Bob Wattendorf, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The Black Bass Management Plan (BBMP; for details see: MyFWC.com/Fishing) continues to guide and inform many of the most important freshwater fisheries programs. “Our anglers helped develop the BBMP, and we are dedicated to providing the public with progress updates,” said Tom Champeau, director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management. Here are a few highlights from 2014–15 and some of the plans for the future.
Black Bass Regulations
Among the most important issues to anglers during creation of the BBMP was the need to re-examine bass regulations. Some anglers initially felt more customized regulations were important to optimize bass fishing in key systems, while others felt FWC should simplify the rules, making them more nearly standard statewide.
As a result, FWC staff considered both biological data and the advice and opinions of anglers and fishing businesses to come up with a recommendation that, if approved by the Commission, could be implemented next year (July 2016). The goal is to provide “Optimal sustainable use of Florida’s bass fisheries with an emphasis on production of high quality and trophy bass.”
Following a review of decades of data from Florida lakes managed under special regulations and studies of bass regulations from across the nation, FWC staff in collaboration with the University of Florida developed several options to manage bass statewide. Our objective was to recommend the least restrictive regulations to provide simplicity with the greatest potential to provide high quality bass fishing and enhance trophy bass abundance.
Black bass are sunfish from the same family as bream and crappie and in Florida include largemouth, spotted, shoal, Suwannee and Choctaw basses. The largemouth bass is the most abundant and the only one that grows to weights heavier than eight pounds. The other species reside primarily in the panhandle of Florida and seldom exceed four pounds.
Working with university human dimensions experts, the FWC sought opinions from as many anglers as possible representing diverse backgrounds and fishing preferences through a series of open house meetings around the state and an angler survey. More than 6,500 anglers responded to an on-line survey and an additional 1,300 completed a mail-in survey.
Based on both biological realities and anglers’ preferences the FWC developed a draft proposal (see bit.ly/BassRegs, for updates and to add your opinion). The suggested regulations seek to provide diverse angling opportunities, including controlled harvest and high angler satisfaction while continuing to conserve Florida’s black bass species, particularly those with restricted distributions and habitat needs.
Here is a summary of the proposed regulations that if approved by the Commissioners in fall 2015 would go into effect in July 2016. The current zones (see Black Bass Fishing Zones) would be eliminated along with many of the special regulations or specific Fish Management Area rules for black bass. Instead the following would become the general statewide rule:
Daily Bag Limit (Proposed after July 2016)
All species (largemouth, Choctaw, shoal, Suwannee, and spotted) included in five fish daily aggregate black bass bag limit. This is the same as the current statewide rule.
Shoal Bass Conservation Zone (Proposed after July 2016)
Establish catch-and-release zone in the Chipola River between Peacock Bridge (County Road 278) and Johnny Boy Landing. This would further protect this relatively rare species that depends on a limited area of unique habitat.
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 (see TrophyCatchFlorida.com and Angler Recognition Programs for details). By requiring documentation to verify the bass weight, FWC biologists can 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.
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, and sign up for newsletters. Be sure to follow Facebook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida for great insights into when and where the best fishing is.
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.”
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.