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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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.

Fish length data are important for assessing sportfish populations and establishing and enforcing length-based harvest regulations. Evidence suggests that fish length can change after preservation in ice. These changes can impact comparison of live-caught and post-catch length measurements and therefore angler compliance to regulations, a concern raised by state law enforcement personnel. Similarly, length changes may skew length-based analyses done by fisheries managers. We evaluated TL changes of largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), catfishes (Ictaluridae spp.), black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), and sunfishes (Lepomis spp.) collected in Florida and preserved in coolers of ice for intervals of 3–6 h, 24 h, and 36 h. Our re- sults indicate mean percent shrinkage ranged 0.43%–1.58% among time intervals and fish groups but significantly differed by group and time interval.

Beaver Dam on the White River in northwest Arkansas, built in the 1960s for hydropower and flood control, releases cold water downstream suitable for trout survival. The trout fishery in Beaver Tailwater relies heavily on stockings, as natural reproduction is limited or nonexistent. In 2006, a 330–406 mm protected slot limit was implemented along with reduced stocking rates to increase the number of large rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in Beaver Tailwater. Further, a catch-and-release area was changed to a special regulation area (SRA) that allowed harvest but restricted angling to the use of artificial lures or flies with barbless single-point hooks. Outside the SRA bait was allowed, but anglers there were also restricted to barb- less single point hooks. From July 2009 to April 2010, four cohorts of rainbow trout were tagged with coded wire tags, stocked into the tailwater, and sampled monthly using electrofishing to estimate growth and survival.

Native brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) have been declining in many areas of their range partially because of introduction of nonnative salmonids. Brook trout biomass and relative weight in the Conway River, Virginia, were evaluated for 24 years using regression to discern trends po- tentially associated with colonization of brown trout (Salmo trutta). The Rapidan River is adjacent to the Conway River and has brook trout but not brown trout, and thus this river was sampled over similar time intervals and served as a reference stream for this case study. Brook trout biomass in the Conway River varied from 21.8 to 58.5 kg ha–1 but displayed no temporal trends throughout the study (r 2 = 0.01; P = 0.81). Concurrently, brown trout biomass varied from 5.5 to 59.9 kg ha–1 and increased during the study (r 2 = 0.63; P < 0.01).

Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), brown trout (Salmo trutta), and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) have been stocked by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (Commission) into rivers and creeks in the mountain region of the state since the 1940s, but few trout fish- ing opportunities have existed in other regions. In December 2016, the Commission began to stock trout once a year into publicly accessible small impoundments across western and central parts of North Carolina. However, no formal evaluations of angler use in response to these stockings had been conducted. The goal of this project was to determine changes in angler effort before and after trout were stocked in two of these systems. At one impoundment, data from a trail camera from winters (December to March) 2015–2016 (no trout stockings) and 2019–2020 (first trout stocking) were analyzed to estimate angler effort.

In North Carolina, wavyrayed lampmussels (Lampsilis fasciola) and spike (Eurynia dilatata) currently are state species of special concern, and rainbow mussels (Villosa iris) are state threatened. As a result of extensive conservation and management efforts, recovery of suitable habitat and im- provements in water quality have made mussel restoration a possibility in the Oconaluftee River within lands owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. As part of restoration efforts, we introduced propagated or translocated individuals of these three species into the Oconaluftee River. Individu- als were marked and stocked at four sites as either free-living specimens or within silo enclosures, and monitoring took place over one growing season (April to October 2019) to record survival and growth. In addition, we included data from mussels in silos remaining on three of our four sites from a previous feasibility study.

Installation and maintenance of artificial nesting structures are established practices for increasing production of secondary cavity nesting waterfowl, especially wood ducks (Aix sponsa). In South Carolina, tens of thousands of nest boxes have been erected on public and private lands. Ad- ditionally, since the early 2000s, black-bellied whistling ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) have expanded their range into South Carolina and now are nesting sympatric with wood ducks in boxes. We conducted a survey of 364 and 354 nest boxes in 2016 and 2017, respectively, across the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto river (ACE) and the Santee Rivers Delta and Winyah Bay (SRDW) basins in coastal South Carolina. We did not detect a differ- ence in frequency of nest box use between basins by wood ducks (~61%) or black-bellied whistling ducks (~15%). We believe low use of nest boxes by black-bellied whistling ducks was due to their recent colonization of South Carolina.

Bottomland hardwood forests in the southeastern United States provide important food and other socio-physiological resources for several wintering duck species. Duck presence and abundance in these wetlands can be influenced by periodicity and extent of flooding, disturbance from anthropogenic activities, and availability and coverage of certain vegetative communities. We tested if presence of flooding, anthropogenic disturbance, and certain vegetation types influenced wintering duck presence and abundance in Delta National Forest (DNF; Mississippi), the only National Forest which is entirely bottomland hardwood forest. Across 17 surveys of 65 randomly selected wetlands in the DNF in winter 2012–2013, the most abundant duck species included wood duck (Aix sponsa, 60%), gadwall (Mareca strepera, 20%), and mallard (Anas platyrhynchos, 18%).

Wildlife managers commonly use herbicides to control invasive plant species and maintain early-successional vegetation communities in seasonally flooded moist-soil wetlands. However, there is limited information on how herbicides influence plant and animal communities following application. Thus, we investigated the response of vegetation, food density, and the abundance and activities of dabbling ducks (Anatini) to application of imazapyr herbicide in moist-soil wetlands in Tennessee to control invasive alligatorweed (Alternanthera philoxeroides). Imazapyr was applied topi- cally at Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge during July 2011 following an early water drawdown and dry weather conditions. Food density and use and activities of dabbling ducks were similar between treatment and control plots during the year of application and in the subsequent year.

Duck activity patterns have anecdotally been associated with weather for thousands of years. However, these relationships have rarely been tested scientifically. We hypothesized that characteristics of wintering ducks harvested by hunters would be associated with daily weather conditions (precipitation, temperature, and wind speed), and specifically, that smaller-bodied ducks and those with poor body condition would be harvested less frequently in adverse weather conditions relative to 30-year daily normals.

Waterfowl are of significant cultural, economic, and conservation importance along the Texas Gulf Coast. Millions of ducks utilize this region as they move along the Central Flyway each winter. Understanding body condition patterns for these birds has important implications for overwinter survival, breeding success, and population regulation. This is especially true for females, which are typically the limiting sex in ducks. Herein, we an- alyze sex- and age-specific differences in body condition of non-breeding dabbling ducks over the winter hunting season in coastal Texas. We collab- orated with hunters over two winters to salvage, weigh, and measure 1255 dabbling ducks, including blue-winged teal (Spatula discors), green-winged teal (Anas crecca), northern shoveler (Spatula clypeata), gadwall (Mareca strepera), and northern pintail (Anas acuta).

Spring harvest of wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) has declined in many eastern states since 2010. In Tennessee, spring harvest de-clines of 30%–50% in south-central counties from 2005–2015 caused concern among hunters and managers. To determine how turkey productivity might be related to the perceived population decline, we radio-tagged and tracked 152 females with VHF transmitters throughout the 2017–2018 nest- ing seasons. We documented nest-site selection, nesting rate, clutch size, hatching rate, renesting rate, and daily nest survival. We used conditional lo- gistic regression to determine which landscape-scale and nest-site vegetation characteristics were most related to nest-site selection by females. We used nest-survival models to determine which temporal, landscape-scale, and site-specific vegetation characteristics were most related to daily nest survival.

Mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) are an important webless migratory game bird in North America, with more doves harvested than all other game birds combined. To understand mourning dove population status and inform harvest and land management decisions at local and regional scales, there is a need to evaluate annual survival and changes in population size. To provide estimates of dove survival and associated harvest parame- ters at our study area in Cameron Parish Louisiana, a popular area for dove hunting, we initiated a banding study at two sites on and near the Rockefel- ler Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana. From 2010 to 2018, we banded 957 mourning doves. We used 174 recaptures from our study area with 46 band recovery reports to model annual survival probabilities, recapture probabilities, recovery probabilities, and fidelity to our study area. Our point estimates of survival and recapture probabilities were greater for after hatch year birds vs.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease that affects cervid species including white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).  As of 2021, it occurs in seven southeastern states, and more discoveries in the region are likely to occur. Hunter education regarding CWD is critical to obtain support for disease management actions that rely on hunter participation but potentially are in opposition to typical hunter objectives. In August 2018, we provided educational programming on CWD to 84 members of a deer hunting club in west Tennessee. After CWD was discovered in the immediate area of the club in December 2018, in spring 2019 we surveyed the attitudes and hunting behaviors of club members. When surveyed five months following discovery of CWD, 86% of respondents expressed extreme or moderate concern about CWD. The number of total deer sightings was the most important factor influencing hunter satisfaction for 70% of respondents.

Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) populations have experienced severe declines in eastern North America from white-nose syndrome (WNS), yet potential secondary effects on maternity roosting and recruitment remain largely unknown. We documented female day- roosting at two locations in the central Appalachians of Virginia, Back Creek Mountain (BCM) and Rapidan Camp (RC), during 2015 and 2016, ap- proximately six years after the regional onset of WNS. We compared roost characteristics with available trees and roosts recorded prior to WNS at the Fernow Experimental Forest (FEF), West Virginia, in 2007 and 2008. Roosts at BCM were smaller than pre-WNS roosts but were otherwise similar in terms of stand condition and species use, though bats selected for red maple (Acer rubrum) at BCM rather than black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) as at FEF.

In the central Appalachians of Virginia and West Virginia, the Virginia northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus fuscus; VNFS) is a subspecies of northern flying squirrel generally associated with red spruce (Picea rubens)-dominated forests at high elevations. Listed as endangered by the

Assessing alternative pond production systems that may reduce avian predation of channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is of extreme interest to state/federal and private hatcheries. This study evaluated the culture of channel catfish fingerlings in a pilot-scale split-pond system (SPS) and compared it to traditional earthen ponds (TP). Six 0.04-ha ponds were covered by netting and stocked with channel catfish fingerlings at a rate of 200,000 fish ha–1; ponds were evenly split between TP and SPS. Fingerlings were cultured for 99 days and fed a commercial diet twice daily. Fish were fed 4.0% to 6.5% of their total body weight during the first 73 days, then ad libitum until the end of the study due to reduced water temperatures. Production parameters were similar between treatments except for condition factor, which was higher for fish raised in the TP. Channel catfish fingerlings raised in SPS had a more uniform size distribution than in TP.

The life histories of many organisms are directly tied to floodplain inundation for access to spawning grounds, nurseries, and feeding, but many floodplain ecosystems have been altered by anthropogenic activities and are disconnected from associated rivers. The Atchafalaya River Basin (ARB) floodplain, Louisiana, is relatively intact, whereas the upper Barataria Estuary (UBE) has been separated from the Mississippi River by anthropogenic modifications and lacks an annual flood pulse. The lack of connection can alter trophic webs that include fish species such as bowfin (Amia calva). Therefore, bowfin diets in these two floodplain ecosystems were examined to determine if the difference in floodplain connectivity was associated to bowfin diets. Bowfin were collected by boat electrofishing in the ARB (n = 89) and UBE (n =143) from March 2017 to August 2017. Mean percent empty stomachs was similar between basins, with 26% empty in the ARB and 30% in the UBE.

Alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) were once viewed negatively by anglers and state agencies, but interest in reintroduction and trophy management of gar has increased in many states across their range, including Oklahoma. Therefore, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is planning to reintroduce alligator gar back into their native range. Thus, biologists decided to implement a food habits study to determine potential impacts of alligator gar to other fish populations in order to address angler concerns about possible reintroduction. The objectives of this study were to describe seasonal food habits and prey selection of alligator gar collected from Texoma Reservoir located on the Texas-Oklahoma border. Fish were mostly collected using gill nets but 36% were also donated by anglers. Diets were pooled into two seasonal groupings (winter-spring and summer-fall).