Speak out on bass management
Fish Busters' Bulletin
Monday, June 02, 2014
Media contact: Bob Wattendorf, 850-488-0520
It is time to speak out about Florida’s proposed change to largemouth bass management by filling out an online survey or attending a local meeting (see MyFWC.com/Calendar). The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wants to be sure management strategies optimize use and enjoyment of these fish in a sustainable manner.
Black bass -- among which the Florida largemouth reigns supreme -- are the most popular sportfish in North America.
A change is being considered to provide a five-bass daily bag limit, only one of which may be 16 inches in total length or longer. This means that each person would be allowed to keep up to five largemouth bass less than 16 inches, or four largemouth bass less than 16 inches and one largemouth bass 16 inches or longer each day.
This change would replace current length limits, but not the statewide bag limit of five bass. For the most part, this would become a statewide regulation, but limited exceptions for fisheries with special needs or opportunities would be possible and generally associated with fish management areas.
To take the survey, and learn more about largemouth bass as well as current and possible future management changes, go to MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Speak out on bass rules!” under the bass image near the middle of the page.
“The FWC takes public opinions very seriously,” said Tom Champeau, director of the agency’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management. “Combined with the best science and case studies that we have, public input helps us strive for optimal sustained use of these popular and valuable fish.”
In 2011 the Black Bass Management Plan (BBMP) was approved, based on comments from more than 7,500 anglers. In addition to that, input from typical fishermen, Technical Advisory Group meetings involving guides, tournament anglers, marina owners, trophy bass fishermen, outdoor writers and tourism representatives were conducted to ensure a wide range of opinions.
The BBMP encouraged using the least restrictive regulations feasible to enhance trophy bass fisheries, maintain healthy bass populations statewide and provide diverse angling opportunities. Therefore, FWC staff reviewed biological data to evaluate effectiveness of various regulation strategies. In addition, public opinion came from almost 6,000 responses to a preliminary survey and open-house events around Florida in 2013. The resulting proposal would simplify regulations, allow more harvest of abundant smaller bass and further protect older fish, including spawning female bass. The FWC is seeking feedback on this proposed change and will continue to evaluate options for several months before submitting a final proposal. If the public supports the proposal, and FWC Commissioners accept it, it could be implemented in July 2016.
The FWC promotes TrophyCatch as a volunteer citizen-science program that rewards anglers for catching, documenting and releasing bass heavier than 8 pounds (see TrophyCatchFlorida.com ), thus further encouraging voluntary release of the biggest, oldest bass.
Initial surveys in 2013 were completed primarily by non-tournament anglers (52 percent) and casual tournament fishermen who normally fish local club tournaments, with 9 percent fishing more than 20 tournaments a year. Most respondents primarily targeted bass and fished frequently. So FWC incorporated input from those most affected by any changes.
A few takeaways were that only 16 percent normally eat the bass they catch, and 57 percent are happy if they don’t keep any bass. When asked about current regulations, 57 percent did not want to increase the bag limit and 21 percent wanted to reduce it. Since a five-bass daily bag limit is sustainable, there is not a recommendation to change it.
Currently, south and east of the Suwannee River there is a 14-inch minimum length limit, and in the Suwannee River and north and west of it there is a 12-inch minimum length limit for bass. Biological data show that protecting these smaller fish is not necessary. Furthermore, different size limits complicate regulations. What is advantageous is protecting bigger fish, which are rarer and take longer to produce – hence the proposed harvest limit of only one bass 16 inches or longer per day. This regulation would be more lenient in the south fishing zone (east of Highway 441 and south of State Road 80), which currently allows only one bass over 14 inches.
There is no plan to alter the Bass Tournament Exemption Permit process (see MyFWC.com/Permits then click on “Freshwater” and “Black Bass Tournament”).
Organizations holding bass tournaments may apply online for a temporary exemption to bass size limits. This helps ensure the health of Florida freshwater resources while encouraging fishing participation from small clubs to major tournaments. In return for a temporary exemption to allow weigh-in prior to live-release of the bass, tournament participants must forego any harvest, including what would otherwise be their five-fish bag limit. Any fish that die must be donated to charity or for research. Tournaments are not required to have a permit if they abide by existing regulations and don’t seek an exemption.
Every opinion is important, pro or con. So please review the background materials and complete a survey yourself (see http://bit.ly/BassRules).