Florida Black Bass Management Plan—First Year Results

Largemouth bass are stocked on Lake Talquin near Tallahassee. FWC photo.

By Bob Wattendorf, FWC Fish Busters Bulletin, Oct. 2012

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is proud to announce that its year-old Black Bass Management Plan is moving forward and producing some remarkable results.

Implementation of the plan last summer was expected to create significant ecological, economic and social benefits for Florida. More than 7,500 anglers provided input during the plan’s development, as did a technical assistance group representing a variety of fishing-related businesses, university experts, professional anglers, outdoor media and fishing guides.

The goal of the plan is to ensure Florida is the Black Bass Fishing Capital of the World by:

  1. Ensuring healthy lakes and rivers to benefit many species of fish and wildlife, as well as trophy bass fisheries.
  2. Strengthening local economies by documenting and increasing economic benefits derived from bass fishing, which already provides more than 14 million days of quality outdoor recreation for bass anglers and generates an economic impact of $1.25 billion.
  3. Attracting events such as national professional bass fishing tournaments, which have huge economic impacts, to smaller towns and cities as a result of Florida’s enhanced reputation.

So, how much progress was made to fulfill the goals of the BBMP during the first year? The following is a partial list of accomplishments, which are further documented online at myfwc.com [click here].

Bass genetics – In December 2011, the FWC stopped state-owned hatcheries from stocking or relocating bass outside their native range. Genetic testing will help ensure pure Florida populations will be maintained. Several private hatcheries in Florida are certified, so pond owners can purchase pure Florida bass.

Hydrilla management – The FWC Invasive Plant Management Section implemented an agency position statement to guide the agency in managing hydrilla using a risk-based approach. Recent work on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, Lake Istokpoga, Lake Apopka, Orange Lake and others now incorporates public input into hydrilla management plans.

Bass tournaments – The FWC issues over 2,400 bass tournament permits annually that allow participating clubs and organizations to possess bass outside the legal size limits with the conditions that all bass (even those that could normally be harvested) must be released back into the tournament water body. Staff observed and provided guidance to three national tournament organizations wherin bass survival was over 95 percent. FWC is strengthening partnerships with bass fishing organizations and local communities to encourage large tournaments to come to Florida and to enhance facilities.

Lake Okeechobee – Another objective was to work cooperatively with other agencies to emphasize recreational fisheries. An example is Lake Okeechobee, which is experiencing a tremendous recovery from habitat loss that resulted in a major fishery decline in the mid-2000s. At that time, sustained high waters followed by several hurricanes reduced aquatic vegetation and increased turbidity. Through cooperative efforts of local citizens groups, the South Florida Water Management District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the FWC, coverage of submerged aquatic vegetation in the marshes increased from less than 5,000 acres in 2006 to more than 30,000 acres. The Water Regulation Schedule has been changed to benefit lake ecology. Some of the highest catch rates for bass and crappie, since creel surveys began on the “Big O” in 1977, are being reported.

Fisheries regulations – FWC biologists are reviewing bass regulations and seeking to use the least restrictive regulations possible to protect trophy bass, while maintaining a statewide bass fishery with a healthy population that provides diverse angling opportunities, including controlled harvest and high angler satisfaction. University of Florida human dimensions experts are helping analyze future regulations and enhancing public input.

Shoal bass – The BBMP incorporates all five black bass species found in Florida. Shoal bass are a lesser known species that occur in a limited range in the upper Chipola River. Recent research provides a science-informed perspective to assess and manage this species. Results show a robust population of shoal bass.

Lake Apopka – During development of the BBMP, Lake Apopka was cited as an example of devastating effects of early misguided Florida land- and water-use practices. Fortunately, many of those practices have been replaced by more environmentally friendly management. To expedite restoration of Lake Apopka, the Florida Legislature appropriated $4.8 million this year. A multi-agency taskforce identified five projects to restore this valuable fishery. In the interim, the FWC continues to stock the lake with non-reproducing sunshine bass to provide a recreational fishery.

Bass stocking – Stocking bass is an effective tool to create new fisheries and to re-establish a fishery after a major fish kill. FWC hatchery staff developed a new production technique to spawn bass out-of-season, so advanced-fingerlings (4-inch) are ready to stock when more abundant prey are available. Now FWC biologists are conducting a small-lake stocking study to determine survival of advanced-fingerling bass in 11 lakes throughout Florida.

Trophy Tagging Study – FWC biologists tagged 136 trophy largemouth bass greater than 8 pounds in Florida’s public waters, and as reported last month in the Fish Busters’ Bulletin, results are very informative and will help guide trophy bass management planning in the future.

TrophyCatch – Providing greater opportunities for trophy-size bass and promoting Florida’s exceptional largemouth fishery was an important component of the BBMP. TrophyCatch (TrophyCatchFlorida.com), which launches in October, will help document that Florida is the “Bass Fishing Capital of the World,” while promoting catch and release of trophy bass. Register, legally catch an 8-pound plus bass, document it according to the rules, and release it in Florida to claim great rewards and valuable prizes.

Fellsmere WMA – The BBMP included four major action-based subject areas: new opportunities, habitat management, fish management and people management. The Fellsmere project is a great example of a new opportunity. This 10,000-acre parcel of land in Indian River County was purchased by the St. Johns River Water Management District and is being converted into a reservoir. The FWC provided additional resources to enhance fish and wildlife habitat and provide long-term benefits for fish and wildlife populations as well as anglers, bird watchers and other wildlife viewers.

Highschool bass fishing – The BBMP also looks to the future of recreational fishing. An example of current efforts to help create the next generation that cares is FWC involvement in laying the groundwork to incorporate bass fishing clubs into the Florida High School Athletic Association’s package of sanctioned sports.

E-Tournaments – FWC biologists designed a study to evaluate an alternative weigh-in procedure for tournaments that might reduce fish stress and mortality. Working with local tournament organizers, two experimental E-tournaments were evaluated. Fish were weighed or measured on the boat while being photographed and then immediately released. E-tournaments reduced fish stress and are a good choice for bass anglers wanting to hold tournaments during summer or on waters where fish cannot be kept by law. However, no plans to require such tournaments are currently contemplated.

The FWC will continue to update you as we strive to implement the BBMP and use TrophyCatch and other research methods to evaluate our success.