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Fish Habitat Study Underway at Table Rock Lake

About four years ago, the Missouri Department of Conservation, along with a few other organizations began the Table Rock Lake National Fish Habitat Initiative, a project designed to maintain and improve fish habitat in Table Rock.

Since then, as part of that initiative, more than 1500 fish habitat structures have been created in the lake.  Now, biologists are in the middle of a radio-telemetry study that’s expected to provide information about behavior and habitat use of largemouth bass.

Shane Bush, fisheries management biologist for the Conservation Department, says the main reason for the study is to evaluate the large-scale habitat project…

"Because it's a project of this calibur, we really want to evaluate whether this habitat's working or whether it's not, you know, and just kind of help us to learn what works and what doesn't work as well so that, when the project's completed and other state agencies want to use this data, we can give them a good paper and say that, you know, 'this is what worked well and this is what didn't work well,' because this study is designed to be a pilot project in a more broad national project focused on habitat restoration in large reservoirs throughout the country."

Earlier this year, 60 legal-sized largemouth bass were collected from the Kings River Arm of Table Rock Lake and surgically implanted with radio tags.  They were then released back into the lake.

Bush says, besides habitat use, they hope to learn some more things about the fish…

"Those fish will also be studied to track their daily and seasonal movements around the lake to give biologists a better understanding of just overall movements of bass to help answer public inquiries and just learn more overall about the bass's behavior in the lake." 

Each fish is located once per month during daylight hours.  Every three months, a smaller number of the tagged fish will be tracked for a full 24-hour period to monitor daytime and nighttime movements.

Scuba surveys are also being conducted—divers go down to view the habitat structures to record what kinds of fish are using them. 

If an angler catches a tagged largemouth bass, Bush hopes they’ll release it back into the lake so it can be studied further.  The fish are easily recognizable since they have an antenna protruding from their abdomen.  They also are marked with an orange tag near their dorsal fin…

"That orange tag actually has a number on it, and if anglers would just call our office and give us that number and tell us where they caught the fish, how big the fish was  or whether it was release or kept and where it was released, that would just provide us with a lot of information."      

You can call the Conservation Department office in Branson at 334-4859.

Bush says they’ll add more habitat structures to Table Rock Lake starting in October--the Table Rock Lake National Fish Habitat Initiative runs thru 2012.

He says they don’t have much information from the radio-telemetry study to share yet, but he expects to have useful information for anglers when the study’s finished in about a year.