Florida Tournament Report

Commission moves forward with considering innovative bass regulations

LMB

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) favorably reviewed draft rules that could ultimately change statewide length limits for black bass species, including eliminating many specific rules for different water bodies. The intent of the proposal is to simplify rules; allow anglers to keep smaller, more abundant largemouth bass; and increase abundance of larger bass in lakes and rivers across the state.

FWC staff heard from nearly 8,000 anglers using a series of open house meetings and surveys over the past two years. During its June 25 meeting in Sarasota, Commissioners approved the draft rules and directed staff to continue discussions with the public prior to final action in February 2016. Upon approval, these new rules will go into effect on July 1, 2016.

In Florida, black bass species include largemouth, spotted, shoal, Suwannee and Choctaw bass. The largemouth bass is the most abundant and is known worldwide for reaching trophy size.

“We believe this innovative proposal will streamline the process,” said Commissioner Aliese “Liesa” Priddy. “We want to make it as easy as possible for Florida anglers, as well as those from out of state, to enjoy bass fishing in Florida, the Fishing Capital of the World.”

“These proposed rules were developed with a tremendous amount of public involvement and decades of research on the effectiveness of various regulations,” said Tom Champeau, director of the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.

The proposed bass regulations encourage increased angler harvest of smaller largemouth bass while managing for more bass longer than 16 inches. Black bass species found only in rivers in the Florida Panhandle will be managed to conserve populations with limited distributions. While the current statewide daily bag limit of five black bass (all species) will be maintained, the three zones that currently regulate bass harvest would be eliminated along with 42 special regulations for largemouth bass.

Under the new rules, up to five largemouth bass could be kept of any size with only one 16 inches or longer in total length per angler per day. For Suwannee, shoal, Choctaw and spotted basses, the current 12-inch minimum size limit is maintained, and anglers may keep only one bass 16 inches or longer. In addition, the proposed changes include a catch-and-release-only zone for shoal bass in the Chipola River.

FWC staff advised Commissioners the current bass-tournament permit program will continue to allow anglers participating in permitted tournaments temporary possession of five bass of any size. This program has been in place for over 20 years and allows delayed-release bass tournaments to take place while ensuring the proper care, handling and release of all bass caught.

Gene Gilliland, national conservation director at B.A.S.S., said in written comments about the proposal:

“FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management staff has done an outstanding job collecting data that supports this recommendation. Statewide regulations that are simple for the public to understand are more likely to be accepted and followed.”

FWC staff advised Commissioners that public support for the proposed changes was strong, and Commissioners directed staff to continue public outreach in anticipation of the July 1, 2016, effective date.

“This new approach is very innovative and I anticipate that many states will follow suit,” said Dr. Michael Allen, professor of freshwater fisheries ecology with the University of Florida.

Details of the proposed rule changes and public input can be provided via two surveys at MyFWC.com/BassSurvey.