One of the primary goals of FWC’s new TrophyCatch program is to decrease fishing mortality of trophy-sized bass through the promotion of catch-and-release. This conservation philosophy has been popular with bass anglers for years, and has now been adopted by Major League Fishing for competitive bass tournaments. The story on their recent Lake Istokpoga tournament fills in the details of how they’re implementing this new approach, and promoting it to other competitive anglers:
The FWC recently began researching E-tournaments as part of its long-term Black Bass Management Plan. Here is information from the Plan’s First Year progress update, illustrating how quick and safe documentation and release of largemouth bass not only increases bass survival compared to a traditional weigh-in, but can also be conducted to tournament standards:
Largemouth Bass E-Tournament Study
By using digital scales and cameras, tournament anglers can immediately release bass and help reduce handling mortality and public perception issues.
A particular concern with bass tournaments expressed in the Black Bass Management Plan was how many bass die as a result of these tournaments, especially during warm weather. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commisison (FWC) studies have observed fish mortalities as high as 40 percent during bass tournaments in June through September.
To investigate this, FWC biologists designed a study to evaluate an alternative weigh-in procedure that might reduce fish stress and mortality. After collecting information from organizers, who conduct tournaments for saltwater species using photos or video to document fish caught, the team decided to work with local bass clubs and conduct some electronic or E-tournaments around the state. During E-tournaments, fish caught are not held in boat livewells and brought to shore for weighing later in the day. Instead, fish are weighed or measured on the boat while being photographed and then immediately released. Winners are determined using information on the photographs taken.
Two E-tournaments were conducted by FWC staff with the assistance of local bass clubs. The first was on Lake June In Winter (near Lake Placid, Fla.) while the second was held on Rodman Reservoir (near Palatka, Fla.). FWC staff provided digital hanging scales, digital cameras and other necessary equipment. Rules for both E-tournaments did not allow anglers to keep any bass they caught during the tournament. Anglers had to photograph their fish while it was being weighed on a scale and then immediately release it. At the end of each tournament, anglers returned their equipment, and FWC staff downloaded pictures of the fish caught to a laptop computer where they could be scored and winners determined.
Bass club members who fished in the E-tournaments were given a survey to fill out to evaluate the events and determine if others might use this type of tournament in the future. Eighty-two percent of participants enjoyed fishing the E-tournament, and 71 percent would fish in an E-tournament again. Several concerns were also expressed. Some anglers did not like E-tournaments because too much can go wrong with digital cameras, digital scales did not work properly in windy conditions, it took too many people and too much time to stop and photograph fish, anglers could cheat and costs for club anglers to purchase equipment would be too high.
From a fisheries management point of view, costs to purchase equipment were high (over $2,000). The expense might keep smaller bass clubs from conducting E-tournaments on their own. Plus staff spent time and money traveling to bass club meetings and organizing the tournaments. Staff also observed differences between fish weights shown in the pictures and weights recorded on paper about 48 percent of the time during one tournament. Given these challenges and others, there are no plans to write state laws requiring use of E-tournaments in freshwater.
E-tournaments, however, reduced fish stress, as no bass died during either of the two conducted by staff. Although there are a few bass clubs in Florida that hold tournaments where fish are weighed or measured and then immediately released, the standard weigh-in is engrained in the bass tournament culture. E-tournaments are still a good choice for bass anglers wanting to hold tournaments during summer or on waters where fish cannot be kept by law.
For more information, contact Eric Johnson at 863-648-3809 or at Eric.Johnson@MyFWC.com.