The Wild Side: A hot-seat job

Want a hot-seat job?

Become a state fisheries biologist, and you’ll find out.

After working with most of those folks in the Baton Rouge office for a quarter century, you know this is not an easy profession in state government.

Two items surfaced last week to more than illustrate this point.

False River has been in decline since about 50,000 acres were added to this oxbow lake’s watershed in the 1980s. That increased drainage brought tons of silt into the lake, which has been getting shallower and shallower in the intervening years.

Add into the mix the increase in property values — judge that by the palaces that have replaced what were fishing camps 40 years ago — and controlling flooding became the focal point for the Pointe Coupee Police Jury. A far-in-the-background concern was the health of the lake and the springtime flooding that enhanced the spawning production of gamefish species.

So this lake has suffered, and a handful of state fisheries biologists that warned about the demise of what was the state’s most productive gamefish lake largely went unheeded until about 10 years ago. That’s when an annual bountiful run on chinquapin (red-ear sunfish) collapsed to nothing and bass fishermen noted a dramatic decline in their catches. Sac-a-lait catches, so prolific during the winter months, fell off the charts.

The biologists’ plans to restore the lake’s fish-carrying capacity, thus its ability to attract fishing dollars, fell mostly on deaf ears. Only a growing number of concerned fishermen kept the move alive to the point where, during the past 90 days, lake restoration (if that’s possible) took its first major steps.

Then, take the Atchafalaya Spillway. I spent most of the month after Hurricane Andrew surveying and documenting state fisheries biologists work there. Then I spent the next two years reporting on plans to help this great overflow swamp recover from what was an under-reported tragedy of losing most of the spillway’s fish in the two weeks after Andrew.

It wasn’t pretty, not the sight of millions of dead fish, not the lingering dead-swamp smell, not the stories about how commercial fishermen lost their livelihoods, and how much fishing opportunities were lost for recreational anglers and the businesses they support.

When the state biologists came up with a solution to restore the spillway’s bass population, there came the 14-inch minimum size limit. In the first years since Andrew’s 1992 run through the center of our state, the move was praised because the recovery came quickly, but for the past 10 years, it’s been a hotly topic among the folks who want to take bass home for a fish fry. Yes, returning numbers of less than 14-inch bass to the water in a day’s trip frustrates most nontournament fishermen.

These two areas affect Capital City area fishermen. There are many others lakes and streams across the state. Yep, fisheries biologist is a hot-seat job.