Commission moves forward on baitfish ruling

NORTON — Kansas anglers are closer to new regulations that limit the transportation of baitfish they've caught.

Biologists and Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism commissioners agreed to pursue an option that restricts anglers to transporting green sunfish, bluegill and black and yellow bullheads for caught bait.

Anglers could use other species of baitfish, like shad, in waters where they were caught.

The decision was made during Thursday's commission meeting in Norton.

Doug Nygren, Wildlife and Parks fisheries chief, told commissioners the agency worries anglers could transplant invasive species, like Asian carp or zebra mussels, to new Kansas waters.

At an April meeting in Wichita, commissioners showed the most interest in a regulation that outlawed moving self-caught baitfish from one water to another.

After hearing public protests, the department and commissioners focused on a regulation that allows the use of the four species that don't resemble Asian carp.

Thursday's proposal would make it illegal to transport bait from waters that hold invasive species. Bait taken to lakes with invasive species couldn't be removed alive from that lake.

Several fishermen who use shad caught at other lakes to catch stripers at Wilson were against the regulation.

Jack Petersen of Wichita said identification is easy.

"If it's silver and it has a black dot on it it's a shad," he said. "It's really pretty simple."

Paul Bahr of Ellsworth presented the commission with a petition of about 400 signatures to allow the continued use of transported shad.

Bahr holds Kansas' striped bass record. He caught the 44-pounder last year at Wilson.

He encouraged the department to focus on increasing education efforts and said he would endorse a test for those wanting to transport live shad.

Commissioner Kelly Johnston reminded Bahr and Petersen the importance of preventing the spread of invasive species.

"We are trying to take action to preserve your striper fishery at Wilson Lake," he said.

The topic will again be discussed at an Aug. 11 meeting near Great Bend. It might receive a vote at an October meeting in Pratt.

Commissioners also voted to allow Kansas trappers to catch and keep a total of 100 otters this fall and winter.

Previously all otters caught in traps had to be given to Wildlife and Parks.

All must be tagged by Wildlife and Parks biologists.

The commission also approved a regulation change so big body-gripping traps must be at least half-submerged to be legally set. Previous law said they had to only be in contact with water.

The law was changed to encourage trap sets that wouldn't attract dogs and other unwanted animals.

Linda Lanterman, state parks director, also began the process of raising utility rates at state parks $1 per day.

Utility rates are one of the main costs of state park operation. Last year state parks collected about $941,000 in utility fees and paid about $1.3 million to utility companies.

She also said the agency is considering allowing pets within some of their cabins for a fee — possibly a very high fee.

"I'd be very reluctant to go less than $50, especially for some of our newer cabins," Lanterman said.

Thurday's meeting was the last for at least two commissioners.

Commissioners Johnston and Doug Sebelius have completed their second four-year term and haven't asked to be reappointed.

Commissioner Shari Wilson has applied for another term but hasn't heard from Gov. Sam Brownback's office.

No word has been received about possible replacements.

In April, Brownback said he'd been contacted by many people wanting to serve on the commission.

Sebelius expressed hope Kansas would better crack down on convicted poachers.

Wilson urged the department to continue efforts to get more kids involved in the outdoors.

"The time is now and the stakes are high," said Wilson, of Kansas City.

Johnston, commission chairman, urged continued attention to the spread of invasive species and the need for more game wardens.

He also quoted research biologists on the rapid decline of greater prairie chickens in parts of the Flint Hills.

The population is declining by about 30 percent a year in some places.

"I think it's time again to discuss a no hunting zone in the eastern Flint Hills," Johnston said.