The International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, held in Orlando last month, was an ideal venue for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff to highlight the 75th anniversary of the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs and explain how funds from the sport-fishing part of the program are used to enhance Florida’s recreational fishing and boating industries. Those industries respectively generate economic impacts of $8 billion and $17 billion, and provide nearly 300,000 Floridians with employment. Moreover, Florida’s title of the “Fishing Capital of the World” comes from providing more recreational fishing enjoyment to anglers than any other state, and giving them a lifetime of active nature-based recreation to enhance both their health and mental well-being. The last national survey indicated nearly 50 million days of recreational fishing are enjoyed annually by anglers in the Sunshine State.
The national SFR program, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, collects money from manufacturers of fishing equipment, and motorboat and small-engine fuels. Funds from SFR, combined with fishing license revenues, help support future fishing and boating opportunities, including FWC programs such as habitat enhancement, fish stocking, building boat ramps and artificial reefs and youth fishing programs.
Tom Champeau, director of the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management, used a press conference at ICAST to update the industry on TrophyCatch (TrophyCatchFlorida.com). TrophyCatch is the latest federal-state-industry partnership funded in part by SFR and largely supported by industry sponsorships and donations to promote catch-and-release of Florida’s trophy largemouth bass – the most popular sport fish in the world and Florida’s state freshwater fish.
The TrophyCatch program is for anglers who catch-and-release largemouth bass greater than eight pounds. Three different tiers will be recognized: The Lunker Club (8-9.9 pounds), The Trophy Club (10-12.9 pounds) and the Hall-of-Fame Club (13 pounds or more).
Anglers will be encouraged to follow catch-and-release guidelines for bass 8-12.9 pounds and to document the catch with a length, weight and series of photos prior to release. A more thorough certification process will be established regarding Hall-of-Fame bass.
As TrophyCatch is developed and executed it will provide reward incentives to encourage anglers to report and live-release trophy bass, create public/private partnerships to protect trophy bass, promote fishing and support conservation programs. By documenting catches of trophy bass and publicizing them, Florida’s bass fisheries will attain even greater worldwide prominence. By using data on when and where trophy bass are found, biologists can improve trophy-bass management via habitat enhancement, regulation management, stocking or other means that are proven to increase catch of trophy largemouth bass while fostering a strong catch-and-release conservation ethic. Excitement about these angler recognition programs will increase fishing participation of Florida’s youth and families and attract more anglers to Florida while promoting strong conservation messaging. Among the most important outcomes will be to increase public awareness and commitment to protect our fisheries and their habitats.
TrophyCatch’s current corporate partners include the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau, World Fishing Network, Rapala, FishPhotoReplicas.net, SportsmanOnCanvas.com, ODU Magazine, Carls van rentals, the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Glen Lau Productions, and Under The Bridge Productions. However, the ICAST venue was ideal for generating industry interest. Many new corporate supporters and advocates are now interested in promoting the program, which officially begins Oct. 1.