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FWC discusses bass-stocking issues

Fish Busters' Bulletin

Monday, November 01, 2010

Media contact: Bob Wattendorf

Stock more fish! That is one of the most common suggestions from the angling public when it comes to ideas about how to improve recreational fishing. Oh, if it was that easy.

The Florida Bass Conservation Center (FBCC) is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) state-of-the-art freshwater hatchery in Sumter County. The FBCC recently hosted a Largemouth Bass Stocking Workshop to discuss past research and recent additions to the body of knowledge that can help guide future stocking and research efforts. The FWC and university experts met to discuss how to integrate hatchery fish into plans to ensure sustainable, quality bass fishing.

As early as 1948, Florida fisheries biologists realized that stocking small fingerling bass (about 1-1.5") into lakes or rivers with existing fish populations did not generate substantial improvements for anglers. Part of the problem is how many of these small fish are immediately consumed by predators or die from stress, and another part deals with the fact that bass are very prolific spawners. Each pair of spawning bass needs only a few of their hundreds of thousands of eggs to grow to adulthood to maintain the population.

Consequently the FWC and most state fisheries agencies typically stock only small Phase-I fingerlings into lakes that recently reflooded, experienced a major fish kill or lost a year class (which means a spawning season was disrupted often by unusual weather patterns), and where adequate habitat exists to sustain bass.

However in recent years, the FWC has pioneered several new bass-rearing technologies at the FBCC and through other adjunct programs. These include developing production techniques to rear advanced Phase-II fingerling bass on artificial diets, including training them to eat pelleted food, developing new diets customized to their nutritional needs, and then retraining them to take live prey fish prior to being stocked.

It is clear from recent angler surveys pertaining to the draft Black Bass Management Plan (see MyFWC.com/BassPlan_Survey) that the public thinks the FWC should stock more bass.

There are clear-cut benefits to stocking bass under specific conditions, such as after a major fish kill, when a new water body is flooded (such as water storage areas and irrigation ponds), or when Florida's famous sinkholes refill. However, more research is needed to improve the return on investment when bass are stocked into lakes, with established bass or other predators, to ensure enough stocked fish are caught by anglers to justify the expenditure. In Florida, most money for fish management comes from recreational fishing licenses, excise taxes on fishing tackle (Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration) and sale of "Go Fishing" largemouth bass conservation tags for vehicles and trailers. So the FWC is determined to make certain our fish resources and anglers benefit from every dollar.

The workshop concluded that more research is needed to refine timing of when bass are stocked, to determine the most cost-efficient size to stock them, and to study hatchery rearing techniques and stocking protocols. For specific genetic concerns associated with stocking, FWC biologists offered the following pro-con considerations.

On the pro-side, many biologists think the extra cost and time associated with addressing genetic issues is justified. After all, the Florida largemouth bass is a subspecies with unique characteristics that make it the premier freshwater sport fish in North America. Since stocking impacts may go undetected for generations and may be impossible to reverse, this group of scientists feels a conservative approach should be followed.

On the other hand - the "con" side - some managers feel that controlling production costs and having more bass available for stocking should be more important than genetic integrity. Genetic restrictions also prohibit stocking pure Florida largemouth bass into North Florida, since a hybrid between the northern and Florida largemouth naturally exists in that area. This could limit trophy bass production for North Florida, since other southeastern states attribute trophy production to their Florida bass-stocking programs.

In 2011, Florida freshwater fish hatcheries are slated to produce and stock nearly 5 million fish, including Phase-I and Phase-II largemouth bass, bluegill, redear, crappie, catfish, striped bass and sunshine bass. Those fish will add tremendously to the enjoyment of more than 1.4 million anglers fishing the fresh waters of the "Fishing Capital of the World." Each year and each day, FWC fisheries biologists are working to make that fishing better. If you'd like to comment on bass-stocking issues, take the brief survey at http://bit.ly/LMBstock.



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