Saturday, June 5, 2010

PFBC Susquehanna River Smallmouth Bass Public Meeting

Hey Folks,

Just returned from the second of three meetings being held by our PFBC on the situation surrounding the smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River.

I have seen progress happening from the first of these meetings to the one I attended today. At the first meeting, folks demanded regulation changes immediately, and of course, the PFBC did not respond to those demands. They needed more scientific data in order to make informed decisions.

Several meetings after that initial one had the PFBC explaining their plans for studies and later, the collected data and biologists' reports on the West, North, Main, and Lower stems of the river.

One of the major issues back then was that we had very little data to pull from. We are in a much better position now with data collection than we were in 2005.

This meeting started off with a welcoming and description of the meeting's overall purpose... to gather information from those anglers present. The agenda was presented and the process in which the meeting would unfold was reviewed. There was a group facilitator from the "Office of Strategic Services" present (Franca D'Agostino). Franca designed the format in which these meetings would run and developed ground rules for our expected behavior during the small discussion groups.

Once we got up to speed on what the PFBC was doing and the purpose of the meeting. They open it up for any questions regarding the meeting in general.

We then moved into small groups which were determined by the color code on our name tags. For example, some cards had blue, red, and green dots. Whichever dot you had on the your tag was the group you were suppose to participate in.

At each table, there was an easel with large a writing pad and markers in order to record the information collected within that particular group. Each group member had a list of seven questions on a piece of paper located at their seat. The questions ranged from our opinions regarding the state of the river to what three things we thought the PFBC could do to help the Susquehanna River smallmouth population. Like the wide range of questions, you can just imagine that there was even more opinions to each question from the 40 or so anglers in attendance.

We were given ample time to discuss and record our answers for each question before moving on to the next one. Franca made sure that we were staying on track and did a fine job at it. There were also PFBC staff members drifting about the room promoting discussion and keeping the groups on task.

Once we were finished with the 7 questions in small group, Franca explained how we were going to do a larger group presentation of the collected opinions. Each group picked a spokesman to read off and explain in a short response the groups' answers. I volunteered to do our groups and enjoyed the experience.

Without getting into specific details, I came away with the feeling that most felt that water quality was a definite concern among those present. Although many felt that changes needed to be made, most didn't want major sweeping changes. There were many suggestions for changes among those present. It's been 5 years since we had the columnaris virus breakout and many concerned anglers have thrown their hands into the air and feel that the PFBC has wasted five long years doing studies with no action to protect the resource.

I'm not sure if that was the reason that very few recreational anglers were present at this meeting in particular. There was a plethora of tournament anglers and guides present. At my table alone, there was only a couple of recreational anglers among six participants. Three of those in our group were guides, one of the guides also was part owner of a tackle shop, and one group member belonged to a bass fishing club.

Although we may all have our specific reasons for attending or not attending such meetings, I believe that our common goal is to support the smallmouth population in the Susquehanna River. Whether one is a T-angler, a tackle shop owner, a guide, or a recreational angler, without the smallmouth population we would all suffer tremendously.

As one participant put it, "We are all concerned about the fish, but we may have different bottom lines." That being said, he explained that those in the tournament scene, guiding, and tackle shop businesses are definitely concerned about the financial aspect in relation to the struggle our smallmouth bass are facing.

Now it is time for the PFBC to take all this collected opinions and process it along with the other two meetings' data. Franca has a big task to do over the next two weeks. I know that many of us are interested in how this data will be presented back to the public and how the PFBC uses this data to support our smallmouth population.