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Florida Fish Busters Bulletin

J une 2014

Speak out on bass management
By: Bob Wattendorf
Now is the time to provide your opinion about
Floridas proposed change to largemouth bass
management by filling out a new online survey. The
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
(FWC) wants to be sure that management strategies
optimize the 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. More than 750,000 anglers
in Florida each year specifically target these fish, which are affectionately known as
bucket mouths.
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 would not alter the current
statewide bag limit of five bass. For the most part, this would become a statewide
regulation possibly beginning in J uly 2016, if the public supports the proposal and FWC
Commissioners choose to accept the recommendation.
FWC Fisheries biologist, Andy
Strickland, examines a hatchery-
stocked largemouth bass before
releasing it. Quality-size bass like
these should be better protected by
the proposed regulation.
To take the survey, and to learn more about largemouth bass as well as current
and possible future management changes, go to MyFWC.com/Fishing and select the
Speak out on bass rules! link under the bass image near the middle of the page.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission takes public
opinions very seriously, said Tom
Champeau, director of the Division of
Freshwater Fisheries Management.
Combined with the best science and case
studies that we have to go on, 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 all of that input from typical
fishermen, a series of Technical Advisory Group meetings involving Florida guides,
tournament anglers, marina owners, trophy bass fishermen, outdoor writers and tourism
representatives were also conducted to ensure a wide range of interests were
represented.
The BBMP encouraged FWC biologists to develop the least restrictive
regulations feasible to enhance trophy bass fisheries, maintain healthy bass populations
statewide and provide diverse angling opportunities. Therefore, FWC staff conducted a
thorough review of biological data to evaluate the effectiveness of various regulation
strategies. In additon, public opinion was attained from almost 6,000 public responses
FWC biologists discussed possible new
regulations with anglers at open houses
around the state in 2013 to get input.
to a preliminary survey and a series of open-
house events around the state during 2013.
The resulting proposal for a five-bass daily
bag limit, only one of which may be 16 inches
in total length or longer, would simplify
current regulations, allow more harvest of
abundant smaller bass and further protect the
older fish and especially spawning female
bass. The FWC is seeking additional feedback on this proposed change and will
continue to evaluate the best options for several more months before submitting a final
proposal.
Initial surveys in 2013 were completed by mostly non-tournament anglers (52
percent) and casual tournament fishermen who normally fish local club tournaments,
with only 9 percent fishing more than 20 tournaments a year. Most respondents were
relatively avid bass anglers (92 percent primarily targeted bass) and fished an average
of 46 times a year, or nearly weekly. So FWC did hear directly from those most likely to
be affected by any changes. A few interesting takeaways were that only 16 percent
agreed they normally eat the bass they catch, and 57 percent said they are just as
happy if they dont keep any bass.
More specifically, when they were asked about current regulations 57 percent did
not want to increase the bag limit and only 21 percent wanted to reduce it. Hence, given
the biological support that a five-bass daily bag limit is sustainable, there is not a current
recommendation to change it.
By carefully catching and releasing larger
bass, anglers can help ensure a quality bass
fishery for current and future generations.
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. Data show that protecting these smaller fish is not
necessary, biologically, and that the 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 that is 16 inches or longer per day.
This regulation would also be more lenient in the fishing zone in the south (east of
Highway 441 and south of State Road 80), which currently allows only one bass over 14
inches.
Limited exceptions for specific fisheries that have special needs or opportunities
would still be possible, such as high-profile, catch-and-release fisheries that need such
a management approach, or even a few more liberal regulations where bass may be
overabundant, making additional harvest desirable. Those would be limited exceptions
and generally associated with fish management areas.
It is also important to note that there is
no intent to alter the simple Bass Tournament
Exemption Permit process (see
MyFWC.com/Permits then click on
Freshwater and Black Bass Tournament).
Currently, bass organizations holding
tournaments may apply online for a
temporary exemption to bass size limits. This
is done to ensure the health of Florida
Tournaments would continue to be able to
apply for a permit to allow participants to
temporarily possess bass over the length limit,
in return for releasing all bass alive after the
weigh-in.
freshwater resources while encouraging fishing participation from small clubs to major
tournaments. Tournament organizers and sponsors must emphasize proper handling
and care of bass to their participants and adhere to live-release guidelines stipulated in
the permit. Moreover, in return for the temporary exemption to allow weigh-in prior to
live-release of the bass, all tournament participants must forego any harvest. Hence,
they are not allowed to keep what would otherwise be their five-fish bag limit. Any fish
that accidentally die in a permitted tournament must be donated either to charity or for
research. Tournaments are not required to have a permit if they choose to abide by
existing regulations (e.g., currently one bass longer than 22 inches or the proposed one
bass over 16 inches).
In the first few weeks since the survey went out, we have received over 1,200
responses, but every opinion is important. So please review the background materials
and complete a survey yourself (see http://bit.ly/BassRules).
Those interested in ensuring quality
bass fishing can do two other things: Sign up
for our TrophyCatch citizen-science program
that rewards anglers for catching, documenting
and releasing bass heavier than 8 pounds
(see TrophyCatchFlorida.com ), and purchase
a Go Fishing largemouth bass tag for your
vehicle or trailer (see http://bit.ly/FLbass-tag).

Instant licenses are available at MyFWC.com/License or by calling 888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). Report
violators by calling 888-404-3922, *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone, or texting to Tip@MyFWC.com. Visit
MyFWC.com/Fishing and select more news, or scr.bi/Fish-busters for more Fish Busters Bulletins. To
subscribe to FWC columns or to receive news releases, visit myfwc.com/Contact.
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The Go Fishing bass tag, shown on this
hatchery haul box, helps support many FWC
conservation efforts, including managing for
quality and trophy bass fishing opportunities.