The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

State News

March 21, 2007

Missouri: Noodlers decry plan to end hand-fishing experiment

The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. — A five-year experiment to determine whether to legalize noodling in Missouri could end three years early.

Citing renewed threats to breeding-age fish, state conservation officials are no longer issuing permits to fish for catfish by hand, a practice known as noodling. The suspension could be made permanent as soon as next month.

“They’re catching too many, so we can’t catch any,” said Howard Ramsey, of Paris, Mo., president of Noodlers Anonymous, in a reference to Missourians who prefer to keep their hands outside the water when fishing.

Noodlers use their bare hands to poke around underwater caves and crevices for fish with sharp teeth that can weigh up to 100 pounds. As often as not, they come up with a handful of snakes, beavers or snapping turtles by mistake.

The way Ramsey sees it, “If you don’t come up bloody, you ain’t hand fishing.”

State law allows those who fish using lines, jugs or rods and reels to catch and keep up to 20 catfish daily. Noodlers are asking the state to allow hand-fishers to keep only five fish each season — compared with the experimental limit of five each day.

An estimated 2,000 Missourians fish by hand, according to Ramsey, compared with nearly half a million who fish using traditional methods.

Steve Eder, fisheries division chief for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the experiment should end early because scientists have found higher-than-expected mortality rates among catfish in state waters. He also suggested that further limits could be imposed on all types of catfish harvests.

“We’re probably going to be more conservative in our harvest restrictions on catfish,” he said.

The Missouri Conservation Commission approved an experimental hand-fishing season for six weeks during summer 2005, limiting such fishing to specific parts of the Fabius, St. Francis and Mississippi rivers.

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