by Justin Hill
Reward tag studies allow biologists and anglers to work together in the data collection process. These cooperative studies help strengthen the conservation process. In these studies FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) biologists tag a specific number of fish in a lake or region. Currently, we use the same yellow plastic “dart tags” for all of our bass tagging projects. These thin, 3.5- inch long tags are attached to the bass on the left side near the dorsal fin. Printed on each tag are an ID number, reward amount, and a phone number to report the tag. If you catch a tagged bass, clip the tag close to the fish’s body and save the tag. In most cases these studies are designed to estimate what proportion of a fish population is caught and harvested by anglers each year and to help generate an estimate of how many bass there are—since we can’t count them directly. It is important that all bass tags be reported regardless of the reward amount. Various incentives are provided to encourage this reporting, but helping scientists better manage our fisheries is reward enough for many anglers.
Right now, we are involved in several reward tag studies. They range from a trophy bass study encompassing the entire state down to a study that targets the bass population on a single lake in Lake County.
State-wide trophy bass study: This study spans the entire state and is designed to evaluate the influence of the TrophyCatch program. TrophyCatch is an angler recognition program in Florida that promotes the catch and release of bass larger than 8 lbs. There’s a blog about TrophyCatch that provides additional details as well. This tagging project began one year before the launch of TrophyCatch to get baseline numbers on catch and harvest rates. We estimate that anglers caught about 21% and kept 4% of the tagged bass during that year. However, we also found that bass over 10 lbs were kept at a higher rate than 4% and a large proportion of those were kept for the wall. The Trophy Catch program offers incentives for releasing these trophy–sized bass, so the goal is to continue this study alongside TrophyCatch for the next five years and monitor the program’s influence on angler behavior.
Northwest regional tagging study: Our biologists working west of the Suwannee River have also started a reward-based tagging study on largemouth bass. In this part of Florida, length and bag limits for bass are different from much of the rest of the state. We are using this tagging study to evaluate these harvest regulations in the panhandle. Bass 12 inches or longer were tagged in 16 lakes throughout 12 counties. We completed tagging during November and December 2012. Tag return information has begun to come in as anglers begin fishing this spring. Researchers will monitor tag returns for one year to measure catch and harvest rates. Results from this study will help FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management evaluate bass management in our state’s Northwest Region.
Lake Eustis tagging study: Lake Eustis, part of Lake County’s Harris Chain of Lakes, is the site of a largemouth bass tagging study designed to complete a full stock assessment of the bass population in a moderately to heavily fished Florida lake. Data taken from reported tags will aid us in measuring the percentage of bass caught and harvested each year. Combining this information with other data, we can determine if the bass population on Lake Eustis is being over-fished and if current length and bag limits are working for the fishery. We are also using data from the tag returns along with data from creel surveys to determine the best way to estimate the total number of bass in a large lake.
When you report a tag, one of our biologists will ask a few brief questions about your catch and will help you claim the reward. Anglers, remember to check each bass you catch. Tagging studies give you the opportunity to participate in valuable research that is central to managing Florida’s largemouth bass fisheries. And while you are remembering to check your bass, remember to check us out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FWCResearch.
Note: If the phone number on the tag is not legible, call the appropriate number listed below
- (850) 717-8736: Northwest regional study
- (850) 363-6037: All other bass tagging studies