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Feds, Arizona work out cooperative effort to again plant trout at Willow Beach

By JIM MATTHEWS The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department announced they would be working cooperatively this coming fall-winter to again plant rainbow trout in the Willow Beach and Laughlin-Bullhead City stretches of the Colorado River. The federal agency that operates the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery announced in December it was permanently suspending all plants of rainbow trout in the Colorado River in December when failures in the hatchery caused by lack of maintenance led to the death of over 60,000 rainbow trout in two incidents last fall. This fish loss led to truncated plants last year and the announcement that the feds would no longer plant trout in the Colorado River, even though that was the sole intended purpose of the fish hatchery. The hatchery has been repurposed to raise endangered fish native to the Colorado River. Bowing to pressure from the local and state politicians, the USFWS has made an about-face and partnered with the Arizona game department to provide a short-term solution to the problem for this coming fall. The hatchery will be raising 21,000 rainbow provided by the state agency to be planted as 11-inch trout into the tailwaters below Davis Dam this fall. In the past, 4,000 trout per month were planted from October through March in the Bullhead-Laughlin section of the Colorado River. No provisions to plant trout in the Willow Beach stretch of the river were announced by the two agencies. This part of the river was planted with 2,000 trout per week year-around, or over 100,000 fish per year. There were also apparently no improvements made to the Willow Beach hatchery that assures another fish die-off like those that occurred last year won’t claim the 21,000 trout Arizona will provide as six to eight-inch trout and that the feds will rear and stock once they read 11 to 12 inches. In its press release announcing the news, the federal agency staff said all the usual glowing things about working with Arizona’s Mohave County and Bullhead City politicians who howled to Washington D.C. (though Senator John McCain’s office) about the elimination of the trout plants, but the reality is that no real solutions to the long-term problem were announced and the number of trout to be planted this fall is a pittance of what has been planted in the past. Local anglers and government agencies who recognize the importance of the trout fishing on the Colorado River need to continue to hammer on state and federal legislators to find a permanent solution to this problem and assure the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery is restored as a trout hatchery and needed improvements are made to the infrastructure and staffing. Federal legislators can assure those improvements are made by demanding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service make that a high priority in their budget allocations this year. According to a 2005 study by the USFWS, the 150,000 trout planted each year in Colorado River generated nearly a half-million dollars in direct economic output. The taxes generated by this economic boost more than paid for the trout planting program each year. It’s one of the few expenditures made by the federal government that pays for itself, so repairing the hatchery is a good investment. Should there be a slot limit on bluegill and redear? The good bite on trophy-class bluegill and redear at Lake Skinner (and other SoCal waters) brought up an interesting question about if we should have a 25-fish limit on panfish of that size – fish that weigh from one to two pounds and more. Chris Salmon and Johnny Unn, who run the Slab Jiggies company in Lake Elsinore, have been saying that perhaps we’d be helping the resource if protect the bigger, spawning bluegill and redear with a five fish limit. Salmon caught a 2.6-pound bluegill a little over a week ago, and photos of this fish on Facebook and other places stimulated the conversation. “These ‘gills need to be regulated down to five per person at Skinner to assure they stay big,” wrote Unn in one of the on-line conversations. I’m sure most biologists would scoff at the idea that you could over fish critters as prolific as bluegill and redear. In fact, they would tell you overpopulation is a bigger problem than overharvest. But this isn’t about the population as a whole, it is about managing the population so there are fewer, smaller fish but more bigger fish. I suggested maybe a slot limit, where anglers can still take 25 bluegill or redear per day, but only five of those fish can weigh more than one-pound. And the regulation might only be applied to waters with bigger bluegill and redear. This is just an opening to the discussion. You can join the conversation at my Outdoor News Service’s Facebook page. Michel and Associates at Shooting Sports Fair Michel and Associates, the preeminent law firm specializing in gun and hunting rights for Southern California gun owners and sportsmen, has announced this week its staff will be giving daily seminars at this year’s Raahauge’s Shooting Sports Fair May 30-June 1. The hands-on gun show – where you can see and shoot all the guns on display – has become a must-attend event for shooters over the past two decades. Held in Prado Basin at Mike Raahauge Shooting Enterprises ranges, the event attracts over 10,000 gun owners and hunters each year. The daily seminars Michel and Associates did last year were packed. This year, Joselph Silvoso will be speaking opening Friday of the event on general gun laws. On Saturday, Clinton Monfort will speak specifically about Second Amendment litigation, while on Sunday Sea Brady will cover Second Amendment Litigation and general firearms law. All three attorneys will also answer questions at the end of their presentations each day. For more information about this year’s Shooting Sports Fair, contact Raahauge’s at 951-735-7981 or go to END

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