Re: NANFA-- Why it's tougher out west...

Dave Neely (
Sat, 18 Sep 1999 10:57:32 CDT

>...The question was, why are the
>western states so much more restrictive? Eastern states have
>plenty of exotics too. I decided that in the west, GAME fishes are
>threatened by exotics. Y'know, "salmon this, salmon that..." This
>is not the case in the east, where the mighty largemouth bass
>rules the waterways (plus, he's something of an exotic pest
>himself!). What do you guys think?

This seems like three separate issues, as Jay alluded to. I've applied for
collecting permits in about 40 states, and some Western states (Idaho,
Oregon) jumped over backwards to give me a permit when I told them what I
hoped to accomplish with my research. Others, like California and Wyoming,
weren't so cooperative. The most difficult state has been Virginia; from
what I understand, due entirely to one unmotivated government employee (who
I'm told bears an uncanny resemblence to Darth Vader).

As for exotics, Florida is at the top of the list- no Western state can even
compare. It seems like there's a lot out West because of the perception
that they have a depauparate native fish fauna. I've addressed the lack of
funding for basic non-game research out West in previous posts. That some of
these states can get away with poisoning lakes to get rid of native tui
chubs, and then turning around and supporting fisheries for introduced brook
char and walleye and largemouth bass is absurd.

It depends on where you live, but largemouth bass are native to much of the
Eastern US. However, most historical records suggest that they were
originally much less widespread, restricted to low-gradient areas on the
Coastal Plain, oxbow lakes and backwaters of large rivers, shallow natural
lakes of the upper Midwest, and the Great Lakes. Spotted bass and
smallmouths predominated in upland areas. With the construction of millions
of farm ponds and larger impoundments in these upland areas, and subsequent
introductions of largemouths in most of them, the balance shifted.

Think back and wonder... what would these rivers have looked like 200 years
ago... The Black Warrior River (now a series of impoundments) runs through
Tuscaloosa half a mile from where I sit. Tuscaloosa was the head of
navigation; a huge shoal stretched across the river here, and was covered in
Cahaba lilies (now Endangered). There's a photo in the UA administration
building of University Shoal before they built the locks and dams. Gulf and
Alabama sturgeon, Alabama shad, and many other (now-rare) fishes were
abundant (they supported commercial fisheries!). 30 or 40 species of mussels
occurred here- most gone. Dozens of weird and beautifully sculptured aquatic
snails occurred here- all gone. Now it's a deep navigational channel that
reeks of motor oil and human sewage. I can hear the barge traffic from my
bed at night...

I collected a trib to the Tennessee River in North Alabama last week. It's
in a stretch right above the area inundated by Pickwick Reservoir, and it
was amazing. I haven't seen gravel bars like this in a long time, maybe
since my last trip up to the Duck or Clinch rivers... mussels were
everywhere, and we got about 40 species of fish. What was Mussel Shoals (at
Florence, AL) like before the 1940s? Now it's also covered by Pickwick
Reservoir. The river at this point was 1/2 mile wide, shallow, and LOADED
with a diverse fish, mussel (70+ spp), and snail fauna. What did we gain
from screwing it up? Another place to waterski...

Everywhere you look the same story holds. You can count on one hand the
number of really exceptional rivers left in the East. If you haven't been,
you need to go. They will instill in you awe, wonder, and a profound sense
of loss. Don't harass the mussels-most are endangered-maybe just snorkel.
Take some frozen brine shrimp to feed the darters. Drive to the Clinch at
Kyles Ford or Sneads Ferry. Visit the Big South Fork of the Cumberland. Run
on over to the Duck River. Hop in the Buffalo River over in Arkansas (The
North Fork of the White isn't bad, either). Visit the Paint Rock (don't
harass the palezone shiners!). Sit on a riffle, listen to the river, and
think about touching a piece of what this country was like before we decided
that it was <ours> to abuse for our personal gain, rather than our

Anybody that wonders why some of us get really riled up when folks call
reservoirs "lakes," or suggest introducing exotics, or gripe about
endangered species can go jump in a reservoir. May a jet ski run you over.


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