Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologists inspected the crappie population at Lake Saracen on Wednesday in a study intended to keep the species at a healthy population and thus avoid any restrictions on fishing.

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologists inspected the crappie population at Lake Saracen on Wednesday in a study intended to keep the species at a healthy population and thus avoid any restrictions on fishing.


The biologists need three years to make comprehensive conclusions. But they said Wednesday that, so far, the species of fish appears to be plentiful.


Arkansas Game and Fish Commission District 5 Fisheries Supervisor Diana Andrews and biologist specialist Casey Cox placed nets in Lake Saracen on Tuesday for the purpose of catching crappie. They returned to the lake on Wednesday and pulled up the nets. Besides finding crappie, the nets contained bass, catfish, sunfish and turtles. The biologists measured the crappie and released them into the water.


They will repeat the process in late November and late December.


"We have trap nets that are pretty selective for catching crappie," Andrews said. "Earlier in the fall, we see smaller crappie. As the weather cools later in the fall, we will see the larger crappie. That is because they swim closer to the shore."


The biologists place 15 nets in the water in the same spots over the course of the two days, Andrews said. They conduct the sampling at lakes for three consecutive years, Andrews said. They are doing the same sampling at Lake Wallace near Dermott.


The biologists need that length of time in order to make an accurate assessment of the crappie population. They are currently in the second year of conducting the study of the crappie at Lake Saracen.


"In any lake where we sample, we want to know if we should place restrictions on fishing," Andrews said. "Based on last year’s sample, the crappie population looks fine. Crappie have boom years and bust years as a result of their reproductive cycle. If we looked at only one year, we would not know if we were looking at a boom year, bust year or somewhere in between."


Under a brilliant blue sky and a temperature in the 60s, Cox measured the crappie and returned them to the water. Next month, he will be placing tags on the crappie. The goal behind the tagging coincides with research; it hinges on assistance from people who catch the fish. They are asked to remove the tags, call the commission to report the tagged fish and mail in the tag. As an incentive, the commission will issue a check ranging from $10 to $100 to thank people for their effort.


Cox hoisted nets from the water, carefully handling all species of fish. Balancing in the boat while handling cumbersome nets, Cox identified a host of fish by sight.


"We like all species of fish," Cox said. "We are simply measuring the crappies today."


He differentiated between black crappie versus white crappie by counting the number of spines atop their bodies.


Scientists measure one species at a time to assess the vitality of an ecosystem, Cox said.


There is an advisory warning people not to eat buffalo fish from Lake Saracen due to the toxic chemical PCB, Andrews said. The chemical originated from a manufacturing plant that dumped PCBs into Brumps Bayou, which flows into Lake Saracen, she said.


Nonetheless, she said other species of fish are safe for human consumption.


"Lake Saracen has a very healthy fish population," Andrews said.


Crappie prey on sunfish and even other crappie. They are eaten by large-mouth bass, blue catfish, pelicans and cormorants.


Biologists work outdoors making observations and also inside offices filling out paperwork. One highlight is being able to work outside in pleasant weather.


"In this job we get times when we are inside on a pretty day like today," Andrews said. "But there are also times when you are outside in 30 degrees with a misting rain."