Black Bass Management Plan Yields Angler Benefits in Florida
Progress has been made in all four major areas targeted in the Florida Black Bass Management Plan: new opportunities, habitat management, fish management and human dimensions.
The Florida Black Bass Management Plan (see bit.ly/FL-BBMP) was approved almost five years ago by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), after fisheries biologists gathered and weighed input from anglers, businesses, university researchers and other conservation professionals.
New opportunities:Fellsmere Water Management Area is on its way to becoming a 10,000-acre bass-fishing hotspot. Now that the FWC has overseen construction of boat launching facilities, planting of desirable aquatic plants and bottom sculpting to create drop offs, islands and other fish and wildlife habitat, the St. Johns River Water Management District is allowing the reservoir to fill. As an added bonus, more than a million fingerling-sized bass will have been stocked by the time it fills. In the near future, these modifications will allow Fellsmere to become one of the best bass fisheries in the country. Fellsmere is adjacent to the world-renowned Farm 13/Stick Marsh bass fishery, making the area a desireable destination for anglers.
Habitat management:Another key element of the plan is a new Hydrilla Position Statement. Matt Phillips, from the Invasive Plant Management Section, said, “This new policy allows hydrilla to be managed on a waterbody-specific basis, using a risk-based approach rather than the previous mandate to reduce hydrilla to the lowest level possible.”
Want to see what’s happening on your favorite lake? Visit the “What’s Happening on Your Lake” webpage (see bit.ly/FWC-plants), to find detailed aquatic plant management schedules.
Habitat work also continues statewide, using grants to implement a variety of Aquatic Resource Habitat Enhancement projects, including drawdowns and dredging to remove muck, and other strategies. In addition, FWC staff and partners are adding popular fish attractors or gravel spawning beds to enhance recreational fishing.
Fish management:Fish stocking, along with ongoing research to increase survival of fish stocked into the wild, is a prime example of this aspect of the Plan. The Florida Bass Conservation Center in Sumter County and Blackwater Fish Hatchery in Santa Rosa County continue to produce quality fish for stocking public waters. Over the last five seasons nearly 19 million fish have been stocked into more than 250 public water bodies. All were recreational species, including bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, crappie, catfish, striped bass and sunshine bass.
Research is also being completed to evaluate whether angling for spawning bass (aka bed fishing) has a negative impact on natural reproduction. So far, results suggest that catching bass off their spawning beds poses little risk to a lake’s bass population in Florida.
Human dimensions: Combining fish management efforts, growing knowledge about bass biology and impacts from angler harvest with public engagement led to a complete review of current black bass regulations. This exemplifies how applying the science of human dimensions to the Black Bass Management Plan benefits anglers and fisheries.
It all comes back to you. A two-year process of integrating public attitudes and desires with fish population studies resulted in a new approach to simplify statewide regulations while managing harvest to produce more trophy-sized bass. FWC Commissioners will consider this proposal at their February Commission meeting outside of Tallahassee (see bit.ly/FWC-Havana).
The plan’s signature new program ̶ TrophyCatch ̶ completed its third year and is providing fisheries managers and researchers with valuable information. TrophyCatch is a citizen-science approach to encourage catching, documenting and releasing largemouth bass over 8 pounds. By providing anglers with sponsored incentives, a website gallery of catches and information on proper handling of these prized fish, TrophyCatch has documented release of more than 3,000 trophy bass back into Florida waters. The program is helping to conserve these valuable fish and to promote Florida as the “Bass Fishing Capital of the World.”
Research at the Florida Bass Conservation Center is comparing handling approaches for big bass to see how different methods affect them. Whether held vertically by the jaw, or cradled in two hands horizontally, there were no notable problems with dislocated jaws or reduced survival. Attaining more genetic samples from TrophyCatch bass, along with a tagging study, will help document future recapture of individual fish to prove survival. An angler this year provided an interesting video of catching a trophy bass on a shiner, weighing it by the jaw, taking a fin clip and releasing it – and then coming back 15 minutes later and catching it again (see bit.ly/TrophyCatch_Double-Take).
By going to TrophyCatchFlorida.com anglers can register, submit fish and examine trophy catches from around the state. The FWC will continue to evaluate methods for handling, documenting and conserving bass to ensure the best survival possible and that increased pressure on trophy bass does not adversely impact the numbers or size of future trophy populations in Florida.