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Concern for salmon population cancels this year's Winni Derby



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Peter Worthen of Bristol and his friend Mark Boeing of Bedford, Mass., head out from Meredith Bay for a day of fishing during last year’s Winni Derby. File photo. (click for larger version)
January 20, 2010
LAKES REGION — Concern for the fish population in Lake Winnipesaukee has lead to the cancellation of this year's Winni Derby.

This is not to be confused with the Great Rotary Ice Fishing Derby, which will still take place Jan. 30-31.

On Thursday, Winni Derby Executive Director Rick Davis announced in a press release that the 29th annual Derby scheduled for May 14-16 is being canceled for this year.

The decision came after discussing the salmon population with fisheries biologists Don Miller and John Viar of New Hampshire Fish and Game.

Davis said derby organizers have been examining the fish population for the last few years with Fish and Game biologists. Biologists have counted the amount of salmon in the lake, weighed them, and taken measurements.

"When we first started the derby there was way too many of them, more than what the lake could accommodate," Davis said.

According to figures, fish kills were significantly down last year, from 225 on average in previous years to 125 in 2009. According to the statement no records were taken to show how many fish were caught and released or how they were released.

Additionally, the statement said the derby does not kill as many fish as an average weekend after ice-out. Numerous charter boats are out on the lake, and the derby committee said it is not uncommon for there to be reports of 20 to 40 fish being caught a day.

The statement said that new lures, ties, and technology have made catching fish easier. Another factor listed is "culling" or keeping fish in a live well until a bigger one is caught and throwing back the smaller one so as not to exceed the legal limit.

According to the statement, derby officials met with biologists at one of their netting mid-November of last year sites to observe the fish being measured and weighed.

"At this net site there is normally 400 to 500 salmon, and in 2009 we counted just over 70," the statement said. "There was one fish that weighed over three pounds and all the rest were under. By actual count, there was 30 percent hook wounded. According to the biologists the same conditions were also noted at the other sites on the lake. The early fall survey of the forage base showed that the lake is in great shape with ample amounts of smelt and food for the salmon."

After much time monitoring the salmon fisheries with Fish and Game along with a visual confirmation of the state of the fisheries, the committee decided this week to cancel this year's derby to prevent further damage to the salmon population.

"First and foremost, the derby is dedicated to the preservation of the wonderful resource and has been instrumental in protecting it for the use and enjoyment of future generations," the statement read. "There are several problems facing Lake Winnipesaukee and the salmon population. Without fingering any one thing, we will try to show how many things come together to affect the fishery."

The statement also alluded to coming changes in fishing.

"There will be changes coming which will most likely not be favorable with some," the statement said. "If you have suggestions please send them to the NH Fish & Game Dept c/o Inland Fisheries Division, 11 Hazen Dr., Concord, NH 03301. For all these reasons it is felt that we take a stand to again support the fishery. Even if the damage is minimal during the derby it is damage at a time when the resource needs to be protected. Join us with your support of the salmon and we'll see you at the next Winni Derby."

Davis said this is the first time the Winni Derby has been cancelled, even despite harsh weather in previous years.

"I've got fishermen from all over the country that come to this thing, and the first of the week we're going to send out a flyer or mailer to a rather substantial mailing list of past participants," Davis said. "Were hoping that it's going to improve a lot, but were not going to know that until late next fall."

As for the cancellation, "I'm not really too excited about it. I'm more concerned with the quantity about the fish or the lack thereof. We're just trying to give them a chance to regroup and go back at it."

Sue Cerutti, executive director of the Meredith Area Chamber of Commerce said the derby is a major event in the area, taking place before Memorial Day where the amount of visitors is not as high.

"It is kind of a shot in the arm on a weekend that would be slow," Cerutti said. "It brings people to the area we will miss it."

Cerutti said events such as the Winni Derby do bring business into the area and the cancellation of the derby this year will be a loss.

"It's something that's a tradition spanning generations and May is a month where there's not much going on. It's kind of the start of the season; the ice is out and it's one of the first signs that summer's on its way. It normally was scheduled around weekend before Memorial Day." The derby also traditionally takes place he same weekend as the Community Yard Sale, which Cerutti said brings anglers and their spouses. "As with anything related to tourism the more events the more people."

However other events are coming into the area, which might mitigate some of the impact of this year's cancellation.

"New events are being started all the time, if anything there seems to be more events than there used to be," Cerutti said. "You never can quite replace something. It's hard to replace something, but if there's something else; a case of the way things are changing."

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