Public Water Bass Stockings Frequently Asked Questions
Fisheries Biologists with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) routinely receive requests to stock sport fish species, such as Largemouth Bass, in specific public water bodies to improve the fisheries. Unfortunately, the utility and expectations of fish stocking are often grossly misunderstood by the angling public. This segment will provide more insight into this subject.
Why doesn’t WFF stock Largemouth Bass annually in public waters?
Stocking hatchery produced Largemouth Bass fingerlings in water bodies where naturally spawned fish of similar genetics already exist is unproductive. The number of bass produced naturally each spring in Alabama reservoirs is virtually always sufficient to maintain quality fisheries. WFF Fisheries Biologists have performed hundreds of bass spawn checks with seines over the years and the results of these surveys have never indicated a failed spawn. When Largemouth Bass populations are established and recruitment to a catchable size is adequate, the stocking of hatchery fingerlings simply will not increase the number of fish available to anglers.
Does stocking Largemouth Bass in public water bodies increase their abundance and thus make fishing better?
If a particular species, such as Largemouth Bass, occupies a body of water and natural reproduction is occurring, then stocking additional fish will not increase the number of fish available to anglers. This management concept is difficult for many to accept; however, the explanation is not overly complicated. Lakes can only support a certain amount of fish based on factors such as water quality and nutrient availability. This is called “carrying capacity”, or the total weight of fish that a water body can support. Fertile lakes have a higher carrying capacity and thus can support more fish than infertile water bodies. Many anglers believe that stocking more bass fingerlings will result in more fish to catch but carrying capacity limits how many fish survive and ultimately recruit to the fishery.
When fishing success in a water body begins to decline, will stocking Largemouth Bass fingerlings help the fishery?
When anglers’ catch rates are low it is usually the result of unfavorable environmental conditions that led to poor survival of one or more year-classes during their first year of life. The inverse also occurs, where favorable environmental conditions can lead to high survival of juveniles and thus an increase in fishing success follows a few years later. During the spring spawning season, dozens of species of juvenile fish all compete for food and space at the same time, thus survival of young bass in the wild is very low. Adult bass attempt to circumvent this fate by producing excessive amounts of offspring, but the reality is that very few young bass survive (often less than 1/2%) their first year of life. Since hatchery stocked fish are subjected to the same environmental conditions as naturally spawned fish, they also suffer very high rates of mortality. In fact, stocked bass frequently have higher mortality rates than resident fish, since they must orient and acclimate to their new surroundings.
What is a Florida Largemouth Bass and how does it differ from other bass?
The two recognized subspecies of Largemouth Bass are the Northern Largemouth Bass and the Florida Largemouth Bass. Without a genetic assessment or careful examination of external body features, these two subspecies cannot be distinguished from one another. In their native range, the Florida subspecies grows to a larger size than their Northern cousin.
Does Alabama have a Florida Largemouth Bass stocking program like many other states?
WFF began stocking Florida Largemouth Bass several decades ago spanning almost every reservoir in the state. WFF was one of the first state agencies to begin stocking Florida Largemouth Bass and over 17 million have been stocked since the early 1970’s. These stockings occurred before social media and other internet platforms were prevalent; thus, most people do not even realize they occurred. The goal of these stockings was not to increase bass abundance, but rather to alter the genetics of native Northern Largemouth Bass and increase the potential for larger fish to be caught by anglers. The results of this program were very inconsistent, but the successful introduction of Florida genes was documented in some locations, such as Lake Guntersville. Once Florida Largemouth Bass genes are abundant in a population, the continuation of stocking this subspecies is unproductive.
What is an F1 hybrid Largemouth Bass and are they superior?
An F1 hybrid is simply a term to designate a first-generation cross between a Northern and Florida Largemouth Bass. These offspring of mixed genetics have also been given other appealing coined names for marketing purposes. F1 hybrids have shown greater growth characteristics over Northern Largemouth Bass due to a phenomenon known as “hybrid vigor”, but this growth advantage does not persist. This is especially true in populations where both Northern and Florida Largemouth Bass genes already exist, like most Alabama public water bodies.
Why does WFF routinely stock Striped Bass in reservoirs, but not Largemouth Bass?
Unlike Largemouth Bass, Striped Bass are no longer able to successfully reproduce in most of Alabama’s public water bodies. Striped Bass are considered an anadromous species, meaning they historically lived their life in saltwater and only moved into freshwater rivers to spawn. Since dams now impede their spring spawning runs and thus eliminate the long stretches of free-flowing water necessary for egg maturation, WFF fish hatcheries must artificially spawn, raise, and stock this species to prevent them from disappearing from most of Alabama’s reservoirs.
Is stocking fish in public waters legal in Alabama?
Regulation 220-2-.129 prohibits the intentional stocking or release of any fish, mussel, snail, crayfish, or their embryos into the public waters of Alabama without written permission from WFF.