Tilapia bill left where it belongs: on the table

If you’ve followed the debate in the General Assembly over whether to allow Georgia farm pond owners to introduce the African species tilapia, the matter appears to have died – at least for this session.


Although tasty, the fast growing fish are also said to be capable of extirpating bluegill and other native species if they were to escape from commercial harvesting ponds into reservoir and river systems. That’s why conservation groups including the Georgia Wildlife Federation and Georgia Water Coalition opposed the idea.

The intent of the bill, which gained Senate approval in February, was to promote aquaculture and economic growth. But a University of Georgia study shared by the Water Coalition warned it could stimulate growth of a very different kind.

“These non-native, exotic fish will survive temperatures above mid-50 degree F, a temperature that assures their survival in eight out of 10 south Georgia winters and in any spring-fed portion of a river or warm water discharge,” the study said. “These fish will adapt and reproduce and become an invasive species that will outcompete our native fishes, such as bluegills, bream and other panfish.”

Fears of a new species evicting the fish that nature put here are well founded.

Georgia has an ongoing effort to restore bream in rivers where the bluegill-gulping flathead catfish has taken hold. Anyone who has bought grass carp to control weeds in their pond knows they must be certified as sterile – to prevent them from reproducing. Even our hybrid bass, stocked in reservoirs by the state, are sterile and would simply die out if new ones were not added.

After a lengthy debate on the tilapia issue, the bill was left stranded when the House Game & Fish Committee tabled it last week, meaning it it isn’t like to go anywhere this session.

So for now, if you want to land a tilapia, the only place you’ll find them is in the local pet store’s aquarium section – or your grocer’s seafood section.


PIG WAR: Just as Georgia was tabling tilapia, politicians in neighboring South Carolina were trying to strengthen laws designed to control a larger invasive species: wild pigs.

The problem, as we reported a few weeks ago in an interview with Savannah River National Laboratory scientist and feral hog expert Jack Mayer, is that these swamp dwelling porkers are fun to hunt, and great to eat. Consequently they are frequently trapped and illegally introduced to new areas.

Last week, House Bill 4943 was dropped into the hopper to up the ante on when and how feral pigs can be exterminated.

Currently, you can hunt them all year with no limits but must adhere to certain weapon restrictions and hunt within legal shooting hours.

Under the new proposal, they could be killed at night from Feb. 28 until July 1, using “bait, electronic calls, artificial light, infrared, thermal or laser sighting devices, night vision devices, or any device aiding the identification or targeting of species,” the bill said. Coyotes and armadillos could also be killed under the same rules.


SPEAKING OF COYOTES: The mounting evidence that coyotes are killing larger numbers of whitetail deer than previously thought is no secret.

In particular, this adaptable predator kills large numbers of newborn fawns each spring, which leaves fewer young deer in the fall and reduces recruitment for subsequent seasons.

The need for coyote control is discussed in virtually all hunting circles now, including the Fort Gordon Sportsmen’s Club, where the post’s fish and wildlife management staff briefed members on current programs and opened the floor for any comments or suggestions.

According to the minutes from their recent meeting, three suggestions were made: place a bounty on coyotes, permit year-round hunting of coyoes and allow trapping of coyotes on post. Suggestions also emerged for decreasing limits on does and reducing the number of days antlerless deer can be harvested.


TROUT TIME: Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division sent out a reminder Friday that the state’s seasonal trout streams will open next Saturday, March 31.

“Our goal is to replenish all of our stocked streams before opening day,” said John Lee Thomson, the division’s acting trout stocking coordinator. “The mild winter gave us great growing conditions for trout in our hatcheries, and good stream flows this spring will give us the opportunity to spread the fish out.”

In all, more than 1 million trout will be placed in Georgia’s public streams this year.

Anglers must have both a Georgia fishing license and a trout license. Both can be purchased online and at sporting good dealers. The general daily limit is eight trout, although anglers must check for stream specific rules and creel limits.


WMA EXPANSION: Georgia hopes to add as much as 15,000 acres and 13 new dove fields to its Wildlife Management Area program using a multi-year $300,000 grant from the Voluntary Public Access-Habitat Incentive Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

According to the 86-page environmental assessment that must be completed before the grant is fully authorized, one objective will focus on sites in middle Georgia to protect that region’s dwindling bear population. Potential sites can be considered anywhere in the state, however, and a goal of 13 new dove hunting areas would be scattered in all regions.

Besides traditional hunting and fishing, compatible activities authorized for WMA sites include bird watching, hiking, nature watching and canoeing in addition to possibly mountain biking and horseback riding. Specific activities will be negotiated as part of individual landowner agreements.