The fourth and final phase of the first research project of the Rainy Lake Fisheries Charity Trust got underway during the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship last week. Part four of “Investigations in Applied Smallmouth Bass Biology in Northwestern Ontario” will include recompression, or “fizzing,” of barotrauma bass, then tracked with radio telemetry after their release into the wild. The “fizzing” project will be headed up by Dr. Steven Cooke, assistant professor of Fish Ecology and Conservation Biology at Carleton University in Ottawa, who has supervised the RLFCT research project overall. He will be flanked by his graduate students, who have been working on the various phases of the project. Dr. Cooke, interviewed via cell phone from Vancouver back in late June, said he was looking forward to being involved in the hands-on work at the FFCBC. “I am really interested in seeing what works this summer with the ‘fizzing’ [and] we will have to document the extent to which barotrauma occurs at this summer tournament, as well, just to put things in context. “That will be a sub-question, but it is not the primary focus,” he noted. Dr. Cooke also stressed a recompression study is the next logical step to take in the ongoing investigation of the effects of catch-and-release on fish which are studied post-tournament by radio telemetry. And though evaluating “fizzing” is their first task, down the road he hopes to trial other recompression techniques that don’t involve the element of risk in puncturing the fish. Weighting the fish upon its release back into the wild is one such alternative. “It looks something like a milk crate and they are being used for rock fish right now off the west coast of U.S. and Canada,” Dr. Cooke explained. “Basically, you put the fish in a crate that is weighted and it takes the fish down, and then the crate is sort of turned over and the fish is able to get out. “When the fish is taken down, the swim bladder gases are recompressed with the added pressure and all of a sudden the fish can stay down there. “What is actually nice about that is that you don’t have to be sticking the fish with a needle, which is always an unknown [because] if you stick it in the wrong place, you could violate the liver or the stomach. “And if you did that, the fate would be more questionable,” he noted. Dr. Cooke also made presentations to the general public and FFCBC anglers last week. He spoke about what has been learned during the two-year project on Rainy Lake and, based on that data and other studies done in the field of catch-and-release, make recommendations on how to increase the chances of survival for tournament fish. “I will put together something that is of interest to anglers, based in science but taking information they might not know and sharing it with them, and I will touch on all sorts of issues dealing with catch-and-release and then probably more specifically on tournaments,” Dr. Cooke had said in June. “It will be focused largely on our research activities, some of which is based on data from Rainy Lake and also work from other places, in trying to pull it together into the big picture what anglers can do and what tournament organizers can do to increase the likelihood that a fish will swim away with their interaction with us and be all right.” Whether or not Dr. Cooke and his team of graduate students will return for further bass studies in the area depends on many factors, including the natural flow of direction his interests in smallmouth bass take him, depending on study results. But in no uncertain terms, Dr. Cooke was thankful for the level of interest and genuine concern that local anglers, tournament organizers, and the public have had for the work done by his team here. “Some of [where we go to study fish] is planning, but a lot of it is reacting to what we see along the way so I never like to lock myself in too much,” he admitted. “One of the things I am really interested in is seeing [the results] of the ‘fizzing’ and then also working up some of the energy data from Marie-Ange’s [studies], where we took energy samples from the fish [in the nesting study]. “Until we actually do some of those analyses, we won’t know what’s going on,” he noted. “But it is really nice to be working in an area where there are people who care what you are doing,” he stressed. “There are a lot of places where we work where we are completely under the radar screen because people just aren’t into fishing and the fishery isn’t as important as it is in the Rainy Lake area, “It is affirming for the students, as well, to see how important the questions are that they are working on also are important to the public,” Dr. Cooke concluded.