Fishing fine despite drought

Published 5:43 pm Tuesday, April 15, 2008

By Staff
Commission encouraging anglers to renew, buy licenses
Staff Writer
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is encouraging anglers to renew their fishing licenses for spring, despite fears that drought conditions have spoiled prized fishing holes. The fishing, commission biologists claim, is fine.
Anglers fishing in public waters in the state are required by law to have a valid fishing license, which costs $15. Separate licenses are required for fishing in inland and coastal waters. In Beaufort County the boundary between inland and coastal waters is marked by the railroad trestle bridge across the Pamlico River south of Washington.
In the Coastal Region, the lower sections of many rivers were relatively unaffected by the drought, according to NCWRC. Recent rains have lifted the drought in most of coastal North Carolina, returning the salinity of the rivers there closer to normal levels.
Fishermen casting their lines in the Pamlico and Tar rivers in recent months found they didn’t need to drive all the way to the sound to catch species that typically don’t come as far upstream as Washington.
Low flow of fresh water downstream allowed the Pamlico Sound to backflow into the river, raising the salinity and pushing the salt wedge past the U.S. Highway 17 bridge. In December, the salt wedge — the area of the river between which salinity levels range from zero to 10 parts per thousand — neared Grimesland.
The saltier water brought fish species that inhabit the sounds. Chasing those fish came dolphin and pelicans.
Though the commission’s biologists report that fishing remains good, they are concerned about potential drought impacts on last year’s and this year’s spawning season, according to a statement from the commission. If the fish reproduction rate is negatively impacted by drought conditions, it could translate into poorer fishing a few years down the road, according to the statement.
But North Carolina fish populations are prolific and those stricken by natural events tend to recover quickly. Commission biologists have found that largemouth bass populations in coastal rivers rebounded nicely from massive oxygen-related fish kills caused by Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
Hurricane Isabel caused a massive fish kill in the Roanoke River, but thanks to a restocking initiative by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the river’s bass population has rebounded, according to Mitchell Blake, a fishing captain who is hosting a series of tournaments from Plymouth. Blake has scheduled a largemouth bass tournament — the second in a series of 12 — is scheduled for May 4.
Recent studies confirmed that stocked fry have matured and returned to spawning grounds in the headwaters of the Roanoke as far upstream as Virginia.
Anglers contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the agency’s Division of Inland Fisheries, whose funding comes, in part, from license sales and federal excise taxes on fishing gear, boating supplies and fuel.
North Carolina is one of 26 states partnering with the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation in a cooperative marketing campaign to increase participation in fishing and generate awareness of the connection between license sales and conservation efforts, according to NCWRC.