by Bob Wattendorf, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) mission is “Managing fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people.” Tom Champeau, Director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management, and his staff continue to make excellent progress to achieve this mission by finding innovative ways to combine science-informed management with public input to enhance your fisheries. Keeping faith with the angling public that helped create the Black Bass Management Plan (BBMP) in 2011 remains a huge priority for the Division (for details visit: MyFWC.com/Fishing and click Black Bass Management Plan). This article summarizes some key developments last year and plans for 2014–15.
Black Bass Regulations — Public Input
Among the issues that were most important to anglers during creation of the Black Bass Management Plan was the need to re-examine the current bass regulations. Opinions were split with some anglers feeling more customized regulations were important to optimize bass fishing in key systems, while others felt strongly that rules should be simplified. As a result, the FWC undertook a reevaluation of bass regulations from both biological and social perspectives.
The goal that was established is to provide “Optimal sustainable use of Florida’s bass fisheries with an emphasis on production of high quality and trophy bass.” More specifically, it was determined that in the future, the FWC should use the least restrictive regulations possible to protect trophy bass and maintain a statewide bass fishery with a healthy population that provides diverse angling opportunities, including controlled harvest and high angler satisfaction.
The process began with an intense review of scientific literature dealing with successes and failures of various regulatory schemes. Liberal bag limits with no size restrictions, minimum or maximum size limits, restrictive harvest limits, custom-fit slot limits, or total catch-and-release were each investigated. Analyses showed that in many circumstances, regulations played a less significant role than habitat or weather conditions. Tagging studies and other fish population assessments revealed that anglers generally catch from 25 to 50 percent of harvestable-sized bass but actually keep less than 10 percent, which is sustainable. However, in specific situations where habitat limitations combined with high fishing pressure, regulations were very important to pro-viding optimal sustained use.
To obtain the opinions of as many anglers as possible representing diverse backgrounds and fishing preferences, the FWC worked with University of Florida human dimensions experts to enhance the public input process. A series of open house meetings were held in 2013 in conjunction with an angler survey. More than 4,000 anglers responded to an on-line survey and an additional 1,300 completed a mail-in survey.
Key findings included scoring various statements from one to five, with five being “Strongly Agree”. Some highlights were that anglers are just as happy if they release bass (4.32); the more bass they catch the happier (4.24); and fishing where there is a chance to catch a trophy is important (3.86).
Consequently, the challenge for biologists and the Commissioners is to balance science with public opinions to provide optimal sustained use. ‘Optimal’ is determined by what anglers want in order to increase their enjoyment and participation in recreational fishing, while ‘sustained’ depends on science to ensure that providing a satisfying experience for anglers today does not compromise having quality fisheries for the future. Finally, ‘use’ can be either legal harvest or catch and release.
FWC is continuing to synthesize this data and wants to maintain a two-way dialogue with anglers, so that when the next major round of changes, if any, are implemented they ensure quality fishing, prospering businesses, and happy anglers. See bit.ly/BassRegs for updates.
Stocking bass can effectively create new fisheries and re-establish a fishery after a major fish kill. FWC hatchery staff developed a new production technique to spawn bass out of season and raise them on artificial feed, so larger advanced fingerlings (4-inch) are ready to stock when more abundant prey are available in the spring. FWC biologists are evaluating survival of advanced-fingerling bass and experimenting with ways to train bass raised in hatcheries to more quickly adapt to life in the wild.
In 2012–13, 3.5 million fish were stocked by the two state freshwater fish hatcheries in Florida, while we anticipate stocking 4.3 million fish in 2013–14. Of those, 1.2 million are largemouth bass, the other species include crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, channel cat-fish, striped bass and sunshine bass.
As an alternative to further regulating anglers and making it illegal to harvest trophy-sized bass, TrophyCatch rewards anglers for voluntarily releasing bass heavier than eight pounds. By requiring documentation to verify the bass weight, FWC biologists can also use data collected by anglers who catch, document and release these bass, as a form of citizen-science. This information is important to determine what conservation management programs such as habitat restoration, vegetation management, fish stocking, or regulatory controls are most successful in improving anglers' opportunities to catch trophy bass.
TrophyCatch (TrophyCatchFlorida.com) launched in October 2012 and is already pro-viding information to document that Florida is the “Bass Fishing Capital of the World,” while promoting catch-and-release of trophy bass. During its inaugural year, some of TrophyCatch’s accomplishments included:
■ Almost 4,000 registrants
■ Over $16,000 in prizes awarded for individual catches
■ Over 150 verified largemouth bass submissions and winners
■ Phoenix bass boat powered by Mercury (an additional $40,000 value) awarded to random-drawing winner Frank Ay
■ $10,000 from Experience Kissimmee awarded to Peter Perez for the largest bass caught in Osceola County
■ TrophyCatch Champion’s Ring (an additional $3,000 value) awarded to Bob Williams for the largest certified TrophyCatch bass, 13 lbs. 14 oz.
■ Over $70,000 in total prizes awarded
For TrophyCatch’s second season, FWC increased prizes and simplified submission requirements. The largest change in submitting a bass is that only one photo, of the entire fish on a scale with the weight clearly legible, is required. However, photos of the length, girth, angler holding fish, and release are also encouraged. For details, and to register or submit fish, visit TrophyCatchFlorida.com.
Anglers who register for free are instantly eligible for a drawing, in October, for a Phoenix Bass Boat, powered by Mercury and equipped with a Power-Pole anchoring system. For every bass heavier than eight pounds they submit, which is approved for TrophyCatch, they get 10 additional chances at the grand prize, and earn a reward from FWC’s corporate partners that starts with $100 in gift cards (donated by Bass Pro Shops, Rapala and/or Dick’s Sporting Goods), apparel from Bass King Clothing, a customized certificate and club decal. The biggest bass of the year earns the American Outdoors Fund championship ring, and if it happens to be from one of the major public lakes in Osceola County, Experience Kissimmee kicks in a $10,000 prize. So be sure to check out the rules, and take a camera and scale with you when you go bass fishing to document your trophy catch.
Fellsmere Water Management Area
The Fellsmere project is about to become the next Farm-13/Stickmarsh when it is flooded in 2015. This 10,000-acre parcel of land in Indian River County was purchased by the St. Johns River Water Management District and is being converted into a reservoir. The FWC worked carefully with the district to sculpt the contours of the lake, plant native vegetation and stock sportfish while enhancing public access. To learn more, see the Fellsmere video at YouTube.com/TrophyCatchFlorida (or go directly to bit.ly/FellsmereYouTube).
The FWC will continue to update you as we strive to implement the BBMP and use TrophyCatch and other research methods to evaluate our success. Please check our web-site, MyFWC.com/Fishing, sign up for news-letters, and follow us on FaceBook. Trophy- Catch is especially active and provides great insights into when and where the best fishing is (FaceBook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida and YouTube.com/TrophyCatchFlorida).
- Archived Feature Articles -
2013 - Black Bass Plan Update from FWC
by Bob Wattendorf, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
In June 2011, The Florida Fish and Wild-life Conservation Commission (FWC) approved the Black Bass Management Plan. It was the result of more than 7,500 anglers providing input to our scientists followed by detailed discussions with a technical assistance group representing fishing-related businesses, university experts, professional anglers, outdoor media and fishing guides. Implementation of the plan is expected to create significant ecological, economic and social benefits for Florida in the long term but is already producing remarkable results.
The goal of the plan is to ensure Florida is the Black Bass Fishing Capital of the World by:
1. Ensuring healthy lakes and rivers to benefit many species of fish and wild-life, as well as trophy bass fisheries.
2. Strengthening local economies by documenting and increasing economic benefits derived from bass fishing, which provided more than 14 million days of quality outdoor recreation for bass anglers and generated an economic impact of $1.25 billion prior to implementing the plan.
3. Attracting events such as national professional bass fishing tournaments, which have huge economic impacts, to smaller towns and cities as a result of Florida’s enhanced reputation. Here is a partial list of accomplishments. (Also available at MyFWC.com/Fishing; click the Black Bass Management Plan to review the plan and, then look for “First-Year Updates,” for more details.)
The FWC stopped state-owned hatcheries from stocking or relocating bass outside their native range. Genetic testing will help ensure pure Florida populations will be maintained. New rules regulate importation of non-native bass and prohibit anglers from moving bass around in ways that could hurt their genetic integrity or move parasites and diseases.
The FWC Invasive Plant Management Section implemented an agency position statement to guide the agency in managing hydrilla using a risk-based approach that now incorporates public input into hydrilla management plans.
Tournament permits annually allow clubs and organizations to possess bass outside legal size limits with the condition that all bass (even those that could normally be harvested) must be released. The FWC is strengthening partnerships with bass fishing organizations and local communities to encourage large tournaments to come to Florida and to enhance facilities.
Another objective was to work cooperatively with other agencies to emphasize recreational fisheries. An example is Lake Okeechobee, where the cooperative efforts of local citizens groups, the South Florida Water Management District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the FWC got the Water Regulation Schedule changed to benefit lake ecology. Outstanding catch rates for bass and crappie are being reported.
FWC biologists are seeking to use the least restrictive regulations possible to protect trophy bass, while maintaining a statewide bass fishery that provides diverse angling opportunities, including controlled harvest and high angler satisfaction. University of Florida human dimensions experts are working to enhance the public input process, and a series of townhall-type meetings was held in spring 2013. Also, a survey was distributed to anglers to obtain their opinions.
The BBMP incorporates all four black bass species found in Florida. Shoal bass are a lesser known species that occur in a limited range in the upper Chi-pola River. Recent research provides a science-informed perspective to assess and manage this species. Results show a robust population of shoal bass. The Big Catch angler recognitions program (see Page 29), added a new Bass Slam to encourage awareness of these other black bass species.
To expedite restoration of Lake Apopka, the Florida Legislature appropriated $4.8 million in 2012. A multi-agency task force identified five projects to restore this valuable fishery. In the interim, the FWC continues to stock the lake with non-reproducing sunshine bass to provide a recreational fishery.
Stocking bass can effectively create new fisheries and re-establish a fishery after a major fish kill. FWC hatchery staff developed a new production technique to spawn bass out of season, so advanced-fingerlings (4-inch) are ready to stock when more abundant prey are available. Now FWC biologists are conducting a small-lake stocking study to determine survival of advanced-fingerling bass in 11 lakes throughout Florida.
Trophy Tagging Study
FWC biologists tagged 136 trophy large-mouth bass greater than 8 pounds in Florida’s public waters during the first tagging season. Results are very informative and will help guide trophy bass management planning in the future. If you catch any fish with a tag, cut the tag close to the fish and call the Tag Hotline at 1-800-367-4461 or email tagreturn@ MyFWC.com.
Providing greater opportunities for trophy-size bass and promoting Florida’s exceptional largemouth fishery was an important component of the BBMP. TrophyCatch (TrophyCatchFlorida.com), launched in October 2012 and will help document that Florida is the “Bass Fishing Capital of the World,” while promoting catch-and-release of trophy bass. Register, legally catch an 8-pound-plus bass, document it according to the rules, and release it in Florida to claim great rewards and valuable prizes.
Fellsmere Water Management Area
The Fellsmere project is an example of a new opportunity. This 10,000-acre par-cel of land in Indian River County was purchased by the St. Johns River Water Management District and is being con-verted into a reservoir. The FWC provided resources to enhance fish and wildlife habitat and to benefit fish and wildlife populations, anglers and wildlife viewers.
High School Bass Fishing
An example of current efforts to help recruit future anglers is FWC involvement in laying the groundwork to incorporate bass fishing as a sanctioned sport in high schools. FWC is working with the FLW and The Bass Federation, as well as the Florida Department of Education to in- crease competition between schools with bass fishing clubs.
Biologists evaluated an alternative weigh-in procedure to reduce handling stress on bass. Two experimental e-tournaments were evaluated. Fish were weighed or measured on the boat, photographed and then released. e-tournaments are a good choice for bass anglers wanting to hold tournaments during summer or on waters where bass cannot be legally kept. However, no plans to require such tournaments are currently contemplated.
The FWC will continue to update you as we strive to implement the BBMP and use TrophyCatch and other research methods to evaluate our success. Please check our website, MyFWC.com/Fishing, sign up for newsletters, and follow us on FaceBook. TrophyCatch is especially active and provides great insights into when and where the best fishing is (FaceBook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida and YouTube.com/TrophyCatchFlorida).