Researchers experiment with new hatchery procedures to better
prepare young largemouth bass for the perils of the wild.
As Florida's premier freshwater sport fish, the largemouth bass
is the central figure in a black bass fishery that generates more
than $1.25 billion annually for the state. Maintaining and
improving this valuable resource is a continuing effort that relies
in part on supplementing wild stocks with hatchery-raised bass.
FWC's Florida Bass Conservation
Center in Webster
The FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) evaluates
these stocking programs and researches ways to improve them. In
recent studies, biologists from FWRI's Eustis Fisheries Research
Laboratory collaborated with researchers at the Florida Bass
Conservation Center, the FWC's fish hatchery in Webster, to address
some of the challenges of introducing hatchery-raised young bass
into the wild.
Researchers have found that stocked bass have difficulty
adjusting from feed pellets at the hatchery to live prey in the
wild. They also typically lack the predator avoidance and survival
skills of wild fish.
Biologists documented this vulnerability in a study at Lake
Carlton in the Harris Chain of Lakes (Lake County). They tracked
young hatchery bass and wild bass with radio telemetry to compare
their behaviors. The researchers found that hatchery bass tended to
wander away from cover more often than wild bass. Failure to avoid
predators, including birds, was apparent from the radio tags that
turned up on shore under nests, in neighboring Lake Beauclair, and
even inside a live double-crested cormorant. Findings also showed
that neither wild nor hatchery bass showed a preference for
specific vegetation for cover.
Now researchers are adding predators and live prey to hatchery
ponds, conditioning young bass to forage and avoid predators before
entering the wild. Early results from this study have been
encouraging. Conditioned fish tend to outgrow and survive other
hatchery bass, indicating both improved foraging and avoidance of
Additional research is under way to evaluate other aspects of
the hatchery and stocking process and ensure that survival rates
for stocked bass continue to improve, keeping the largemouth bass
abundant for Floridians and visiting anglers.
equipment allows biologists to track the movements of tagged
bass on Lake Carlton and reveal how some succumb to predators.
A young bass 3.5 inches long, called an advanced fingerling,
is unaccustomed to the threats it will face in the wild.
Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes includes many favorite spots for