Lake Apopka Restoration
Hatchery fish, such as sunshine bass, can sometimes provide a stop-gap fishery while other long-term habitat enhancement programs are implemented.
During development of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Black Bass Management Plan (BBMP) in 2011, Lake Apopka was frequently cited as an example of the devastating effects of some early Florida land- and water-use practices. Fortunately, many of those early practices have now stopped and more environmentally friendly management has helped. However, due to the amount of damage done previously, some water bodies need more assistance from man in the form of habitat restoration to return to a healthy, self-sustaining status. Such habitat enhancement efforts were a focus of the BBMP.
Lake Apopka is a 31,000-acre water body in central Florida that was historically known as one of the best bass fisheries in the United States. The lake has been significantly degraded by 40 years of municipal and agricultural effluent that was compounded by water stabilization. The lake presently has a large organic sediment layer and dense algae concentrations, which limit aquatic plant growth that is needed for quality fish and wildlife habitat.
Significant strides have been made to return the lake to a healthy water body. Municipal effluent has been eliminated, former muck farms built on original lake marshes have been purchased and restoration projects begun, a marsh flow-way system has been constructed to improve water quality, and a commercial gizzard shad harvest program has been implemented to limit re-suspension of phosphorus from bottom sediments.
To expedite the restoration of the fisheries habitat and public utilization, the Florida Legislature appropriated $4.8 million in 2012. A multiple-agency taskforce identified five projects to initiate the recovery of this valuable fishery. Access channels and bank fishing sites will be dredged at Winter Garden and Magnolia Landing to improve boating access to the lake and non-boating fishing opportunities. Aquatic vegetation will be planted to begin recovery of fisheries habitat. Fish attractors constructed of hardwood brush will be strategically placed in the lake to concentrate the existing fish populations for anglers and encourage public utilization.
These projects will be the initial steps to restoring the fishery and providing Floridians and visitors another high-quality black bass fisheries resource for their enjoyment. In the interim, the FWC continues to stock the lake with non-reproducing sunshine bass (a hatchery-produced hybrid of white bass and striped bass) to provide an exciting fishery to utilize some of the abundant forage fish the lake produces.
For fisheries information, contact FWC biologist Dale Jones, 352-494-4049; Dale.Jones@MyFWC.com.