- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

As concerns the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Fisheries Service and the few new rules it put into effect regarding bass fishing tournaments, some local anglers would like to see more done to manage the cast-for-cash outings.

The regulations are a result of the recent deaths of 601 largemouth bass that initially were released alive but died within a day or two because of excessive water temperatures, low oxygen levels and being extensively stressed. What occurred is known as delayed mortality - a real dilemma that often is not taken seriously enough.

Because of the bass deaths, the service has said it will register all large tidal water bass tournaments. This will provide important information on the use of the resource and give the DNR a chance to contact tournament directors to discuss procedures and perhaps gather data on contest sizes and bass catches. State biologists will now monitor more bass tournaments.

There also will be a rule stating the water temperature inside tank-equipped release boats should be within 5 degrees of the water temperature measured at an approximate depth of 3 feet in the body of water where fish will be released.

In addition, the DNR said the icing of individual boat livewells can significantly drop water temperatures and cause immediate stress to the fish, which is no good. Forget the icing, but better aeration inside the holding wells are lifesavers. Proper oxygen amounts for the captured fish are crucial. The DNR will require that bass are kept within well-aerated containers of water (near or above 100 percent oxygen saturation) before and after the weigh-in.

Henceforth, DNR personnel will be present at all large tournaments (100 or more boats); assist tournament directors in matters relating to fish health; measure oxygen in the livewells of release boats; measure the temperature of the water body and in the release boat; use tournament activity reports to give tournament directors a report of catch, angling participation and initial and delayed mortalities; tallying hooking mortalities, and assessing overall health of the fish; assist in the design of the weigh-in procedure with regional and national tournament chapters.

Future actions could include registration requirements for all tournaments, no matter their size, as well as telling all participants they cannot cull their fish. If you catch a legal bass, it must be kept.

Rules eventually can include sharp reductions in the handling of fish. (The Shimano fishing tackle company already has a system available that weighs the bass in water matching that of the body the fish came from and containing suitable oxygen.)

What the DNR calls “malicious negligence” by tournament organizations could result in a tournament registration being revoked for one year, perhaps longer.

After recent coverage in The Washington Times concerning the bass deaths and the DNR setting a few rules and more perhaps on the way, readers weighed in via e-mail.

“My hat is off to you for writing [about the Potomac tournament] and resulting fish kill,” Jim Davenport wrote. “Thank you for bringing this important issue to light.”

Said bass fishing guide Andy Andrzejewski: “I think the DNR recommendations are pretty weak.”

Andrzejewski wants to cancel all bass tournaments from June 1 to Sept. 1 because of hot water issues that can result in delayed bass mortality. He also favors a three-bass tournament limit that would give the fish more room and more oxygen in the livewells. As far as the state saying it will look at a “no cull” rule, the Coast Guard-licensed guide wants it now, not later.

E-mailer Carl Brown wrote, “Killing fish is OK if you serve them for dinner; returning them [to the water] to die is unconscionable.”

Bob Rice wrote, “The release of stressed, dying fish is tantamount to the littering, dumping and trashing of Maryland’s waterways and shorelines.”

Even Ed Merrifield, Potomac Riverkeeper executive director, agrees with the coverage of the bass kill.

“Your opinion [of these events] is spot on,” he wrote.

Then there were readers who complained that big tournaments using state park boat ramps prevent private citizens from using their own tax- and fee-supported facilities because the contest participants fill every available parking space. Local residents want to limit the parking for tournament anglers to half of all parking spots. The rest would have to remain open to the public.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Mueller’s Inside Outside blog can be found at www.washingtontimes.com/sports.

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