Journal of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

The Journal of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (ISSN 2330-5142) presents papers that cover all aspects of the management and conservation of inland, estuarine, and marine fisheries and wildlife. It aims to provide a forum where fisheries and wildlife managers can find innovative solutions to the problems facing our natural resources in the 21st century. The Journal welcomes manuscripts that cover scientific studies, case studies, and review articles on a wide range of topics of interest and use to fish and wildlife managers, with an emphasis on the southeastern United States.


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Graham F. Montague, Richard A. Snow, Douglas L. Zentner, Austin D. Griffin

1    Comparing Precision of Otolith and Pectoral Spine Age Assessments for Black and Yellow Bullheads

Joseph V. Siegel, Stuart Welsh, Nate Taylor, Quinton Phelps

10   Size Structure, Age, Growth, and Mortality of Flathead Catfish in the Robert C. Byrd Pool of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers

Steven J. Rider, Travis R. Powell

17    Characteristics of Commercial Paddlefish Harvest from a Provisional Fishery in the Alabama River, Alabama

Despite the broad geographical range of bullhead catfishes (Ameiurus spp.), their population vital rates have rarely been studied. Estimation of vital rates requires accurate age estimates and otoliths generally are considered to be the most accurate and precise aging structure for most fish species. However, pectoral spines of some ictalurid species have been used to generate precise age estimates of younger fish. Although previous studies have compared age estimates between otoliths and spines for large-bodied, longer-lived catfishes, there have been few comparable studies for bullheads. Our objectives were to compare the reader precision and preparation times of lapilli otoliths and pectoral spines (articular process [AP] and basal recess [BR] sections) to determine which aging structure is most precise and efficient for age analysis of black bullhead (Ameiurus melas) and yellow bullhead (A. natalis).

Flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) were sampled in the Robert C. Byrd Pool of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers, West Virginia, to inform management decisions based on population characteristics of size structure, age, growth, and mortality. Sampling was conducted with low-frequency boat electrofishing during late May to early June over a four-year period (2017–2020). We examined size structure using proportional size distribution indi- ces. Growth was evaluated using otolith-derived ages, a von Bertalanffy growth curve, and mean length at age data, including comparisons to published mean length at age data of other populations. Annual mortality was estimated with a weighted catch curve. We documented a high-density population (mean CPUE = 49 fish h–1) with low mortality (A = 11.8%), characterized by slow growing individuals with a maximum recorded age of 36.

Due to overharvest of paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) throughout Alabama, the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (ADWFF) approved a moratorium prohibiting the recreational and commercial catch, possession, and harvest of paddlefish beginning November 1988. However, due to increased demand for paddlefish eggs, a provisional fishery for commercial paddlefish harvest was approved beginning March 2013 in the Alabama River, Mobile River Basin, Alabama. As part of this provisional fishery, a new reporting form was required of all commercial paddlefish harvesters to record their daily harvest and effort. We summarized and quantified commercial paddlefish harvest and harvester data from these reports to examine spatial and temporal harvest patterns from 2013 to 2017 and compare to data collected by ADWFF biologists in 2016. A total of 4861 female paddlefish were harvested in all commercial years combined.

Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) have been extirpated from many karst-geology streams in West Virginia; however, the causes are not fully understood. Specifically, the impact of calcareous precipitate (marl), which is common in hard-water environments, has not been evaluated as an im- pediment to juvenile survival. Accordingly, two lab-based studies were conducted to determine if brook trout egg and alevin survival is inhibited by marl. In the first study, three aeration treatments were applied to water from a limestone spring source (13–14 C; ~300 mg L–1 hardness), resulting in different pH levels and an increasing degree of marl precipitate. Treatments included raw/untreated (RU; no marl), once-aerated (OA; limited marl), and continuously aerated (CA; significant marl) water. Brook trout eggs obtained from a local hatchery were fertilized and stocked among gravel-filled trays receiving each water type.

Understanding walleye (Sander vitreus) spawning behavior is important for managing walleye fisheries, but such information is limited for Appalachian reservoirs. We assessed spawning movements and spawning locations for a reestablished walleye population in Cheat Lake, West Virginia. We tagged fifty-two walleye with acoustic telemetry transmitters to evaluate environmental correlates associated with pre-spawn movements and to deter- mine spawning locations. Using an information-theoretic approach, we compared candidate logistic regression models to determine which environmental variables best explained upstream movements to spawning areas. The two models with the most support both included additive effects of year and water temperature, with sex also included in the second of these models. Water temperature had a significant positive relationship with pre-spawn movements in each model.

Catching a state record fish is a significant accomplishment in the life of any angler. The need to have a state agency biologist present to verify the record fish can delay the certification of the fish, possibly leading to changes in the fish’s weight. Few published studies have directly investigated the impact of preservation method on weight change of fish following capture. We examined four fish species: black crappie (Pomoxis nigromacula- tus), bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris), and largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) to identify the best preservation method for minimizing change in weight post-catch. We evaluated four preservation methods including holding fish alive, on ice, in an ice bath, and in a freezer for either 24 or 48 h.

Stream fishing for black bass (Micropterus spp.) is a popular outdoor recreational activity in northern Arkansas. After construction of a new access area on Crooked Creek, Arkansas in 2017, anglers expressed concerns about increased fishing pressure and possible overharvest of smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu). In 2019, we conducted a creel survey (60 sample days over six months) at five public accesses, including the new access, on a 35-km section of Crooked Creek. We also tagged 195 fish in an associated one-year exploitation study to address requests for stricter regulations and mandatory catch and release for smallmouth bass. Estimates of fishing pressure (20,521 h) and smallmouth bass catch rates (1.13 fish h–1) were both high. We saw high tag reporting rates (61%) during the first two months of the exploitation study.

Declining angler harvest rates of largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) have increasingly led to small impoundments containing over-crowded largemouth bass populations. Various methods to correct or prevent crowded largemouth bass populations have been used by fisheries man- agers, with mixed results. We removed largemouth bass from two small impoundments in South Carolina using boat electrofishing over two consecu- tive years, with targets of removing 40–50% of the largemouth bass populations each year. We used relative weight (Wr) as the removal criterion, such that all largemouth bass displaying condition Wr < 95 were removed. Largemouth bass population sizes were estimated using mark-recapture in each impoundment for large (≥200 mm TL) and small (<200 mm TL) largemouth bass length groups.

Negative impacts from non-native congener introductions have emerged as an immediate threat to black bass conservation and management. Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) historically comprised the sole black bass fishery in Moss Lake, North Carolina. Alabama bass (Micropterus henshalli) were illegally introduced into Moss Lake and were first detected during a 2008 electrofishing survey conducted by North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission biologists. Since this detection, Alabama bass rapidly increased in abundance throughout the reservoir, while largemouth bass abundance declined concomitantly and reached a low equilibrium, except within cove habitat of the upper reservoir. Alabama bass CPUE was generally 2–3 times higher than largemouth bass CPUE during the study, but Alabama bass were overall smaller in size and in poorer condition than largemouth bass.

The largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) population in South Mill Creek Lake, a centrarchid-dominated, eutrophic small impoundment in West Virginia, was managed under a 305-mm minimum-length limit until 2007. Under this regulation the population was typified by consistently low proportional size distribution (PSD) values, low quality-length CPUE, excessive juvenile recruitment, and poor length structure. Therefore, in 2007 a protected slot limit (PSL) regulation (305–406 mm) was implemented to shift the size structure of the fishery. Spring (May) boat electrofishing surveys were conducted pre- and post-regulation (2003–2022) to evaluate fishery response under both regulatory regimes. The largemouth bass population of a similar system, Kimsey Run Lake, was sampled using the same methods over the same time periods.

Production of submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) is promoted for waterfowl forage through hydrological management in brackish tidal impoundments along the south Atlantic coast, USA. This management also promotes production of aquatic invertebrates as food resources for many bird species. We conducted a field experiment to compare effects of traditional complete drawdown to fissure substrates versus a novel partial drawdown (i.e., mudflat to 10 cm depth) on aquatic invertebrate biomass in impounded and non-impounded tidal wetlands in the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Ed- isto Rivers (ACE) Basin, South Carolina. We sampled 20 randomly selected impoundments (complete drawdown, n = 8; partial drawdown, n = 12) and adjacent non-impounded tidal marsh across three properties in August 2016, November 2016, January 2017, and April 2017.

We analyzed a three-year consolidated sample of Louisiana hunters’ responses to the Louisiana Game Harvest Surveys (LAGHS) distributed via email and mail in May following the 2016–2017, 2017–2018, and 2018–2019 hunting seasons. To determine whether the distribution modes pro- duced different results, both modes asked identical questions about hunting effort, harvest, and age. We used generalized linear mixed models to test hypotheses about hunters’ days hunted, harvest, representation of age classes, and effect of age-weighting (i.e., weighting responses based on the differ- ence in proportion between individual age classes in the response sample and the original license population) across survey modes. We compared days spent hunting and species harvested across distribution modes. We received 42,346 qualified email responses with a qualified response rate of 19.3%, and 6387 qualified mail responses with a qualified response rate of 14.1%.

Since the spread of white-nose syndrome in North America, several bat species have shown precipitous declines in abundance and distribution. With lower netting detection probabilities for the currently threatened but proposed endangered northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) and endangered Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis), determination of presence or absence for regulatory clearance often has shifted to the use of acoustic sur- veys. However, acoustic surveys are unable to differentiate between non-reproductive individuals versus a maternity colony. We used recorded nightly echolocation pass counts of bat species-specific probabilities with maximum likelihood estimator (MLE) scores to determine thresholds by cover type and reproductive period whereby the potential for northern long-eared bat or Indiana bat maternity colonies occurs. Where nightly MLE P-values were

The gray bat (Myotis grisescens) is a cave-obligate species that has been listed as federally endangered since 1976, following population declines from human disturbance at hibernation and maternity caves. However, with cave protection, most gray bat populations have increased. As part of a project examining bat use of transportation structures as day-roosts, we continuously acoustically monitored 12 riparian sites within the Clinch River Watershed of southwest Virginia from March through November, 2018–2020. We used 15 different landscape and weather-related variables in gener- alized linear mixed models to determine factors influencing gray bat presence and activity. Seasonal activity patterns were similar among years, but the number of nightly gray bat calls increased with each passing year, consistent with positive population trends observed at winter hibernacula.

Species distribution models enable resource managers to avoid and mitigate impacts to, or enhance habitat of, target species at the landscape level. Persistent declines of northern long-eared bats (Myotis septentrionalis) due to white-nose syndrome have made acquisition of contemporary data difficult. Therefore, use of legacy data may be necessary for creation of species distribution models. We used historical roost and capture records, both individually and in combination, to assess the distribution and availability of northern long-eared bat habitat across the 670,000-ha Monongahela Na- tional Forest (MNF), West Virginia, USA. We created random forest presence/pseudo-absence models to examine influences of various biotic and abi- otic predictors on both roosting and foraging presence locations of northern long-eared bats. Predicted northern long-eared bat habitat was abundant (43.1% of the MNF) and widely dispersed.

Hierarchical conservation and management of Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) habitat may benefit from use of species distribution models. White-nose syndrome has caused additional declines for this endangered bat, requiring use of historical presence locations for habitat-related analy- ses. We created random forest presence/pseudo-absence models to assess the distribution and availability of Indiana bat habitat across the 670,000-ha Monongahela National Forest (MNF), West Virginia, USA. We collated historical roost and capture locations, both individually and in combination, to examine impacts of various biotic and abiotic predictors on roosting and foraging habitat of Indiana bats. Our final concordance map suggests that In- diana bat habitat was abundant (37.2% of the MNF) but localized, with predicted suitable areas often associated with edges of dry-calcareous forests.

Achieving a target population size is often the first goal of species restorations. From 2012 to 2014, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources released 75 elk (Cervus canadensis) originating from Kentucky into Buchanan County in southwestern Virginia. These individuals were ear tagged with unique numbers upon release with an additional 33 elk tagged within the Virginia Elk Management Zone (VEMZ) from 2019 through early 2022. To assess post-release population size, we conducted visual driving surveys throughout Buchanan County from January through mid-April, 2021 and January through March, 2022, counting elk and noting sex, age class, and tagged individuals when observed. We conducted four surveys an- nually, each consisting of pooled elk counts from eight driving routes, and calculated a Lincoln-Petersen population estimate with Chapman’s bias cor- rection for each survey, then averaged estimates for each year.

In recent years, commercial paddlefish harvesters have renewed their requests for opening a potential commercial paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) season in Alabama reservoirs of the Tennessee River, including part of Pickwick Reservoir, all of Wilson and Wheeler reservoirs, and the majority of Guntersville Reservoir. These reservoirs of the Tennessee River once supported robust stocks of paddlefish; however, beginning in the 1940s overexploitation became evident as the number of paddlefish harvested declined. Because of this widespread overharvest, a commercial and recreational moratorium on paddlefish possession and harvest in all Alabama waters went into effect in November 1988. We report on recent paddlefish sampling efforts in Alabama reservoirs of the Tennessee River to evaluate if paddlefish stocks have recovered to the point that sustainable commercial harvest is feasible.

The Florida largemouth bass (FLMB; Micropterus salmoides floridanus) is widely stocked throughout the southeastern United States with the intent of increasing the size potential of resident northern largemouth bass (NLMB; M. s. salmoides) populations. During the early 2000s the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission initiated an eight-year FLMB stocking program on selected reaches of DeGray Lake and Lake Ouachita in an effort to sat- isfy angler preferences. The goal of this stocking program was to achieve 40% of sampled largemouth bass in each introduction zone possessing FLMB alleles by the end of the program. To assess this, fin clips were removed from hundreds of largemouth bass collected both within the stocking area as well as three areas distant from the stocking area of each reservoir.

To enhance trophy potential of largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) fisheries, state agencies across the southeastern United States commonly stock Florida largemouth bass (FLMB, M. s. floridanus) outside of their native range into native northern largemouth bass (NLMB, M. s. sal- moides) populations. This practice has been ongoing for decades but spatial patterns associated with the spread of FLMB alleles in a reservoir after stocking are not well understood. From 2007–2015 the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocked 250 FLMB fingerlings ha–1 into two embayments of Lake Ouachita, a 16,200-ha highland reservoir in western Arkansas. In 2019, we collected 1000 largemouth bass from throughout the reservoir to examine spatial patterns of FLMB introgression using a panel of 35 species-diagnostic single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).

White bass (Morone chrysops) are a popular sport fish native to the Mississippi River basin and widely introduced elsewhere. We examined population characteristics of this species in three systems (Kentucky Lake, Tennessee; Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, Mississippi; and Grenada Lake, Mississippi) with different habitats and fishery characteristics to evaluate whether population dynamics varied sufficiently to require system-specific management. Using white bass collected from these three systems in 2019–2020, we tested two aging techniques and found sectioning of otoliths pro- vided more precise age estimates compared to using whole otoliths. We collected white bass up to 9 years of age, representing the oldest maximum age reported for southern populations. However, populations were composed of mostly younger fish, with 84% four years old or younger. All fish reached preferred size (300 mm TL) by age 3 across study areas.

Black bass (Micropterus spp.) are the most popular freshwater sportfishes in North America and are intensively managed. Successful management of fish populations relies on dependable age data for estimation of age determined population rate functions (growth, mortality, and recruit- ment). Otoliths provide accurate age estimates compared to most other aging structures, but otolith removal requires fish to be sacrificed, leading some fisheries managers to rely on alternative, non-lethal methods for estimating ages of fish. However, non-lethal aging structures may produce biased age estimates when compared to otoliths. In this study, we evaluated age-estimate precision for largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), smallmouth bass (M. dolomieu), and spotted bass (M. punctulatus) using otoliths, dorsal fin spines, anal fin spines, pectoral fin rays, and scales.

Accurate and precise age estimates are required to correctly estimate fish population metrics such as age, growth, mortality, and recruitment. Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) are commonly aged using the lapilli otolith or the articular process of the pectoral spine. Many fisheries managers prefer to use pectoral spines because the process does not require the sacrifice of the fish, but this method may produce biased age estimates. To com- pare precision of the two methods, we used pectoral spines and lapilli otoliths to age 649 channel catfish collected from five Oklahoma impoundments during 2018 to 2020. Additionally, we compared von Bertalanffy growth parameters and mortality estimates derived using our pectoral spine and otolith age estimates. Finally, we compared processing times for both structures.

Otolith age validation studies are essential to identify the accuracy of using otoliths to age fish; however, black bullhead (Ameiurus melas) otolith validation studies have not been conducted for either adult or age-0 individuals. Therefore, the objective of this study was to validate annu- lus and daily ring formation in lapilli otoliths of black bullheads. We assessed timing of annulus formation using marginal increment analysis on 409 black bullheads caught monthly from July 2015–June 2016 in Lake Carl Etling, Oklahoma. We evaluated daily growth increment deposition by batch-marking 253 age-0 black bullhead by immersion in a solution of 700 mg L–1 oxytetracycline (OTC) for 6 hrs to provide a date stamp; thereafter, 10 fish were pulled from the tank every 10 days and had otoliths removed for analysis. We observed that black bullhead produced a single annulus in their lapillus otolith in June.