Arkansas River Dredging Project Raises Biological Concerns


In 1984, bass fishing legend Rick Clunn rewrote Bassmaster Classic history by winning his third Classic on the Arkansas River. Clunn stunned the rest of the tournament field and the audience by bringing in a three-day catch weighing better than 75 pounds and besting his nearest competitor by more than 25 pounds!

Today, the great bass fishing on the Arkansas River faces a serious threat from a United State Army Corps of Engineers project that would dredge a 12-foot navigation channel through the river. The dredging process would remove 11 million cubic yards of sediment that will be dumped in areas that are critical to the survival of bass and other important aquatic species.

The Arkansas River Navigation Project was proposed by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and authorized in 2003 as part of the Water Resources Development Act.

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement was recently released regarding the proposed action of the Corps. Biologists in the public and private sectors have expressed concerns that the negative repercussions of the dredging will be felt all along the river and that navigation industry commentators are misleading the public when they characterize the dredging as a “fishery improvement project.”

“Dredging twelve feet down, within the channel, would remove 11 million cubic yards of sediment to be dumped in areas critical for bass and other aquatic species,” said Chris Horton, BASS Conservation Manager and the former Black Bass Biologist for the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. Horton expressed his concerns at a recent public meeting in Little Rock, Ark., pointing out that unless an acceptable mitigation component to restore the fisheries habitat is included in the final EIS (expected in July), BASS cannot support the project in its present form.

Critics of the project and the DEIS maintain that the DEIS does not accurately quantify aquatic habitat losses, primarily because of an accelerated project schedule. Furthermore, the proposed $11.64 million budget for the mitigation of habitat loss has been called inadequate for the major adverse impacts of this project.

“A great deal more work needs to be done with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement,” said Horton. “The project could devastate the bass fishery on the Arkansas River, and there are many questions as to whether it would have the long-term economic impact desired. It’s not the right move for either the short-term or the long-term.”

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, which includes the Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.

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