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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Accurate age and growth information is essential for a complete knowledge of life history, growth rates, age at sexual maturity, and average life span in fishes. Alligator gar are becoming increasingly managed throughout their range and because this species spawns in backwater flooded areas, their offspring are prone to stranding in areas with limited prey, potentially affecting their growth. Because fish growth is tightly linked with otolith growth and annulus formation, the ability to discern marks not indicative of annuli (age checks) in alligator gar would give managers some insight when estimating ages. Previous studies have suggested that checks are often present prior to the first annulus in otoliths of alligator gar, affecting age estimates. We investigated check formation in otoliths of alligator gar in relation to growth and food availability.

Lake Hickory is a 1660-ha impoundment in western North Carolina with a historically popular black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) fishery. Beginning in 2000, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) trapnet-survey data suggested a decline in black crappie catch rates which was also associated with increased angler complaints. In an effort to improve the black crappie population, the NCWRC began an experimental stocking program in 2007. From 2007 to 2012, black crappie fingerlings were marked with oxytetracycline (OTC) and stocked annually into Lake Hickory. Annual assessments of initial poststocking survival of OTC-marked fish (79%-98%) and OTC mark efficacy (96%-100%) were high. Black crappie were collected using trapnets set in the fall during 2008-2012. All captured black crappie were aged, and otoliths from fish in the 2007-2011 year classes were examined for an OTC mark. Year-class contributions ranged from 0%-95%.

Spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus) provide popular recreational fisheries in southeastern U.S. streams. We studied spotted bass population structure and diet from wadeable (< 1 m deep on average, n = 174, 21 sites) and non-wadeable (n = 498, 32 sites) reaches of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin in Mississippi and Louisiana to determine if populations should be managed separately by stream size. Sampling occurred April-November 2009-2012 by hook-and-line angling, boat-mounted electrofishing, and seines. Size structure was similar between stream type and with few quality-sized fish (PSD ≤ 24). Spotted bass relative weight (Wr) was higher in non-wadeable streams (mean Wr = 91) than in wadeable streams (mean Wr = 85). Larger spotted bass (> 200 mm TL) consumed more crayfish and fish, other vertebrates, and multiple types of aquatic and terrestrial insects by number.

Coastal ecosystems are dynamic and productive areas that are vulnerable to effects of global climate change. Despite their potentially limited spatial extent, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) beds function in coastal ecosystems as foundation species, and perform important ecological services. However, limited understanding of the factors controlling SAV distribution and abundance across multiple salinity zones (fresh, intermediate, brackish, and saline) in the northern Gulf of Mexico restricts the ability of models to accurately predict resource availability. We sampled 384 potential coastal SAV sites across the northern Gulf of Mexico in 2013 and 2014, and examined community and species-specific SAV distribution and biomass in relation to year, salinity, turbidity, and water depth.

The middle Trinity River in Texas supports one of the premier trophy alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) fisheries in the world. Published data on alligator gar life history and population characteristics are sparse, yet these data are needed to inform conservation and management. Using data from over 850 fish collected between 2007 and 2014, we described the size structure, population abundance, angler exploitation, and vital rates of this unique population. Collection of fish relied heavily on angler cooperators and included a three-year mark-recapture effort and the removal of sagittal otoliths from fish harvested by bow anglers. Size structure and population abundance data revealed why this population supports such a popular fishery. Size structure was broad (fish ranged from 46 to 241 cm) and trophy-sized alligator gar (> 180 cm) comprised more than 23% of the sample.

The New River crayfish, (Cambarus chasmodactylus), was described in 1966 from the East Fork of the Greenbrier River, West Virginia, and historically occurred throughout the New River Basin from the Greenbrier River sub-basin in West Virginia, upstream through Virginia, and into the headwaters of the South Fork New River in North Carolina. The New River crayfish was part of a federal listing species petition in 2010 and it is currently being evaluated for listing as either threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act. In order to understand the current distribution and status of this species, a range-wide assessment was undertaken by various organizations and agencies in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. Biological information was summarized, including species description, habitat use, life history, and current distribution. All historical and recent collections were compared and spatially displayed using GIS software.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stocks Toledo Bend Reservoir annually with fingerling Florida largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides floridanus). Studies suggest that largemouth bass stockings often result in variable and low contributions to cohort abundance. We explored effects of aquatic vegetation on stocking success of fingerling Florida largemouth bass marked with a pelvic fin clip in three species of aquatic vegetation (hydrilla Hydrilla verticillata, coontail Ceratophyllum demersum, and Eurasian watermilfoil Myriophyllum spicatum) in Toledo Bend Reservoir. Stocking sites received 10,000 fingerlings (mean total length = 35 mm) and consisted of 2 km of contiguous habitat. Study sites were stocked in May-June 2010 (n = 6) and May-June 2013 (n = 5) and sampled with electrofishing at 3 weeks and 20 weeks post-stocking.

The lower Trinity River and Trinity Bay in Texas represent the southern limit of the native range of striped bass (Morone saxatilis). Life-history traits of fishes in the northern hemisphere often vary with latitude, with southern populations exhibiting faster growth, earlier age at maturity, reduced longevity, and higher mortality than northern populations. At this southern limit, water temperatures in the Trinity River often exceed reported tolerances for striped bass. We evaluated the likelihood that this fringe striped bass population can persist by examining their life history characteristics, their movements, and the occurrence of thermal refuges in the lower Trinity River. Spawning adult striped bass were collected from 2006 to 2011 to describe life-history characteristics, and ultrasonic telemetry was used from 2008 to 2010 to evaluate movements, and identify thermal refuges.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) began the ShareLunker program (currently sponsored by Toyota) in 1986 to promote public involvement in the management of trophy largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides; LMB) fisheries in Texas. The program provides anglers an opportunity to donate trophy LMB (≥ 5.9 kg) to a selective breeding and stocking program managed by TPWD, with the goal of increasing the production of trophy-sized fish in Texas reservoirs. Although the program was known to be successful at promoting trophy LMB fishing in Texas, it was not known whether selective breeding results in growth advantages and subsequent increases in the likelihood of producing trophy-sized LMB. We assessed the efficacy of the Toyota ShareLunker program by comparing length and weight of age-4 ShareLunker LMB stocked as fingerlings with age-4 naturally produced resident LMB in six small impoundments.

The Grandfather Mountain crayfish (Cambarus eeseeohensis) was described in 2005 from the Linville River in western North Carolina and considered to be endemic to the mainstem Linville River upstream of Linville Falls. Because of its limited distribution and the presence of non-native crayfish in the Linville River watershed, this species was considered imperiled. However, there has been limited survey effort for Grandfather Mountain crayfish and therefore the extent and nature of threats to persistence of the species were mostly unknown. We conducted surveys (n = 41) in 2011 throughout the Linville River watershed and surrounding watersheds to better determine the distribution of the Grandfather Mountain crayfish and assess impacts of exotic crayfishes on this species. We also conducted an evaluation of land ownership and water quality classifications to determine what protections were currently available for conservation of this crayfish.

The yellow bass (Morone mississippiensis) is a common, yet lesser known species of the Mississippi River drainage basin; few life history studies on the species have been published throughout its range. To describe population level gonad development, seasonal abundance, and age and growth, yellow bass were collected every 7-14 days with monofilament gill nets from 14 November 2008 to 17 November 2009 from the upper Barataria Estuary (UBE) in south Louisiana. Mean catch-per-unit effort (CPUE) was highest from February-April, indicating that yellow bass used the UBE seasonally. Yellow bass abundance peaked as temperatures reached 18-22 C. Total length, weight, and gonadosomatic index (GSI) were measured from each whole fish collected (n = 1043). Age was estimated using sagittal otoliths and annulus formation was confirmed by marginal increment analysis. Although yellow bass ranged from age 1 to age 4, the population was dominated (95%) by age 2 fish.

Characterizing the habitat of large, navigable rivers is difficult, yet this information is critically important to the conservation of a variety of resident aquatic species. We used low-cost sonar habitat mapping to map benthic substrates throughout nearly 1000 km of four Coastal Plain rivers in Georgia and to quantify the distribution of rocky substrates that may serve as potential spawning habitat for two imperiled sturgeon species, the shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) and the Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus). Although we identified hard, rocky substrates in roughly half of the river km suggested by previous researchers as potential spawning zones, mapping revealed hard substrates in many other locations as well.

North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) manages approximately 6400 km of self-sustaining, wild trout streams, and recent trout angler opinion data indicated that most trout anglers fish these waters. Given the popularity of wild trout angling, increasing understanding of angler use of these resources would benefit NCWRC. However, gathering this information can be labor intensive and costly, and as a result, very little is known about angler usage of wild trout resources in North Carolina. Recent advances in digital camera and motion detection technology provide a potential low-cost alternative to typical manned-creel surveys. In an effort to obtain angler use information for wild trout resources in North Carolina, trail cameras were stationed along two wild trout streams with only one or two access points.

Diverse groups of anglers fish the variety of trout waters managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC), and in 2008 these trout anglers contributed approximately US$174 million to North Carolina's economy. Given the importance of these coldwater resources and their popularity with anglers, the NCWRC initiated a management planning process in 2010 that relied upon collaboration with trout anglers and resource management partners to revise its original Trout Management Plan adopted in 1989. Input meetings were held with staff representing multiple NCWRC divisions and other state, federal, and non-governmental resource management partners to review coldwater management topics. Five focus groups were held May-June 2010 prior to the revision of the Trout Management Plan to identify and discuss key issues and concerns related to North Carolina trout management and obtain detailed information about trout angler opinions.

We explored whether increased river flows negatively affected growth of largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in the lower Ouachita River, Arkansas. To test this hypothesis, largemouth bass (n = 460) were collected during 2008-2010 from the Felsenthal Reservoir region of the river. Largemouth bass were aged and annual growth increments were calculated using standard back-calculation techniques. Growth of largemouth bass was relatively rapid in the Ouachita River, with von Bertalanffy growth model parameters determined as L = 513 mm, K = 0.324, and tο = -0.314; catch-curve analysis estimated that total annual mortality of the population averaged 48% (95% CL 42%-54%). Back-calculated growth increments of largemouth bass were compared across years classified as "high-flow," "low-flow," and "average-flow" based on analysis of historical June-October hydrology (i.e., corresponding with the largemouth bass growing season).

Lake Monticello in southeastern Arkansas is a renowned destination for trophy-sized (≥3.63 kg) largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides; LMB). However, little analysis has been conducted on population characteristics of this population and the anglers fishing for them. Therefore, the size structure and potential harvest of the bass population was evaluated in the context of an existing 406-533 mm slot-length limit (SLL) and other potential SLLs. A total of 1023 LMB was collected using electrofishing during springs 2006-2007. Differences in growth were detected among gender with only one male aged above the slot. Modeling results suggested that alternative SLLs (457-559 mm or 483-559 mm) marginally increased the number of harvestable fish and number reaching trophy size while reducing the number dying within the slot. A 12-mo creel survey (n = 820 parties) revealed that 72% of anglers targeted bass, with most bass harvested (76%) below the slot.

The effects of fish-hook type on hooking location and post-release mortality of recreationally and commercially targeted fish species have been well studied. We examined how fisheries management agencies along the coastal United States had incorporated fish-hook data into fisheries regulations and how visible and accessible those regulations were to anglers. We reviewed state recreational hook regulations on natural resource agency websites of 23 states. To assess the accessibility of hook regulations to anglers, we conducted an online survey that was distributed by email to participants throughout the United States including fishing enthusiasts, fishing clubs, conservation organizations, state agency officials, and students and faculty in resources departments at multiple universities. Survey participants ranged from non-anglers to experienced recreational anglers.

We described and compared population dynamics of introduced flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) between the Satilla River, Georgia, and the Little Pee Dee River, South Carolina. Both of these Atlantic coastal plain rivers are blackwater, low productivity systems that historically supported popular redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus) fisheries. Flathead catfish have been established in the Little Pee Dee River since the late 1970s or early 1980s, whereas the species was introduced into the Satilla River in the mid 1990s. Both populations are managed differently by their respective state fisheries agencies with an intensive annual flathead catfish removal program on the Satilla River beginning in 1996 and a more recent, less intensive removal program on the Little Pee Dee River that began in 2011.

Anglers have become increasingly interested in pursuing trophy largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), but creating and maintaining such fisheries are often challenging. We used a low-density stocking of female-only largemouth bass in combination with forage species stocking and a catch-and-release regulation to create a trophy fishery in a 43-ha Georgia impoundment. Initial stocking of age-1 female largemouth bass occurred in spring 2005, and the population was dominated by fish ≥457 mm total length (TL) within four years. A total of 180 largemouth bass were collected in 2012; 34.4 % exceeded 3.6 kg and 8.8 % exceeded 4.5 kg. Both angling and electrofishing caught individuals ≥457 mm TL, but electrofishing collected a broader size range of bass including fish ≤237 mm TL. Size structure of largemouth bass was larger in angling than electrofishing samples in spring, but was similar between gears for bass > 457 mm TL.

Sub-adult channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) are stocked into community fishing lakes in Texas to provide anglers with the opportunity to catch fish close to home. Survival of these stocked fish is unknown, and this study was initiated to provide some information and guidance for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department channel catfish stocking program. This study was conducted on 20 lakes in Texas between 0.4 and 4.0 ha with 10 located in urban environments and the other 10 in rural locations. Lakes were stocked one time with adipose fin-clipped channel catfish and surveyed monthly with baited hoop nets for 6 months. Angler effort was estimated using game cameras. Urban angling effort was significantly higher than rural angling effort. Winter had the lowest angling effort in rural and urban lakes, and angling effort declined significantly two weeks following stocking in both types of lakes. Hoop-net catch rate was similar between urban and rural lakes.

Recreational flow releases were established within the Nantahala Bypass Reach through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing of Duke Energyâ??s Nantahala Project. In 2012-2013, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, in conjunction with other resource managers, attempted to monitor the influence of recreational flow events on wild rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and brown trout (Salmo trutta) populations within Nantahala Bypass Reach and Nantahala Tailwater. Monitoring included temperature loggers and fish population sampling. Temperature effects of release events were most pronounced during late summer and fall. Densities and standing crop estimates of wild trout > 100 mm TL did not vary substantially among the sample dates; however, rainbow trout ≤100 mm TL were not present during the last sample date at either site.

Lake Norman, North Carolina, has a popular fishery for largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), but in 2001, annual surveys by Duke Energy documented the unauthorized introduction of Alabama bass (M. henshalli). Concerns over the effects of this introduction on the existing largemouth bass fishery prompted this study, the objective of which was to use the existing standardized sampling program to document expansion of the Alabama bass population and describe changes in the population characteristics of largemouth bass in Lake Norman. Following Alabama bass introduction, the species quickly spread throughout the main channel of the reservoir, with a concomitant decline in largemouth bass abundance, although mean total length of largemouth bass increased.

Reservoir tailwaters can be an important resource for developing quality trout fisheries, especially when managed with special regulations. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a 508-mm minimum-length limit and a 1 fish day-1 creel limit on increasing abundance and size of the brown trout (Salmo trutta) in the Cumberland River below Lake Cumberland, Kentucky. Annual stockings of catchable-sized brown trout remained relatively stable throughout the study at approximately 31,000 fish (503 fish km-1). The purpose of the new regulations, which did not include gear or bait restrictions, was to increase the numbers of quality (381-507 mm total length [TL]) and trophy-size (≥508 mm TL) brown trout in the 121-km tailwater. A significant increase in brown trout electrofishing catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) was observed across years for small (< 381 mm TL), quality, trophy-size, and all sizes combined brown trout.

Practices within the Conservation Reserve Program promote planting native grasses and forbs to improve habitat for northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) and other wildlife. However, native grasses often become dense and stands can be invaded by undesirable plant species that reduce habitat quality. We investigated three herbicides (clethodim, glyphosate, and imazapyr) at two rates to reduce native-grass density and five herbicides (aminopyralid, fluroxypyr+triclopyr, glyphosate, metsulfuron-methyl, and triclopyr) at two rates to control sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata), a common nonnative invasive species. We applied herbicide to reduce native grass cover at four sites in Kentucky and Tennessee in 2013-2014. We applied herbicide to control sericea at three sites in Kentucky in 2012-2013. We recorded vegetation composition at the end of the first growing season (1GAT) after treatment and the beginning of the second growing season (2GAT) after treatment.

Little is known about the food habits of black bears (Ursus americanus) in Alabama. A major concern is the amount of human influence in the diet of these bears as human and bear populations continue to expand in a finite landscape and bear-human interactions are increasing. To better understand dietary habits of bears, 135 scats were collected during late August to late November 2011-2014. Food items were classified into the categories of fruit, nuts/seeds, insects, anthropogenic, animal hairs, fawn bones, and other. Plant items were classified down to the lowest possible taxon via visual and DNA analysis as this category composed the majority of scat volumes. Frequency of occurrence was calculated for each food item. The most commonly occurring foods included: Nyssa spp. (black gum, 25.2%), Poaceae family (grass, 24.5%), Quercus spp. (acorn, 22.4%), and Vitis spp. (muscadine grape, 8.4%).