-of-state and even international attendees and presenters. Because of the reduced meetings costs, we were able to provide free registration to students, which we hoped would create some great learning opportunities and also help reach and grow future Chapter members.  Despite the virtual format, we managed to keep traditional meeting favorites alive, including the awards ceremony, Fellowship of Christian Conservationists meeting, and fundraising events, in addition to some new events such as a keynote speaker, an online trivia contest, and a lunch-and-learn educational session.

The 2021 virtual meeting was attended by around 180 fisheries professionals and students from the United States, Canada, Australia, and Sri Lanka.  The program included 33 oral presentations, 15 of which were by students, as well as 4 poster presentations.  We featured a symposium on Georgia’s Aquatic Connectivity, led by Dr. Jay Shelton of UGA.  Our diversity of presentations included the use of robotics to model fish detection ranges at coastal reefs, using palmyra fruit pulp to improve fish feed, identification of organic contaminants in thresher sharks, an update on the aquatic biodiversity of the Upper Coosa, information about the new red drum high-reward tagging study in coastal Georgia, an habitat selection in darters and freshwater mussels.  The complete program with abstracts can be found on our Chapter’s website: https://gaafs.org/2021-annual-meeting/

Piper Rackley is an undergraduate biology student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is an intern working with Dr. Kady Lyons, a marine biologist at the Georgia Aquarium. Piper was awarded the Georgia AFS 2021 Best Poster Presentation: Organic contaminants in two species of thresher sharks

We are grateful to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for allowing our use of their guest house at the Richmond Hill Fish Hatchery as a meeting command center.  Our officers and program team managed the meeting from this location.  The meeting kicked off with an informative and highly entertaining keynote presentation by Dr. Brett Albanese, Program Manager for Wildlife Conservation in the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.  Additional new events included a “happy-hour style” online team trivia contest and a lunch-and-learn educational workshop facilitated by Dr. Cecil Jennings, Chapter member and AFS Second Vice President.  Dr. Jennings’ live session, “You, your boat, and its trailer…Murphy was an optimist” was well attended and several of our participants also had a chance to share some of their experiences.  We expect to continue to use these three new events as part of our future annual meetings.

2021 Virtual Meeting Command Center Team: (from left to right) Chapter President Jamie Roberts, Chapter Co-Chair Arrangements Committee Brent Hess, Chapter Executive Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Brown, Fundraising Chair Jackson Sibley, Chapter Recording Secretary-Treasurer Dawn Franco, and Co-Chair Arrangements Committee Kevin Cavallaro

Some of our Chapter’s 2020 highlights include adding active Twitter and Instagram accounts to our information-dissemination campaign, collaborative efforts between our Chapter and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to create aquatic education outreach posters and an Aquatic Nuisance Species workbook (https://gaafs.org/education-materials/), and updating our website to include an “Education” section and a “Fish Careers” section.  The “Education” (https://gaafs.org/education/) section includes information about workshops, education materials for K – college educators, outreach events, and a map of colleges and technical schools in Georgia that offer opportunities for students to pursue an education which will help them earn a job related to fisheries science.  The “Fish Careers” (https://gaafs.org/fish-careers/) section includes information about different careers associated with fisheries and strategies to help improve your candidacy when applying for a fisheries job.  Both of these new additions to the website can better inform high school and undergraduate students about college Fisheries programs and people across the state, and career opportunities in the field.

COVID-19 brought about many new challenges including how we could best recognize those who have contributed so much to the advancement of fisheries science and being champions of aquatic conservation.  We had a live awards ceremony which we then created a video and posted it to our website:  https://youtu.be/MMmSwzQmKPg

Georgia chapter afs professional awards

Certificate of Appreciation

  • Richmond Hill Fish Hatchery

Career Contribution Award

  • Bill Davin
  • Rusty Garrison
  • Dominic Guadagnoli
  • Roger Harrell
  • Pat Markey
  • Paul Jones
  • Donna Wilson

Fisheries Professional of the Year                                                                           

  • Jason Mitchell (winner)
  • Tony Beck (finalist)
  • Greg Abercrombie (finalist)

AFS Certificate of Appreciation

  • Jamie Roberts, GA AFS 2020 Chapter President

Distinguished Service Award

  • Jackson Sibley
  • Chalisa Fabillar

Unsung Hero Award

  • Dylan Severens
  • Cindy Smith
  • Amy Smith

Chapter President Award

  • Rebecca Brown

Fisheries Conservationist of the Year

  • Jim Page (Winner)
  • Katie Owens (finalist)

Roger Harrell (left) awarded Career Contribution Award nominated by Chris Harper (right)

Jason Mitchell, 2021 Fisheries Professional of the Year

Jim Page, 2021 Fisheries Conservationist of the Year

The Georgia Chapter also recognized students for outstanding research and presentations at the virtual annual meeting.  All of the students did a great job with their presentations.

Student Oral Presentation Awards

First Place: Brendan Dula (UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources) Effects of Hurricane Michael on annual recruitment, mortality, and behavior of Gulf Sturgeon in the Apalachicola River, Florida

Second Place: Frank McQuarrie (UGA College of Engineering) Acoustic covers without the guitars: Using robots to model fish detection range at coastal reefs

Third Place: Lauren Moniz (Georgia Southern Department of Biology) Lipid metabolites as energy stores in stingrays

student best poster presentation award

Piper Rackley (Georgia Institute of Technology, intern with Kady Lyons at GA Aquarium) Organic contaminants in two species of thresher sharks

student scholarships

Ronnie J. Gilbert Scholarship: Brendan Dula (UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources)

Georgia Chapter AFS Scholarship: Bryson Hilburn (UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources)

georgia chapter afs annnual fundraiser

Over the past several years our fundraising chair, Jackson Sibley, has done an excellent job of recruiting donations for our annual fundraiser that we are able to support aquatic education outreach events, donate money to help support the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Go Fish Education Center classroom, and provide additional funding for aquatic restoration projects around Georgia.  Fortunately, COVID-19 did not have a major negative impact on our fundraising efforts.  Although a few of our traditional donors were unable to contribute this year, we added several new ones, and thanks to our fundraising donors and the participation of our Chapter members, we were able to raise $3,136.87.

The 2021-2022 Executive Committee Members are:

  • President – Robert Bringolf
  • President-Elect – Marion Baker
  • Recording Secretary-Treasurer – Dawn Franco
  • Executive Secretary-Treasurer – Rebecca Brown
  • Past President – Jamie Roberts
  • Ex Officio – Cecil Jennings

The Chapter is looking forward to what we can accomplish in 2021!  We plan to grow our aquatic education outreach efforts to provide more resources for K – college educators and hopefully offer an in-person workshop towards the end of the summer.  We are excited about reinventing our annual meetings and will be planning to introduce some of what we did during the 2021 virtual meeting to our 2022 annual meeting agenda.

Restoring Aquatic Connectivity

“The ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts.” Eugene Odum

All around the world conservation groups, government agencies, academic institutions, and private companies are working together in efforts to restore aquatic connectivity and reduce habitat fragmentation by razing dams and restructuring road-stream crossings.  Georgia has its fair share of aquatic connectivity projects.  We have seen the removal of dams on the Chattahoochee River in Columbus and the removal of White Dam in Athens.  One project you may have not heard of is the Mill Creek/Rocky Flats Fish Passage Project in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Murray County. 

The Mill Creek Fish Passage Project was a joint effort between The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Georgia DNR.  A damaged culvert was replaced with a bottomless arch culvert (pictured).  The streambed of this popular trout stream was restored to its natural condition.  Several threatened and endangered aquatic species like the Blue shiner and the Georgia Pigtoe will now be able to utilize the several miles of valuable habitat located upstream of the Rocky Flats trail.

Comparable to dams, culverts can fragment habitats and create barriers which restrict movement up and downstream for aquatic organisms.  This restriction can lead to increased competition for food, habitat, and mates; increases in predation; and an interruption of natural breeding and spawning cycles.  Furthermore, these barriers can affect genetic diversity when populations of fish are separated into localized groups.  The restoring of aquatic connectivity is necessary to allow aquatic ecosystems to interact and increase biodiversity.   The conservation of biodiversity is crucial in preserving ecosystem resiliency.

Read more about some of Georgia’s aquatic connectivity projects.

World Fish Migration Day is October 24, 2020 (Connecting fish, rivers, and people)

Georgia Aquatic Connectivity

Transforming a Fishery Using Proactive Fisheries Management Strategies

Written by David Beasley, Director of Fisheries at SOLitude Lake Management

The Cohoke Fishing Club is a 47-member private sports club formed in 1900 in Central Virginia. The property is home to an 85-acre mill pond that was built in 1678. Throughout the club’s existence, quality Largemouth Bass catch rates have been inconsistent. In 2009 the fishery was at a low point; the bass were poor in quality, the catch rates were down and the pond was overrun with hydrilla. The club opted to work with a professional fisheries management company to achieve their goal of improving the bass population.

An initial assessment that included electrofishing and habitat surveys was conducted to identify limiting factors and formulate an effective fisheries management strategy. Following this step, meetings were held with club members to review the collected data, gather opinions, and design a comprehensive management plan based on goals and budget:

Hydrilla Management

The first management step was to eradicate the invasive hydrilla present throughout the waterbody. Based on the budget and site conditions, the best long-term, budget-friendly control method available was to stock Triploid Grass Carp. This was done in the spring of 2010 in combination with a 10-acre herbicide treatment at the upper end of the pond to ensure anglers had access to the entire waterbody. With these combined approaches, the hydrilla was reduced by 100 percent within the first growing season.

Fish Stocking

Because members had elected to manage the fishery on a relatively low budget, it was important for the club to focus on improving the predator- to-prey ratio and fish habitat. Initial electrofishing results indicated that Gizzard Shad comprised the majority of the forage base. On the other hand, Bluegill and other sunfish were low in population due to decades of anglers harvesting all Bluegill and releasing all bass. This past approach played a role in the shad’s dominant position. To help rebuild the population while working with a small budget, 6,000 adult Bluegill were stocked and creel limits were altered to release all Bluegill while harvesting intermediate size Largemouth Bass.

Fish Cover and Nuisance Wildlife Removal

Club members added habitat strategically throughout open water to create cover for bass to ambush the shad. The fish cover installed also helped all species avoid predation from otters and cormorants during the cooler months, in particular, when water clarity improves and fish slow down due to cold water temperatures. In response to the large number of otters observed in the pond, an annual trapping program was implemented to reduce their population. Both of these strategies underscored the club’s goal of creating a self-sustaining, abundant forage base capable of supporting trophy bass.

Productivity

Improving the fishery’s productivity was an important step in the process of boosting the forage fish population. In 2010, extensive water quality data was collected to better understand the limiting factors. The waterbody was then put on a fertilization program as well as a water quality monitoring program to help ensure success. In addition to fertilizing, multiple fish feeders were installed to boost Bluegill growth rates and rebuild their depleted population. 

Member Education

The final step in the process was education; if fishermen do not follow through with the management tasks required, then the fishery will not meet its potential. As is the case with many fishing clubs, the members had to overcome internal struggles in order to achieve the desired results. Members were instructed to no longer catch and release intermediate size bass. It is often very difficult to get anglers on board with doing the opposite of what their parents and grandparents had taught them, even when frustrated with the existing fishing conditions. The inherited resistance to harvesting bass was the primary hurdle preventing the pond from producing more consistent, high quality fishing.

2015 marked five years since the management strategy was set in motion. Over that time, the management tasks were carried out annually. Although all of the club members would not consistently conform to harvest recommendations, they did make strides in the right direction. Creel limits for Largemouth Bass were followed, but revised. Even though the club members failed to harvest the recommended number of bass within the first couple of years, over time they were able to get the member buy-in and make a significant impact. In the process of harvesting Largemouth Bass, efforts were also made to remove all other predators present in the pond, including black crappie, chain pickerel and white perch – and this proved to be a very effective strategy.

In line with the concern of some anglers, catch rates gradually decreased by around 20 percent over the years, but the quality of the bass increased significantly. The fishery transformed from anglers catching only one 15-inch bass for every five bass caught, to greater than 50 percent of the bass caught being greater than 15in. The 20 percent lower catch rate in exchange for a very positive shift in the quality and size of the fish has garnered enough support from the club’s members to start harvesting all bass less than 15in beginning in 2016. 

The extensive historical fishing data from this pond illustrates that it has the potential to become great. In order for the club to continue with its success, it will need to stay focused on each of the following variables that impact bass growth: predator-to-prey ratios, water quality, plankton production, fish cover, otters, record keeping and harvesting. 

David Beasley is the Director of Fisheries at SOLitude Lake Management, the nation’s leading environmental firm specializing is sustainable lake, stormwater pond, wetland and fisheries management solutions. To learn more about this topic, please visit www.solitudelakemanagement.com.

2020 SDAFS Elections

Voting Closes August 15, 2020, at 11:59pm

Elected candidates will take office at the 2021 SDAFS Business Meeting.  The Vice President and Student Representatives are 1-year terms.  Biographies of all candidates are found on the SDAFS website: https://sd.fisheries.org/latest-news/

You must have paid your 2020 AFS Society dues to be eligible to vote.  An email was sent out by SDAFS mid-July about voting.  Our Chapter sent out an email on August 4th with the voting link because some folks did not receive an email from SDAFS.

Candidates for Vice President:

Miguel A. (Toño) Garcia (USFWS Puerto Rico)
Mark W. Rogers (USGS Tennessee Cooperative Fishery Research Unit)

Candidates for Student Representative (only eligible students can vote for Student Rep.):

Zach Moran (Baylor University)
Bonnie Myers (North Carolina State University)

Our Commitment

Dear Chapter members,

To follow up on the Parent Society’s recent statement on diversity and inclusion (AFS statement), the Georgia Chapter of the American Fisheries Society affirms its commitment to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion and ensuring that all members understand and realize their equal value to our organization.  It runs deep in the DNA of our profession and the Chapter to value diversity, to manage resources and provide opportunities for the good of all, and to knit together a network of colleagues who lift each other up in good times and bad.  We must continually challenge ourselves to view the world from others’ perspectives, seek out ways to provide opportunities to those who have few, and resist discrimination in all forms.  As a Chapter of individuals, let us stay strong and unified in these values, maintain open dialogues, and continue to work to become the most equitable, inclusive, supportive, and effective Chapter we can be.

The Georgia AFS Executive Committee