The drought: Is there a good side?

August 19th, 2010

by Joyce Deaton

For most Piedmont lake dwellers, this year’s drought seems the worst ever. Docks sit high and dry over baked earth, their boats long since hauled away to storage. With many public access ramps closed, some of those boats likely will remain earthbound until substantial rain comes.

Marinas struggle as the water under their slips becomes increasingly shallow. The lucky boat owners have removed their boats to backyards or boat yards. The unlucky ones will have to look at their stranded craft until the water is deep enough to move them. On Lake Wylie, some marinas are suffering structural damage because of the shrinking lake.

At the same time, the drought has delivered serious ecological and economical blows. Fragile underwater and shoreline habitat has been destroyed, and many animals and plants living there have died. In some areas people have decided to drive their SUVs or ATVs along the dry edges of the lake, further destroying habitat and permanently damaging the lake. Fish who lived in the shallows at the lake’s edge find their habitats exposed on dry land. As a result they have been forced to move into the deeper waters of the lake where they are more vulnerable to predators.

“We are now on target for this to become the drought of record,” says Ryan Boyles, state climatologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. By some measurements this year’s drought is not as damaging as those of 1925 and 2002, but by other measures it’s worse. “By this time of year in 2002, we were going into a wet winter, while today we’re facing a dry fall and winter,” he explains.

Nevertheless, droughts are cyclical occurrences, and “this one eventually will go away,” says Boyles. “It may not all happen this winter, but sooner or later it will be over. There’s nothing in our data to suggest a fundamental shift. North Carolina will continue to be a humid Southeastern state.”

Thinking Positively

If there is a positive side to the drought, it’s this, says Bill Dellinger, owner of B.D. Professional Marine Construction: The drought offers an excellent time to take care of dock and pier repairs and shoreline maintenance.

“I can see what needs to be done any time, but when the water’s down, the homeowner can see it, too,” he explains. Dellinger says the drought has doubled his usual volume of business as customers see for themselves that their waterfront or pier needs repair. “It’s easier for them to see what’s needed and to evaluate the job and be sure it’s done right, “ he says.

What You Can Do

Here’s how you can make the most of drought conditions and care for your part of the lake:

• Check your pier and dock for signs of needed repair. Stand underneath the pier and look for loose bolts or cross-members. Pay special attention to the spot where the gangway ramp bolts to the pier. If the lumber is light gray or pilings are dark brown and 4 inches in diameter instead of the newer 6-to-8 inch pilings, it may be time to rebuild. Walk across your pier and make sure it doesn’t shake. It should remain steady under the weight of two or three people. Check around the bottom of pilings for exposed concrete that indicates you should replace the piling or anchor it with a heavier concrete footing.

• If everything looks shipshape, use the dry weather to pressure wash and re-stain your pier and dock. You’ll eliminate runoff of toxic chemicals into the water. For best protection from the sun, use a dark solid stain.

• Stand on the shore and look over your seawall or riprap. Do you see erosion at its base? The seawall or riprap should cover the area completely. No dirt should be visible. Add riprap or rebuild the seawall if necessary.

• Do not drive on newly exposed land that used to be underwater.

• Take a break from fishing, get together with your fishing buddies and reconstruct fishing habitat structures that have gone high and dry. It will be more helpful for the fish – and safer for humans – if you build in undeveloped areas. For more information contact the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission at www.ncwildlife.org or the S.C. Department of Natural Resources at www.dnr.sc.gov.

NOAA to Establish Eight Federal Marine Protected Areas in the South Atlantic

August 19th, 2010

NOAA to Establish Eight Federal Marine Protected Areas in the South Atlantic

Sportfishing community lauds this contrast to fisheries management by proclamation

Industry and fishery conservation groups learned today that the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is preparing to announce the final rule creating eight marine protected areas (MPAs) off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Known as Amendment 14, the rule is a change to the federal South Atlantic Region’s Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the snapper/grouper fishery. This ruling does not affect coastal waters under state jurisdiction.

Although the amendment will establish eight MPAs for the snapper/grouper fishery, the ruling itself does not ban sportfishing altogether, bottom fishing in the designated areas is prohibited. Trolling over the top is a permitted activity. The ruling was prepared and submitted by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council only after an extensive science-driven and transparent public process. The sportfishing community contributed to the decision making process over several years of deliberation and fact finding.

The MPAs are intended to protect a portion of the habitat of long-lived, slow-growing deepwater snapper and grouper from current fishing pressure within the proposed MPAs, while at the same time seeking to minimize the adverse social and economic effects on the sportfishing industry, recreational anglers and the coastal communities that benefit from marine fishing. There is also a provision in the rule that allows for review and lifting of the restrictions if the data indicates that the fisheries goals have been met.

“Do we like restrictions on recreational fishing? Of course not: however, this was a deliberative and public process where all the known facts were laid on the table. In this case, the facts said that restricting access to the snapper/grouper fishery in certain designated areas was in the best interests of the fisheries and the communities and industries that depend on them and we support that,” said American Sportfishing Association President and CEO Mike Nussman. “For decades, the sportfishing industry and anglers themselves have supported efforts to improve our nation’s fisheries. These MPAs were created using a public process, driven by sound science, which took into account the economic and social impacts their creation will have in South Atlantic.”

“This is the way MPAs should be established,” said Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “This process brings together federal and state agencies, along with industry, academia and other groups in a process that balances the economic, social and recreational uses of the area under consideration with the needs of the fisheries and their supporting habitats. The regional fishery councils study, consider and propose changes to the FMPs using a governance system that will closely monitor and appropriately adjust any established areas over time.”

The South Atlantic MPAs range from 50 to 500 nautical square miles in size and range from nine to 30 nautical miles offshore. The sites were chosen on the basis of maximizing the biological benefits while minimizing the adverse social and economic effects.

“Sportsmen and women are the backbone of conservation in this country. For over a hundred years, anglers and hunters have adhered to seasons, bag limits and other management measures designed to sustain and improve our fish and wildlife resources,” said ASA Vice President Gordon Robertson. “We are encouraged that President-elect Obama recognizes this as reflected in remarks he’s made on the campaign trail and in recent interviews supporting public access to public lands and waters.”

“The thoughtful, thorough and transparent process leading up to this final rule is the collaborative way to reach the best decisions regarding our environment. Using other means, such as proclamations, subvert what should be an open process and don’t achieve a result that is in the best public interest for our public resources,” Robertson concluded.

Elephants Eat Peanuts

August 17th, 2010

Team Ocean Isle Fishing Center Smashes Records at SKA® Championships

The Southern Kingfish Association is the most successful tournament fishing trail in saltwater. It has been for almost two decades with about 60 sanctioned events each year from North Carolina to Texas. Only top tier competitors qualify to fish the SKA® Yamaha Professional Kingfish Series and Team Ocean Isle Fishing Center, comprised of North Carolinians Rube, Brant and Barrett McMullan, have been competing at the pro level for over ten years from a progression of Yamaha-powered boats including the 32’ Yellowfin® they campaigned in 2009.

After a year of competition in the SKA’s® 12 regional divisions and the special pro tournaments the highest placing teams are invited to fish the SKA® National Championships, which were held recently in Biloxi, Mississippi. The Northeastern Gulf of Mexico is home to concentrations of king mackerel that is unprecedented, which makes the competition that much more difficult. Just winning the championship is a feat unto itself, but this year the McMullan’s accomplished the equivalent of winning the World Series, the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup all rolled into one—they caught the largest kingfish ever weighed in 19 years of SKA® tournament competition. That includes over 1,000 tournaments each with hundreds of boats competing for a total of hundreds of thousands of fishing hours all aimed at catching the biggest kingfish possible! But not only did they catch the biggest kingfish, they posted the heaviest two fish combined weight in tournament history to literally leave the other 223 teams entered in the event in the dust. They also beat the prior Mississippi state record king mackerel by ten pounds!

It all took place on the first day of the tournament in an area of oil platforms called the Horseshoe about 85 miles southeast of Biloxi. “The bite was unbelievable,” said Brant McMullan. “The twin F350’s got us to our spot fast, one of the first boats there. The first bait in the water got eaten immediately and so did every bait we tossed in after it! We were fighting fish constantly while kings were jumping out of the water all around us.”

But the McMullan’s weren’t alone and as the morning progressed more competitors kept arriving in the wide area between the rigs. By mid morning there were probably a hundred boats, all hooked up most of the time. Light tackle guide and kingfish pro tour competitor and captain of the Yamaha-powered 33 Contender® Snake Dancer, George Mitchell, said, “It was the most incredible bite I’ve ever experienced!”

“We were catching a lot of fish,” Barrett noted, “and we had one about 44 pounds in the fish bag, but we needed a much bigger fish if we were going to make it on the leader board. This is the SKA® Nationals in Biloxi and last year there were over a dozen fish in the 50 pound class brought to the scales so we made a very difficult decision, to leave the bite to find a bigger fish!”

“We cranked up and left the area, but didn’t get far when we saw birds diving on bait,” Brant continued the story. “We ran over to check it out and found a school of menhaden balled up on the surface being attacked by predators from below. The pogies were circling so fast it looked like a whirlpool when Barrett threw the castnet to catch some for bait.”

Menhaden are small baitfish compared with the larger blue runners they had been using earlier, about the size of the palm of your hand, but as they would find out they were big enough to attract the attention of a monster kingfish lurking below the mêlée. Barrett’s pogy got slammed by a fish that almost stripped all the line off his reel on the first run. “It fought so deep and hard that we never saw it until the very end of the fight when it popped up alongside the boat and Brant gaffed it,” Barrett concluded. “The fish fought so hard it must have had a heart attack, which was probably a good thing because if we had seen it during the fight we probably would have been the ones to have the heart attack.”

The fish was caught late in the afternoon and the run back to Biloxi and to the scales was going to be close, but the F350’s pushed the big Yellowfin® center console to full speed and never missed a beat, getting to the weigh-in with minutes to spare. “We were never worried about our engines getting us back,” said Brant. “We’ve fished Yamaha outboards exclusively on our personal, charter and tournament boats for years and they are the best on the water. We currently own 6 F350’s, 6 F250’s, 2 F225’s and 2 F150’s and that’s the best endorsement you can give.”

The fish hit the scale at 74.10 pounds, which combined with their second fish gave them a two fish aggregate weight of 118.13 pounds, both new records for SKA® competition. “When you look at the tiny bait the big fish inhaled I guess the old adage is true,” said Brant. “Elephants do eat peanuts!”

The McMullan’s are a humble bunch who run the Ocean Isle Fishing Center (www.oifc.com) in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina consisting of a beautiful store, docks, restaurant and five Yamaha-powered charter boats capable of offering fishing adventures for everything from backwater trout and redfish to Gulf Stream fishing for marlin and tuna. The facility hosts five fishing tournaments including two SKA® events each year.