November 19, 2014
Well, its fall…at least it is while I am working on this blog… and the cooler weather it ushers in brings out anglers on the hunt for black crappie. Just so happens, fall is also when FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) biologists are doing the bulk of their sampling. It's a busy time on the water for everyone, and we usually get opportunities to talk with folks about our research and answer a few questions. During this time, with the influx of crappie fishermen, most of the questions we receive pertain to local crappie (aka specks or speckled perch) harvest regulations.
Crappie length and bag limits vary greatly across much of the United States and with anglers from different parts of the country fishing Florida waters during crappie season, confusion can occur. So, I figured I'd bundle up some of the most common questions we get and provide a little insight into the world of “speck” biology.
I caught a White Crappie.
I know that's not a question, but it is a claim we hear often. Black crappie are the only crappie native to Florida. Sure, it might be technically possible to catch a white or black nose crappie on a river in the far west part of the Panhandle, but that's still not very likely; might as well just call that Alabama anyway.
Why doesn't Florida have the same crappie length limits as other states?
Florida lakes are in many ways different from lakes and reservoirs in the Midwest, and these environmental factors affect the way black crappie live and grow. Florida's warmer climate leads to a longer growing season and crappie here have different food sources, predators and spawning seasons. As a result, the crappie population in a warm Central Florida lake is often much different from a population in a cold, deep reservoir in Ohio. Because of this, size limits and other regulations must be tailored to each crappie population.
What do crappie regulations accomplish?
Different water bodies can be managed to accomplish different goals. For example, the size limit at Lake Jackson in Osceola County is designed to produce very large (trophy) crappie. A different size limit at Lake County's Lake Griffin, on the other hand, was implemented to increase the total weight anglers harvest by increasing the size of the fish they take home. Other regulations, such as the statewide bag limit, are simply designed to help sustain the crappie fishery.
How do length limits work?
When an angler releases a fish safely and quickly in accordance with current regulations, several things happen. By putting fish back anglers keep the total number of fish in the lake up. It also gives released fish more time to grow and a chance to reproduce.
Right: Jesse Peterson landed this black crappie on Lake Trafford and submitted it as a Big Catch weighing 2 lbs, 2 oz. and 15.5-inches long.
Left: Charles Harford caught this black crappie in Lake Monroe. It weighed 2 lbs, 9 oz., was 15.875-inches long and 16.375-inches girth, it also qualified for a Big Catch certificate.
Why don't length limits work the same on all lakes?
Studies in several states have revealed length limits succeed in producing bigger fish or higher total catch by weight if:
• fish growth is fast;
• natural mortality (the proportion of fish dying of natural causes) is low; and
• fishing pressure (percent of fish being harvested) is high.
If growth is slow, fish may not grow to legal size. If a high number of fish die from natural causes, the fish anglers release may not have a good chance at reaching regulation size. If fishing pressure is low, anglers may harvest so few fish that a regulation would result in very few additional fish being released, making the regulation ineffective. On the other hand, if growth is fast, natural mortality is low and fishing pressure is high, a size limit could produce more big fish by allowing the smaller ones the chance to grow, reproduce and be caught again another year.
How does the FWC determine how to set regulations?
The process of determining and implementing a crappie length limit for a Florida lake involves several steps:
• Set a goal for the fishery, with input from local anglers.
• Collect enough data to evaluate whether or not the regulation will accomplish the goal.
• Hold public hearings to get more feedback.
• Present the proposed regulation, data and public comments to the FWC Commissioners at a Commission meeting where the public is again invited to provide input.
• Commissioners make a decision on whether or not to implement the regulation.
• Biologists continue to monitor the lake to assess how the regulation affects the fishery.
If I think a regulation might benefit the lake I fish, what should I do?
Biologists often begin the process of investigating a potential regulation when local anglers express concern about a fishery. It then takes a considerable amount of effort, time and resources to collect the necessary data to evaluate whether a regulation might improve the fishery. FWC biologists are open to talking with any anglers who think that their local lake would benefit from a specific regulation.
What kinds of data do biologists collect?
When a length limit is proposed, biologists need to find out three things: growth rates, mortality (death rates) and angler effort and harvest.
To estimate growth rates, biologists must know how big fish are at any given age. One way they obtain this information is from carcasses of angler-harvested crappie. Biologists collect these carcasses at cleaning stations near local fish camps or boat ramps and then measure and age each fish. By doing this, biologists can learn how fast fish grow; at what age they reach the proposed minimum size limit and what size fish anglers tend to keep.
Mortality (Death Rates)
Biologists can also use the carcasses to estimate mortality rates by analyzing the proportion of fish in each age group in the harvest. To separate natural deaths from angler harvests, biologists collect live fish and mark them with reward tags. The tags have a phone number on them so anglers can report catching tagged crappie to biologists, who can then gather information such as whether or not the fish was harvested. This helps biologists estimate the proportion of the population lost to harvest.
Angler Effort and Harvest
Biologists assess fishing effort and harvest using creel (angler) surveys. In these surveys, biologists count the anglers on the lake and politely approach boats to find out start time, targeted species, number of fish caught and number of fish harvested. With this information, biologists can estimate how many people fish the lake in a season, what they are fishing for, how many hours they fish for each species and how many fish are caught, released and harvested. When a regulation is being considered for a lake, biologists may also ask anglers their opinion of the regulation to find out if there is support among those most affected by it.
After everything has been collected, biologists put the data into models to estimate how the fishery might change under different regulations. Once a regulation takes effect, biologists continue to monitor the population and conduct creel surveys to gauge angler satisfaction and record the number and size of fish that are being harvested.
Hopefully these questions and answers were helpful. A lot of our crappie research would not be successful without the help and input we get from local anglers. If you want to learn more about freshwater fisheries research visit our web site at myfwc.com/research/freshwater/, or browse by region to find more information on Florida's local harvest regulations and remember to follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/FWCResearch.
*The state record for black crappie is 3.83 pounds and crappie are one of many species that qualify for our BigCatch angler recognition program.