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Courtesy Dale Wilson
More cover in Smith Mountain Lake should mean additional catches of trophy bass like this one landed by Capt. Dale Wilson.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Forget the tight economy. There is a new building boom on Smith Mountain Lake. This time, it involves "housing" for fish.
I asked Dan Wilson the following questions. He is the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist in charge of what is being called the Smith Mountain Lake Habitat Project:
Q. During a meeting of the Smith Mountain Striper Club, you said the new habitat project will allow adjacent homeowners and other groups to legally place fish structures into the lake. Has this been illegal in the past?
A. Yes, Virginia Code (62.1-194) prohibits placing any materials into public waters.
Q. What kind of structures are you talking about for the new project, brush piles, Christmas trees?
A. Brush piles and Christmas trees are acceptable but there are a number of other wood and synthetic options also available.
Q. Will participants be required to get a permit before placing structures; if so, when and where will they be available?
A. A permit is required and will be available on the America Electric Power website http://www.smithmtn.com/Resources/InstallFishHabitat.aspx AEP is currently working and testing the website to make improvements and work out any of the "bugs."
Q. Any charge for a permit?
Q. When will the project begin?
A. It has already started but there still is work to be done on the website and the information it contains. Look for updates and improvements in the future. This is the initial attempt so there will likely be some changes over time.
Q. Is there a scarcity of structure in the lake?
A. Many areas of the lake that are heavily developed do not have much structure or refuge areas for young fish. The goal of this project is to reverse the long term trend of declining structure and fish habitat.
Q. What species will benefit most?
A. Species that either spend most of their life or early life stages along the shoreline in shallow water, such as sunfish, bass and crappie.
Q. Are there restrictions on where you can build a structure?
A. Yes, structures must be placed within a landowner's property lines. There are some exceptions for homeowner groups or other organizations. Homeowner groups may have large sections of available shoreline and work on group projects. There are also public shorelines (state park, county park, AEP land) where organizations can install habitat if these locations are approved.
Q. Will DGIF help with the design and placement of structures?
A. DGIF will be available to provide guidance but not placement.
Q. Could these structures be a hazard to boaters and swimmers?
A. If done according to the specified guidelines, approved structures will not be any more hazardous than the natural structures that already exist in the lake. For example, placing shallow structures in boating channels will not be approved or permitted. Obviously, the public must continue to use caution anytime while on the lake.
Q. Do structures increase the number of fish in a body of water or do they just concentrate them?
A. They can do both. Most anglers think of them as fish attractors but the structures we are most interested in are shallow and complex. They provide small fish refuge and escapement from predators.
Q. Just how beneficial do you think these structures will be?
A. The long term benefits can be substantial if enough adjacent landowners participate. It will take years to provide beneficial impacts to the lake's fishery as a whole. The DGIF does not have the resources to install enough structure to impact the entire fishery but the public can over time.
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