Monday, September 28, 2015

Commercial Fishing of White Bass in South Dakota: More "Class" Rules and a Plea for Unleashing the State's Entrepreneurial Energies

I just emailed this public comment for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission's October meeting in Spearfish at the Holiday Inn Convention Center to be held this Thursday, 1 October at noon mountain time.

Dearest Commissioners,

White bass are a highly prized game fish everywhere, it seems, except South Dakota.

They are the state fish of Oklahoma and are so closely related to striped bass ("stripers"), the state fish of Maryland, Rhode Island, South Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and New Hampshire, that they can be successfully hybridized with them to create superfish called wipers. []

White bass and their various kin are voracious predators; feeding schools of them are among the most exciting environments in which one can fish in fresh water. I urge you watch this YouTube video of white bass "boiling" on Lake Mead [], where fishing guides like Adventure in Angling [] earn thousands guiding fishers to hotspots.

White bass also fight like the dickens. I have often had on line what I thought was a 2 lb. white bass only to pull out a 4 lb. walleye. Unlike walleye, white bass strike with force and will often jump. Even throwbacks fight hard.

Despite a myth to the contrary, white bass are excellent table fare when properly prepared by avoiding the lateral line or mud line. This guy knows what he is doing []. These stuck up walleye fishers also have a clue: [] though I have found that nothing but salt, pepper, and butter are needed. The owner of M&W bait shop in Sioux Falls once told me that she silently served white bass (and drum) to some friends and they found it the best "walleye" they had ever eaten!

Most importantly, though, white bass can be caught with regularity from shore throughout the temperate part of the year. (I don't ice fish so I don't know if they hit hard in the winter.) I stress from shore and with regularity because they are in many ways a poor man's fish. No boat required, just a pole, a simple hook, and $2 worth of minnows and a guy can limit out in two hours any evening in the summer. And, thanks to the generous limit, a successful white bass outing can feed a family (well) for several days while walleye fishers get skunked completely or have to scrape together a meal out of four "smalleye."

This brings me to a bigger issue: "class" rules. I use this term with trepidation because by "class" I do not mean just socioeconomic class (rich, poor, or in between) but also class of outdoors folk. Some of us do not have the money or time or frankly patience to buy, maintain, pull out of storage, launch, etc. an 18 foot Lund with a fish finder, a live well, etc., etc. Some of us just want to run out to East Vermillion or Thompson or Poinsett on a whim on a long summer evening and catch some fish. We don't know where the precious walleye are biting or what color jig is hot this week. If this "class" of fisher catches a decent walleye while out fishing (for whatever bites), yeah, it'll go on the stringer. But we are just as happy with some perch or crappie or, yes, white bass. And this class is not happy that if he is with a buddy and one of them catches fish over his limit, he can't legally share with his buddy because they happen to be standing on shore instead of lounging in a boat (one typically laden with high tech equipment ... how fair is that? For the fish I mean).

Some other "class" rules on SD's books include the 5-day limitation on ground blinds on public land. Why is it okay for a guy to put up a tree stand and leave it in the same spot the entire season but another guy, too old, fat, afraid, or poor to use a tree stand, can't? When I called GFP to inquire about this, I was told that the ground blind seems to "claim" an area more than a tree stand does. I'd like to see some empirical research on that (and I know there isn't any because the officer I spoke to admitted there was not clear policy on tripods because no one had ever asked), and if it is in fact the case, then why not make clear to everybody that blinds, stands, tripods etc. do not given preference to the owner, only a vehicle in the appropriate parking space does?

Half of all states allow the use of crossbows during whitetail deer archery season (24 w/o restriction, 1 on private land only): Why is SD one of the half that does not allow them? Again, it appears that there is a class bias to the decision because bows are generally more expensive than crossbows in terms of initial purchase and subsequent kit (arrows, sights, etc., etc.) but especially in terms of practice time to become proficient. Some of us simply do not have the time to shoot 100+ arrows per week for weeks on end while others, city dwellers, cannot practice in their backyards (rightly so) or afford to give $7.50 per day to use the ranges at Archery Outfitters. So why not allow archers to use crossbows, if only for part of the full archery season? Crossbows would draw more females and kids into the sport. Or is that why it is illegal (except in firearms season, which really isn't all that useful)?

SD GFP's policies also seem to discriminate against hunting lessees. Special buck tags are not made available to them (unless they are also ag. lessees, which in this day and age is rare) so they have to take the risk of the draw as most such leases are concluded in the spring/summer and not after GFP's September lotteries. This raises yet another issue: why is it in most states, hunters are guaranteed a shotgun/rifle buck tag but have to enter a lottery for antlerless tags while in SD the antlerless are doled out liberally and the lottery is for bucks? Only landowners get buck tags with regularity. Again, whatever the rationale for the system was/is, it reeks of "class" legislation, in this case rural vs. urban.

Finally, hunting lessees on annual leases (as most seem to be) can't invest in the sorts of technologies that allow people to hunt all day in the state's harsh climate (e.g. the wooden "condos" that dot the landscape) because they are too costly to put up for only one season. But hunting lessees could invest with confidence, if allowed by law, in moveable elevated blinds. By the current regulations, a moveable elevated blind would have to have the wheels removed or be detachable from the vehicle. The types of vehicles used in Texas are illegal (for deer) even if the engine is off and the operator is not in the cab. (See for several of many examples.) Why? It can still be illegal to drive on public land, to shoot at deer out of a cab, or out of a moving vehicle while allowing people to drive to a spot, hunt it, and drive away when the day is done.

I think by liberalizing these rules (and there are probably many others I have yet to discover) you could INCREASE hunting and fishing tourism into the state and get more residents interested in hunting and fishing and hence buying licenses and paying sales taxes on kit, etc. Instead of commercializing the white bass harvest, GFP should encourage more outfitters to offer white bass/fishing packages, maybe combined with doves (the season for which seems to start too late, btw) or geese. You wouldn't think about allowing the commercial harvest of walleyes or pheasants, right? So use the same techniques that generate revenue to the state from those sources to build up the markets for white bass, archery, hunting leases, etc. That boils down to being more INCLUSIVE rather than EXCLUSIVE, without, of course, endangering the reproductive success of the underlying resource.

For example, instead of allowing Asian and European carp to collect in their masses at the Vermillion spillway (where I saw people catching and RELEASING them over the summer), sponsor a bow fishing contest where the deceased carp are mulched for fertilizer instead of becoming a burden on the archer/fisher (or a stinky mess when illegally left on the bank). You could run the contest yourself and keep the profits or license it to entrepreneurs for a fixed fee. I've written a book called Little Business on the Prairie [] that shows how entrepreneurial South Dakotans can be when allowed to innovate. Free them up, as you did decades ago for the pheasant industry, and the state soon will be known for more than roosters, bison, and snobby walleye-or-nothing fishers.

-- Robert E. Wright, Sioux Falls, SD

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