Freshwater fishing excels due to team effort and public funding
Fish Busters' Bulletin
Thursday, May 01, 2014
Media contact: Bob Wattendorf, 850-488-0520
This spring was exceptional for freshwater anglers, but it is not just a matter of luck or seasonal weather variances. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists work with anglers, industry and other scientists to protect and enhance Florida’s freshwater fish species and aquatic habitats as part of their mission, and anglers help ensure success.
Funding for these efforts comes from a variety of sources, including fishing license sales, Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration (SFR), donations and sale of the “Go-Fishing” largemouth bass tag.
Florida provides some of the best freshwater fishing in the world, which is why anglers spend so much time fishing here. Specific to freshwater fishing, the latest national survey (2011) reported Florida had 1.2 million anglers. They enjoyed 26 million days fishing (No. 2 Texas had 23 million), spending almost a billion dollars and generating an economic impact of $1.7 billion that supported 14,000 jobs.
Fishing license sales are the primary source of funding for the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries to ensure those public benefits. In addition, Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration, a user-pays, public-benefits program, provides matching money to manage fishery resources. Excise taxes on fishing equipment, motorboat and small-engine fuels, import duties and interest are returned to the states based primarily on a formula that includes land area and the number of paid license holders.
Sport Fish Restoration ensures all monies spent on fishing licenses in Florida go for conservation. So not only will the $17 spent on an annual license go to conservation, but approximately $8 additional from SFR will be added to improve your fishing and boating.
Although resident seniors over 65 years of age are exempt, buying a license is a simple way for them to contribute to ensuring quality fishing for themselves and their grandchildren. Youth under 16 are also exempt, but a new license allows them to buy a license at any age. It is valid until they turn 17, so they don’t actually spend any more money than if they waited until they were 16. Besides the sense of pride in being a card-holding member of the fishing community, the fact they have a license allows FWC to claim the extra $8 for SFR each year from when they buy the license until they turn 17.
The FWC understands these are your hard-earned dollars. Consequently, we make special efforts to get your opinions. The Black Bass Management Plan is one example where public meetings, surveys and in-depth meetings with industry leaders and anglers provided specific guidance for improving your fisheries. The conversations and management plan led to creation of the TrophyCatch program and to a reassessment of black bass regulations to develop the least-restrictive regulations feasible to protect and enhance trophy bass fisheries and maintain healthy bass populations statewide. This is an ongoing effort, and the public is encouraged to participate.
Biologists use various means to collect important data, such as using electric current to stun fish, which are collected, identified, documented and released. Biologists and trained staff also interview anglers to see what they are catching and how much time it takes to catch various sport fish. This information is compared with results from previous years and other water bodies. Unfortunately, those random sampling techniques do not fully account for some of our most valuable fish – trophy largemouth bass.
“Filling that data gap is a major reason for TrophyCatch,” says Tom Champeau, director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management. TrophyCatch (TrophyCatchFlorida.com) is an incentive-based conservation program that rewards anglers for releasing bass heavier than 8 pounds. In addition to promoting catch-and-release of these older female bass, the data is used as a form of citizen science.
For instance, FWC stocks hundreds of thousands of largemouth bass each year. Aquatic vegetation management efforts keep waterways open for multiple uses, while native aquatic plant and other habitat enhancement strategies improve conditions for fish and other wildlife. Other programs include building and repairing boat ramps and courtesy docks, placing fish attractors and fish feeders, constructing fishing piers and providing fishing clinics for youth. Information on where TrophyCatch entries come from can be compared to these stocking, habitat management and other programs to determine the most effective and efficient methods to improve opportunities for anglers to catch trophy bass.
Florida is blessed with great fishing resources and a responsible management approach. If you want to help, please be sure to respond to FWC surveys, register for TrophyCatch, report fish tags, abide by fishing rules, ensure you have a valid license, and report ongoing resource violations or impaired boaters to Wildlife Alert (888-404-3922). When you buy your license (License.MyFWC.com), you may also contribute to the Youth Hunting/Fishing Program and help create the next generation that cares.
Another simple way to contribute and brag about being a proud angler is to buy a “Go Fishing” largemouth bass specialty plate for your car and boat trailer. You can do so at the tag office when you replace your license tag, or online at myfloridaspecialtyplate.com/go-fishing.html. You can even buy gift certificates for a specialty plate for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. The tags are a present your parents will enjoy for years and features a Florida bass, with a redear sunfish and bluegill swimming in a bed of eelgrass. Buy yours today and help ensure the future of freshwater fishing in Florida.