- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2001

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given top priority to reverted Sportfish Restoration grants for four studies that focus on a virus disease that since 1995 has killed largemouth bass primarily in Southern states, but now is thought to be heading north and west.
The moving force behind getting the study grants, the 700,000-member international Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, is elated with the F&WS;'s decision to hopefully dole out enough money to find out what is causing the Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV), the name scientists have given the disease.
"The largemouth bass is the nation's most popular sportfish and quality fisheries are maintained almost entirely by natural reproduction. We urged the F&WS; to give the highest funding priority to LMBV, and it did," said Bruce Shupp, the national conservation director of the BASS organization. "We're really happy about this."
During the next year, $415,390 from reverted state grants will be used for projects ranging from developing and validating non-lethal sampling techniques to improving detection of the virus in infected fish and investigating how the stress of being caught might relate to contraction of LMBV.
Through excise taxes on fishing tackle and related gear, anglers contribute some $300 million annually to the federal Sportfish Restoration Fund. The government distributes the money to the states to improve their fisheries in what very well may be the nation's best user-pays-user-benefits program. Money not used by the states reverts to the F&WS; for individual research projects that are submitted to the F&WS; on a competitive basis. This year, state and federal agencies and universities nationwide proposed 168 projects for an available $1,785,943. Twenty-seven studies were selected by a seven-member panel; four were specifically for LMBV research.
Resource managers are praising BASS for helping to obtain money for the four LMBV projects, as well as its overall guidance during the past two years. During two BASS-sponsored meetings in 2000 and 2001, the Alabama-headquartered group has brought together fish disease experts to discuss the latest information regarding the disease.
"BASS has taken the leadership to ensure that the right information is getting into everyone's hands," said Phil Durocher, Fisheries Chief for the Texas Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "Typically, the states are out there doing their own things. On this issue, BASS brought us together to share information and make sure that we're not repeating ourselves trying to find answers. We appreciate it a lot."
Mississippi State University fisheries scientist Dr. Hal Schramm added, "BASS recognized a problem and helped us build a foundation where none existed. Largemouth Bass Virus disease is moving out of the South and heading west and north. It stands to impact the majority of the nation. What researchers are doing because of BASS' leadership will serve the nation and serve it well."
Sportfish Restoration Fund money will be used to fund projects at Auburn, Louisiana State, and Mississippi State universities, as well as at the F&WS;'s Warm Springs Regional Fisheries Center. But many more than just these four will be involved in the research.
Schramm, for example, will work with associates from Auburn, the Alabama Department of Game and Fish, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. They will attempt to discover if a link exists between stress related to tournament handling and LMBV.
"Does that stress make it more likely that a bass will be infected? Or does it facilitate turning the infection in disease? We hope to find some answers," the scientist said.
What a catfish! Phil Walker of the Virginia Catfish Association says when his group conducted a catfish contest on the James River July 1, he never figured a Shepherdstown, W. Va., resident could teach the local Virginians how it's done. "Bill Hilton drove down to Hopewell on his birthday and the long drive paid off," says Walker. Hilton took top honors with a 52.12-pound blue catfish that fell for a chunk of eel at 4:30 a.m. Open tournaments, by the way, run from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. In such events each team can only weigh one live catfish.
The Virginia Catfish Association is a non-profit recreational fishing club with members in four states. For information and a tournament schedule, check out the VCA's fishing club page on www.virginiaoutdoors.com.

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