Thursday, March 22, 2012
Given that disclaimer, I'm outing Governors Bridge Natural Area. It's a beautiful place - a set of sand and gravel pits reclaimed as aquatic bed wetlands and deep, groundwater-fed pools in the floodplain of the Patuxent River. The ponds, wetlands, and lakes range from about 1/4 acre to 8 acres in size. It's an hour from downtown Baltimore, 20 minutes from Annapolis, and about 40 minutes from Washington, DC and it is a beautiful place full of tree frogs, wading birds, waterfowl, bald eagles, and fish -lots of them. The place is managed by the Prince Georges County Parks and Rec Department as a catch and release property for largemouth bass - anglers are encouraged to take home unlimited numbers of panfish of any size. As an ecologist, I'm giddy over the fact that a County parks department (anywhere) is using adaptive management via anglers to manipulate the fish population dynamics. I love it!
So why am I telling you all this? From my dozen or so visits to the property over the last few years, it seems like a huge percentage of the property's visitors are bass poachers. The exact number? I don't know. 30%, 40%, 50%? How do I know? It's the groups of men (with no fishing rods) who will walk onto the lake trail and immediately turn around when they see other visitors. It's the heaping piles of pond weeds laid up on the banks - a result of poachers seine-netting spawning bass off of their beds each spring. It's the guys who put everything, including bass, into 5 gallon buckets and then stare at me, daring me to say anything to anybody about it. In all my visits to Governors Bridge, I've seen one ranger one time. They (being gender neutral here) drove around the main lake in their truck one time, and then left.
You may ask, how can anglers - including Spanish speaking anglers - know that keeping bass is illegal on this property? Luckily, the Rec and Parks Department thought of both of those concerns.
When people say, "Education is the answer!" I just chuckle and shake my head. You pass at least two of these signs at head level on your way to the lake trail. It tells me two things: 1) a large percentage of visitors to Governors Bridge do not think that laws apply to them, and 2) they perceive their chances of getting caught are very, very low. And so, they just keep all the bass they want.
So what can you do? I want you to go fish at Governors Bridge. Catch all the bass you can. Release them. If you email me, I'll even tell you which lures work best. It will mean that I probably catch fewer bass the next time I go there. I don't really care. But I beg that you also add the following two phone numbers into the contact list on your phone:
Maryland DNR Catch-a-Poacher: 1-800-635-6124
PG County Park Police: 1-301-459-9088 (non-emerg.)
Please go there. Fish. Have a great time. And report anyone and everyone who is poaching. Let's be realistic - the poacher you see probably won't get caught this time. But a backlog of complaints about poaching on the property is likely to generate more interest by the Parks Police to send a ranger down there more than once per day for 30 minutes (I'm just guessing). And an increased police presence will certainly make an impact on these poachers, who generally, I'd suspect, do want to spend any more time with law enforcement officials than they absolutely have to. Please do your part - make those two phone calls!