GETTING appointed to the AGFC Commission, seems like a decent gig, not too demanding, getting treated with deference among your fellow sportsman, and probably some pretty decent opportunities on the pick of Arkansas Outdoors. But occassionally you have to earn your keep by making hard decisions which actually require some thought.
Yesterday the Commissioners took the gutless way out on the Norfork Tailwater catch and release zone. They walked away from Commission’s own scientific advice, they walked away from the Commission’s own advisory committee recommendations.
The Commissioners had the opportunity to take a stand for a quality fishing experience in Arkansas, to stand up for a trophy fishery which is in decline. The sad fact is Norfork has gone from one of the finest trophy fisheries in the country to being just a good river fishery.
The AGFC PR branch didn’t even have the stomach to put out a proper press release on the matter, instead they tucked their decision on the bottom of a release on Turkey Hunting. Here is what the AGFC said:
Two proposals on lengthening the catch-and-release area on the Norfork Tailwater were presented to the commission. The first option lengthened the catch-and-release area from 1 mile to 2.6 miles. The second option lengthened the area from 1 mile to 2 miles.
In a 4-2 vote, the Commission voted in favor of the second option. The new regulation also allows the use of artificial lures with barbless treble hooks in special regulation areas on the Bull Shoals and Norfork tailwaters.
It also removed Sylamore catch-and-release area on the Bull Shoals Tailwater. Commissioners Emon Mahony, Ron Pierce, Rick Watkins and commission vice chairman Craig Campbell voted in favor of second option. Commissioners George Dunklin and Ron Duncan voted against the second option. Commission Chairman Brett Morgan did not vote.
A little background the proposal to extend the Norfork C+R area was recommended by the AGFC fisheries biologists, as their science shows short C+R zones like Norfork and Rim aren’t terribly effective in protecting trout, and allowing them to grow. Remember C + R zones aren’t put in for fly fishers, but to give the river a chance to produce some quality fish.
Norfork is not the river it was when I first moved to Arkansas just 7 years when 20″ trout were almost a regular feature if you knew what you were doing. Norfork was remarkable, among the finest trophy rivers in the entire US, and a reason to visit Arkansas. It’s short length faces tremendous fishing pressure, it suffered the sediment laden runoff from the Overlook Estate development, then last year’s scouring from the flood gate release, and a lengthy and chronic low dissolved oxygen event late last year. Toss in the fact it is seriously overstocked, to cater to the catch and keep crowds, and you can understand why the good fish are harder to find. Growth rates have diminished seriously.
The Norfork and White River advisory committee took the Commission staff proposal and kicked it around finally agreeing to a compromise of an extension of the C+R zone to 2.7 miles. There were a number who wanted the whole river made C + R, including AGFC fisheries biologist Jeff Williams. But as Jeff told the Journal earlier this year getting that proposal through seemed a little ambitious.
In May a public meeting to discuss the proposal new regulations didn’t hear any opposition. No that was saved for a furious round of backroom lobbying by a couple of resort owners on the lower end of the Norfork Tailwater. They wanted the lower sections of the proposed C+R zone to fish their clients when the Buffalo was running muddy, the basic line was they had nowhere else to fish.
Well it’s a simple fact of life that when you are making your living off an outdoor past-time, all of us have to take the good and the bad from Mother Nature. Ask Gary Flippin at Rim Shoals, who regularly gets dirty water from upstream, as part of his location, or the resorts downstream from Crooked Creek. Its part and parcel of the location you choose. And under the proposal their clients still would have been able to fish, just under C + R regulations.
The Commissioners on the other hand are charged with acting in the best interests of the fishery. None of us pay directly for using the resources provided by the rivers and the fish from Norfork Fish Hatchery. The Commissioner get to decide what sort of fishery we have. And on Norfork the test is between a trophy fishery of a national standard or a meat fishery with bunches of flabby, hormone ridden stockers for the tourist’s frying pans. It’s very hard to manage both. The White and Norfork managed to do both for years, fortuitously, but increasing fishing pressure, water quality and stocking numbers are starting to break down the rivers’ resilience to abuse.
But you would think in 2009 where the catch and release ethic in both trout and largemouth bass is now so well established, that there would be little resistance to change. But the “antis” portrayed this as a battle between regular folks who just want to catch a few fish to eat and a bunch of snobby fly fishers who want the water all to themselves.
In reality its an argument between those who want the challenge of larger fish and those who really only care about full stringers, no matter the size. Its size or numbers, and the numbers won.
The benefits of better fish management and catch and release have been seen on the trout rivers out west and up north, throughout the bass lakes and ponds of the south, and even the redfish salt marshes of the Gulf Coast. And despite the bleatings of the Norfork and Salesville city councils, there is ample evidence that C+R zones, slot limits and other “restrictions” on the meat hunters, will generate greater financial wealth for the community.
The Commissioners could have taken a stand and said we want to resurrect the trophy fishery we used to have on the Norfork. Instead they tried to take the easy way out and settled for mediocrity.
And in trying to keep themselves out of trouble they have created more problems by effectively telling their own fisheries management staff that they know better than the science and that they don’t really care what the White and Norfork Advisory Committee decides for the future of the rivers.
POSTSCRIPT: Unfortunately, due to their personal tone and inability tol address the issue I was forced to remove a number of comments. The journalist in me doesn’t agree with that sort of censorship but we don’t have to provide a forum for those types of comments. Personal attacks can go elsewhere. But if you want to debate why Norfork shouldn’t become a trophy fishery feel free.
However I will add several posters took the view that this commentary was against taking trout to eat. I have no problem with that within the legal framework. The issue is continuing to manage Norfork with that as a primary goal will continue to erode its value as a trophy fishery. I could cite Beaver as an example. However managing Norfork as a trophy fishery via C+R zones or slot limits and getting the stocking numbers right can still allow some harvest.