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Old 04-08-2006, 02:10 AM
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Default Alabama Shad Project / Apalachicola River

Officials working to increase shad population in Apalachicola River
By Rick Farren

Life can be a little difficult for anadromous fish species residing in the Apalachicola River. Like salmon, anadromous fish such as Alabama shad and striped bass typically make long spawning runs up the Apalachicola River every spring. The river currents then serve to help aerate and incubate their eggs long enough for them to hatch.
The problem on the Apalachicola is the Jim Woodruff Dam, which blocks these and other species from accessing much of their native spawning grounds. Some fish, almost by accident, pass through the dam's locks when opened for boat passage, and some have been known to get past the dam during wet years when the water is flowing over the top of the dam, but never in the numbers needed to maintain healthy populations.
An ongoing cooperative project that involves the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is working on a plan to guide more fish through the dam.
The basic concept of the ?Alabama Shad Project? is to lure fish into the open lock from the lower side, close the doors, raise the water, then lure them out through the upper doors. It's an approach that's proven successful in river systems along the east coast of the United States for species such as American Shad.
Alabama shad are being targeted for the project because the Apalachicola River contains the last big population of this important forage species along the entire Gulf coast. The species was once plentiful from the Suwannee River to the Mississippi River.
Led by Dr. Jeff Isely, a professor at Clemson University and the assistant unit leader of the South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, the idea is to create an ?attractor flow? that the fish will follow into the lock, and another flow above the lock that they'll follow out the other end and into Lake Seminole when the doors are opened. From there the spawning fish can choose to continue upstream in either the Flint or Chattahoochee Rivers.
?Last year we evaluated fish passage without the flow,? said Isely, who worked with the Army Corp of Engineers, which operates the dam.
The corps opened and closed the locks a couple of extra times daily during spawning season to see how many fish will actually pass through if the locks are operated more frequently than just for boat passage.
?Roughly 50 percent of the Alabama shad that make it to the dam will go into the lock,? Isely said. ?And about 50 percent that make it into the lock will exit out the other side.?
This spring the corps installed the two attractors, which are little more than 3-inch PVC pipes, that deliver enough water to create a small flow. The fish are drawn both by the flowing water and the sound of the splashing of the water pouring out of the pipe and onto the surface.
As part of the project, shad have been implanted with acoustic tags that send out sonic signals. Hydrophones mounted on the dam pick up the signals to help determine how many fish pass through the locks, said FWC fisheries biologist Rick Long.
?We believe that if these fish can access parts of the ACF (Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint) river system above the dam there will be increased survival,? said Long. He added that ?striped bass will also be able to access thermal refuges in the summer that can't be found in the Apalachicola River below the dam.?
The Gulf race of striped bass, which are found in rivers along the Florida Panhandle, exist at the edge of their habitat, Long said. To survive the hot summer months they need to access cold-water refuges such as springs, most of which are found above the Jim Woodruff dam. The lack of available refuges has kept the river's striper population from reaching higher numbers despite ongoing, cooperative stocking programs by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the FWC.
Biologists will spend the next few weeks watching and tracking fish to determine the effectiveness of the attractor flows.
If you catch a tagged fish you can report it by calling the number on the tag or the FWC Midway office at 410-0810. Anglers returning a striper or shad tag receive a letter detailing the history of that fish and a shad or striper conservation hat. If you catch a shad with a radio transmitter, which is about the size of a Tylenol capsule, you can pick up $50 for returning it undamaged.
Large striper caught in Apalachicola River

Travis Sanford caught this near-record 42-pound striper in the Apalachicola River.
A Tallahassee angler flirted with a state record for striped bass last month but in the end came up a bit short. Fishing in the Apalachicola River below the Jim Woodruff Dam, Travis Sanford used a Crocodile Spoon to hook and land a 42-pound striped bass. It was 1/4 -pound shy of the record.
The state record, a 42 1/4 -pounder, was caught by Alphonso Barnes in December 1993 in the same section of the Apalachicola.
Originally published April 7, 2006
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