By MIKE CORN
NORTON -- After stumbling, the state's wildlife agency appears to be moving closer to adopting rules that would put limits on live bait -- all part of an effort to halt the spread of aquatic nuisance species.
Meeting last week in Norton, members of the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission lent their support to a proposal to limit the live transfer of wild-caught bait to only four species.
Any other wild-caught bait would have to be used in the water where it was taken.
At the suggestion of outgoing commissioner Doug Sebelius, the meeting was conducted in his home community. Before the meeting, commissioners toured the Keith Sebelius Reservoir and the wildlife area surrounding the lake. Keith Sebelius was a longtime First District Congressman.
The threat from ANS species -- zebra mussels, white perch and now Asian carp -- prompted the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks to take a closer look at its bait regulations.
It's been a slow process and looked like it might stall after the agency retreated and wasn't ready to make a recommendation to the commissioners on how to deal with the issue.
The agency already has started working on regulations that would affect bait dealers, requiring that bait sold in Kansas be certified disease-free.
The source of water for selling the bait also is important, part of an effort to ensure water isn't taken from a lake already affected by ANS.
The wild-caught bait, however, is a bigger struggle, according to Doug Nygren, KDWP fisheries chief.
But the inability of anglers to identify the bait they're using and a propensity to transport bait to another location was cause for concern.
Nygren suggested either using wild-caught bait where it's taken, or allow green sunfish, bluegill and black and yellow bullheads to be transported to other lakes for use as a bait.
"No fish could be transported alive from an ANS-infested water," Nygren said.
Lake Wilson, for example, would be one of those lakes, given it already has both white perch and zebra mussels. Streams with Asian carp would fall in the same category.
The biggest sticking point of the recommendation falls to shad, a bait of choice for striper anglers who frequent Wilson.
Two anglers objected to the proposal, and said it's easy to tell the difference between shad and an Asian carp.
It's difficult to catch bait-size shad from Wilson, so most people fishing for stripers bring in bait caught in other locations.
Commissioners and KDWP personnel weren't so easily convinced.
"I've tried to prioritize the risk and level of damage," said Commissioner Gerald Lauber, Topeka. "And in my mind, the risk of having Asian carp transported is greater than other aquatic nuisance species, and we don't want any."
He said he likes the idea of allowing the transport of the four bait fish.
"It would accomplish what we're trying to do without being too draconian," Lauber said. "I think it's incumbent upon us to do something, even though it will step on some toes."
Commissioner Debra Bolton, Garden City, voiced concern about anglers being able to identify green sunfish.
Nygren agreed the weakness in the option allowing the transfer of four types of fish falls to identification.
"The other thing is ... we don't know when an invasive species occurs until we find it," he said.
In Wilson's case, it now appears zebra mussels were in the water a year or two earlier than when they were discovered.
"The risk of misidentification of green sunfish is small compared to misidentifying little silver fish," Lauber said.
The silver fish would be a reference to Asian carp.
Ellsworth angler Paul Bahr, who caught a state record 40-pound striper from Wilson, voiced concern.
"I don't know anyone who can catch gizzard shad in the spring," he said. "With what you're proposing, no longer can I do what I do here. From listening tonight, I understand the problem, and it is a problem we all share, but I think we need to find a better way."
With that, he asked if there was a way he could become certified to use shad. He also presented a petition opposing the regulation.
Another angler objected to the measure.
"If they put it up to a vote, I bet they'd reject this," said Jack Petersen, Wichita. "There's no Asian carp up in this area."
Nygren, however, said they have been found in a farm pond in southwest Kansas.
"The reason we're doing this is so they won't be in western Kansas," he said.
Any rule change won't take effect until later this year after the wildlife commission revisits the proposals.