Compiled by: Bob Wattendorf and Rick Stout
On February 23, 2007, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) dedicated the new Florida Bass Conservation Center (FBCC). Its overall mission is "To conduct and utilize essential research to optimize production, stocking and recruitment of Florida black basses, and to facilitate integrated conservation management of Florida's freshwater fisheries resources." In 2009, it was awarded the Outstanding Sport Fish Restoration Project of the Year, for infrastructure enhancements by the American Fisheries Society.
The concept began in 2002, when the FWC recognized its antiquated fish hatchery at Richloam in Sumter County had to be replaced if Florida hoped to retain its' "Fishing Capital of the World" title, at least with regard to largemouth bass. Richloam Hatchery, in business since April 1965, was one of the oldest fish hatcheries in the country. Although it did much more with much less than many of the nation's 21st century facilities, it was a major drain on the aquifer, used minimal recycling and was plagued by various fish predators that depleted production.
To solve this dilemma, the FWC's Ed Moyer proposed a state-of-the-art facility to be dedicated to propagation and conservation of Florida's famous largemouth bass. Florida bass are actually a distinct subspecies of largemouth black bass characterized by faster growth and being a more challenging piscatorial opponent than their northern cousin. In addition, Florida is home to the Suwannee
and shoal basses, which are unique southern adaptations of the black bass, that are very limited in range and need careful management to ensure their healthy futures.
Moyer, who at the time was director of the FWC's Division of Freshwater Fisheries, envisioned a new climate-controlled rearing facility to give biologists an opportunity to spawn bass and other freshwater species at the most opportune time to provide effective stocking of appropriately-sized fish throughout the state. Without this ability, many stocking efforts prove fruitless, because young fish have to be stocked at times of year when the forage (prey) base may not be adequate for the young bass' survival and growth.
New, sheltered raceways contribute to rearing significantly more fish per unit area in a more cost-effective manner than the old hatchery's dirt pond method. This technique also helps conserve water, minimize predation from birds, ensure good water quality, and maximize feed conversion--saving money and protecting the environment. New food technology under development at FBCC along with automatic feeders and state-of-the art filtration systems will help maximize growth rates and minimize mortality. With this
facility, we have the capability to more than triple our production.
The FBCC also will conduct a genetics program to ensure future stocking programs are of optimum benefit to native populations. This is critical to maintaining integrity of native Florida bass, Suwannee bass and shoal bass. A dedicated lab and biologist specializing in warmwater fish health will further ensure the center meets its goal "to produce healthy, genetically fit Florida largemouth bass and other freshwater fishes at the appropriate time, in sizes and numbers to effectively and efficiently support freshwater fisheries conservation projects."
In the near future, the plan calls for a comprehensive library and publicly accessible Internet-based data center, as well as facilities to host scientists from universities, various government agencies and the private sector to conduct state-of-the-art research. In addition to scientific information, this data base will include angler use, angler success and bass growth rate data for various lakes, so resident anglers, tourists and tournaments can all plan their fishing trips more effectively.
Ultimately, Darrell Scovell, the current Director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management, anticipates developing a public education complex and visitors center and the FBCC to provide citizens with the latest information about Florida fisheries biology, freshwater fishing techniques and aquatic habitats. Not only will there be educational displays, trails and observation facilities, but also fishing ponds and instructions will ultimately be provided. The site is on Florida Forest Service property. They will be invited to share in outreach efforts pertaining to silviculture and land management, as will the Division of State Parks, since the facility is at the nexus of several state and federal recreational trails, including the FWC's own Great Florida Birding Trail. The tourism and outreach potential will greatly enhance abilities to explain our conservation stewardship message and the role of recreational fishing and other outdoor activities to the public.
The Sunshine State is recognized as the "Fishing Capital of the World" based on a number of factors. Among the most important is information provided by the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation that shows Florida is the number one recreational fishing state in terms of number of anglers, number of angling days, direct economic impact, jobs supported and many other important factors. For instance, Florida attracts 2.8 million anglers, who spend $4.4 billion, and support 75,000 jobs. The next highest state is Texas with 2.5 million anglers, $3.4 billion and 60,000 jobs. Nationally, and in Florida's fresh waters black bass are the most popular fish sought after by anglers. In Florida, bass anglers spent 14 million days pursuing their sport in 2006
The FBCC was paid for in part by federal Wallop-Breaux and State
Wildlife Grants together with state matching funds, and a Rural Economic Development Initiative grant. FISHPRO was contracted to develop architectural and engineering plans for the FBCC and the local Vogel Brothers construction company built the facility. Primarily private funding will pay for the visitors' center and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida will help by collecting donations. In February 2007, the FBCC was awarded the "President's Award" from the Associated General Contractor's of Greater Florida for the best construction project that directly contributed to the state of Florida's citizens, environment, economy or other worthy cause.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission - Florida Bass Conservation Center Facilities Construction
The construction of the Florida Bass Conservation Center (FBCC) has established a propagation and research center dedicated to the conservation of Florida's black bass and other sportfish species. Florida is home to four species of black bass, all of which are classified as sportfish: Florida largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides floridanus), shoal bass (M. cataractae), Suwannee bass (M. notius), and spotted bass (M. punctulatus). Each of these species has distinct conservation needs. The shoal bass, listed as a Species of Special Concern, is endemic to the Apalachicola River basin in Florida with habitat-limited populations in the Chattahoochee and Flint River basins in Georgia and Alabama. The Suwannee bass occurs naturally in the Suwannee and Ochlockonee river basins and is also listed as a Species of Special Concern. Although spotted bass are widely distributed elsewhere, their Florida range is restricted to streams of the panhandle area. The population status and uniqueness of the spotted bass is not imperiled, but more knowledge of its interaction with other Micropterus species is needed to aid in conservation efforts. The Florida subspecies of largemouth bass is endemic only to the southern two-thirds of the peninsula and does not naturally occur anywhere else in the world. Biologists have expressed concern over potential contamination of the genetic strain of this nationally regarded sportfish by the release of northern and intergrade largemouth bass within the Florida-strain bass zone.
The FBCC was paid for in part by federal Wallop-Breaux and State
Wildlife Grants together with state matching funds, and a Rural Economic Development Initiative grant. FISHPRO was contracted to develop architectural and engineering plans for the FBCC and the local Vogel Brothers construction company built the facility. Primarily private funding will pay for the visitors' center and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida will help by collecting donations. In February 2007, the FBCC was awarded the "President's Award" from the Associated General Contractor's of Greater Florida for the
best construction project that directly contributed to the state of Florida's citizens, environment, economy or other worthy cause.
One great way to donate to the FBCC is by purchasing Glen Lau décor prints, videos or DVDs. Lau is the preeminent bass photographer and cinematographer in the world. He has graciously offered the use of his art at the FBCC and now is allowing the Foundation to sell his creations, including the awesome "Bigmouth" and "Bigmouth Forever" videos, with all the profits going to the FBCC. See WildlifeFoundationofFlorida.com to order copies.