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Entries in Florida bass (28)

Wednesday
Jan282015

Retail Sale of Bass Encourages Black Market

Largemouth bass painting by Al Agnew

States that allow sale of black bass in markets and restaurants are just asking for trouble, even if regulations specify that they must be hatchery raised. The words of Seth Gordon, the first conservation director for the Izaak Walton League (IWL), serve as a chilling reminder of what once was and what could again be when we don’t learn from history.

“So long as there is a legal market anywhere, you may bank on it that thousands of pounds of illegally caught bass will be sold,” he said during IWL’s all but forgotten campaign during the 1920s to save black bass from decimation by commercial harvest.

Well into the 20th century, black bass were commercial, as well as sport fish. Even as government agencies stocked fish anywhere and everywhere and closed seasons limited sport fishing, commercial fishermen harvested largemouth and smallmouth bass with pound and fyke nets, as well as other means, for sale in the fish markets of many cities.

“Eulogy on the Black Bass” read the headline in a 1927 issue of Forest and Stream, and another in 1930 screamed, “Defrauding Ten Million Anglers.” In the latter article, Edward Kemper slammed the Bureau of Fisheries for “overseeing the slaughter of millions and millions of black bass” and he included a “role of dishonor,” naming 10 states that continued to allow sale of bass in markets.

IWL was the prime mover for passage of the Black Bass Act of 1926, which was introduced into Congress by Rep. Harry Hawes of Missouri. As the law prohibited shipment of bass across state lines, IWL also worked within those states to outlaw commercial harvest.

I learned about this little known chapter in bass history from Jim Long, assistant unit leader of the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Oklahoma State University. He came across this and other long forgotten information as he prepared a presentation on the history of black bass management for a Black Bass Diversity Symposium at a Southern Division Meeting of the American Fisheries Society.

“I’ve read some histories of fisheries but I’ve never seen one for black bass,” he told me. “I wanted original newspaper clippings, not third-hand accounts, and data bases made that possible,” he said.

Pouring through archives, Long found a headline from the 1920s that proclaimed “Hoover Laments Decline of Fishing.” And he discovered that the New York Times listed black bass regulations during the 1870s. “That’s something you don’t see today,” he said.

As he divided his search into major time periods, starting with the 1800s, what surprised Long the most were the influential roles played by the IWL and, before that, by Dr. James A. Henshall.

Author of the 1881 Book of the Black Bass, Henshall was a medical doctor and passionate bass angler. The most quoted line in bass fishing literature belongs to him: “I consider him (black bass), inch for inch and pound for pound, the gamest fish that swims.”

Henshall’s passion, said Long, was to promote black bass as “a pre-eminent gamefish.” But the doctor also was a “lumper,” countering decades of science that preceded him.

Long coined that phrase as the opposite to “splitters,” which describes those who recognize multiple bass species.

“Henshall did a lot of really good work, but he considered the spotted bass a smallmouth, the Guadalupe a largemouth, and the Florida a largemouth,” Long explained. “And he was the authoritative voice.”

So, even though the smallmouth bass and then largemouth bass were identified in 1802, the spotted bass in 1819, the Florida bass in 1822, and the Guadalupe bass in 1874, Henshall’s lumping successfully countered their acknowledgement as separate species until the 1940s.

By the way, no one knows where that first smallmouth was caught before it was shipped to France to be analyzed and given its Latin name. But what Long discovered is that the black bass’s keystone designation as Micropterus was based on a damaged dorsal fin.

“It looked like it had a second, smaller dorsal,” he said. “And that word means small fin or wing.”

With improvement in science over the decades, especially in genetics, Henshall’s lumping has fallen out of favor and we’re not likely to name any new species based on an imperfection. Also, we’ve become much more selective about how and when we stock, and we’re focused on improving habitat as never before as a way to sustain fisheries.

All those are good things. But I am troubled by our politicians and their propensity for repeating harmful chapters in our history, as evidenced by New York’s decision two years ago to allow sale of black bass in markets and restaurants.   

Here’s a link to a column I wrote about this threat in 2011.  

Monday
Jan262015

Georgia Angler Catches Hall of Fame Bass at Rodman

Georgia angler Dwight Whitmore with 14-1 largemouth that he caught and released at Rodman Reservoir.

As the St. Johns Riverkeeper extorts the city of Jacksonville to help in a campaign to destroy Rodman Reservoir, the 9,000-acre impoundment on the Ocklawaha River continues to confirm its reputation as a world-class bass fishery.

Georgia angler Dwight Whitemore recently caught and released a 14-pound, 1-ounce largemouth there while fishing with guide Sean Rush.

“This lake is truly one of the best bass fishing and wildlife sanctuaries in the world,” said Rush, who added that he loves showing his customers the eagles and other wildlife that live there.

“During a remarkable three-day bass trip with Rush, the visiting Georgia anglers caught-and-released 66 bigmouths, which included two fish each weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces; an 8-pound, 8-ouncer; and others weighing 9-pounds-2; 9-pounds-12; 10-pounds-10; 11-pounds-9; plus the massive 14-pound-1 behemoth,” reports Bob McNally in The Times-Union.

 “When I got hold of that fish I knew it was a monster, and we started going crazy in the boat,” Rush said. “I told my anglers it would weigh between 12 and 15 pounds, and they just went wild, high-fiving and back slapping. They knew it was a fish most anglers only dream about catching.”

Once boated, the fish immediately was entered in Florida’s TrophyCatch program.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports:

Although not required to verify a Hall of Fame fish (larger than 13 pounds), FWC fisheries biologist Travis Tuten came off holiday leave with his kids to witness the catch, obtain additional measurements and take a fin clip for genetic analyses. They were also able to video the live release of the first Hall of Fame entry for Season 3 of TrophyCatch (visit www.Facebook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida to see the video).

As a Hall of Fame entrant, Whitmore will receive a free replica of his bass, produced by New Wave Taxidermy, $200 in gift cards from TrophyCatch partners like Bass Pro Shops, a Fitzgerald rod and a sweatshirt-sunglasses combo from SpiderWire™. Right now, he also is in contention for the TrophyCatch championship ring that will be awarded by the American Outdoors Fund for the largest verified bass at the end of Season 3 (Oct. 1, 2014 to Sep. 30, 2015).

During their three-day trip, Whitmore also caught and released four additional bass that are eligible for other TrophyCatch awards, and his buddy caught two more.

People can participate in this citizen-science effort and help encourage live release of trophy bass by registering at TrophyCatch. Simply registering makes people eligible for a Phoenix bass boat, powered by Mercury and equipped with a Power-Pole anchoring system and Navionics charting.

Thursday
Jan082015

DNA Research Reveals Trophy Bass Parentage at Guntersville

Contrary to popular belief, Guntersville trophy bass are not pure Florida strain, according to DNA research conducted during the 2014 Bassmaster Classic at that northern Alabama fishery.

From a scientific standpoint, however, that really isn’t surprising. Between 1981 and 1994, an estimated 500,000 Florida bass were released into Guntersville, but few have been added since.

“The population, instead, consists largely of hybrid crosses,” said Dr. Eric Peatman, an associate professor in Auburn University’s School of Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences.

Eight-pound-plus fish are 52 percent Florida and 48 percent northern. That’s in keeping with the assessment of Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director, who said that bass with 50 percent or more Florida genes have enhanced trophy potential. “Below that, and it’s no greater than for native fish,” he added.

Peatman and his team also found that the “lakewide average genetic composition” is about 70 percent northern and 30 percent Florida.

“Four to five-pound fish do not vary significantly from the lakewide average in their genetic make-up,” he explained. “However, seven-pound-plus fish show an increase in Florida percentage to 42 percent of their genome.”

These findings suggest that stocking Guntersville with Florida bass has been effective in shifting the genetic baseline of the population and that trophy-size fish are bunched around a rough 50:50 genetic split, said Peatman, adding that more samples are needed to reach definitive conclusions.

“One of the missing components in this analysis is age,” the scientist said, adding that multiple ages likely are represented among those samples of larger bass. “Ultimately, we want to know what is the genetic composition of the largest size fish within each year class, or what mix of Florida and northern alleles produces the fastest growing fish.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) will with this aspect during its spring sampling.

“A final component in the mix is obviously habitat,” Peatman said. “The best performing genotype in one reservoir is not necessarily the best genotype in a different reservoir with different environmental parameters. “So we have plans to include different reservoirs and habitats in the analysis in the coming year as well.”

All of this work is part of a statewide project funded by ADCNR to better understand the impacts of the state’s Florida bass stocking program on the quality of its bass fisheries.

“The Classic and other tournaments throughout the year in Alabama represent an excellent opportunity to take non-lethal DNA samples from larger bass brought in by anglers,” Peatman said.

“At the end of the day, the goal is to use these genetic tools to help ALDCNR make proactive stocking and management decisions to ensure the highest quality bass fisheries for our anglers for years to come.”

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Wednesday
Jan072015

Would Florida-Strain Bass Improve Your Fishery? Maybe . . . Not

In southeastern Oklahoma one winter, hatchery ponds for the state’s Florida bass stocking program were covered by ice for three weeks. One hundred miles to the south, at Lake Fork, just three days were below freezing.

Anglers at Fork during that time probably found the bite tough, but the world-class fishery suffered no long-term damage. In those ponds, meanwhile, 60 percent of the Florida bass brood stock died.

Yes, Florida bass grow faster and larger than their northern counterparts. And stocking them outside their native range has resulted in the creation of some spectacular trophy fisheries in states such as Texas, California, Georgia, and Alabama.

But desired outcome from the expensive effort is not a guarantee.

“In Oklahoma, we finally decided that stocking Florida bass was a waste of time in some places, no matter what fishermen want,” said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director and former assistant chief of fisheries for that state.

Still, anglers continue the drum beat to stock Florida bass in waters that biologists say are inappropriate, as Ron Brooks knows all too well.  And in their arguments for stocking, they cite “evidence” that really isn’t evidence at all, explained the Kentucky fisheries chief.

“We receive requests to stock the Florida strain fairly regularly, and they always site Tennessee’s stockings in Kentucky Lake and the larger bass there as a result,” he said, echoing the experiences of fisheries managers in several states.

But biologists haven’t verified that those large bass are the result of Florida strain stockings. “The truth of the matter is that Kentucky Lake is a very fertile lake with very abundant forage species,” Brooks added.

Recently, some wanted Kentucky to stock Florida bass in Cave Run Lake, an infertile fishery east of Lexington, with limited forage and almost no habitat in the lower end. And, oh yeah, muskies, fish that like cold water, do quite well there.

Still, Brooks said, explanations for why Cave Run is inappropriate fell on deaf ears.

In a nutshell, here’s what introduced Florida bass need to thrive: mild climate, abundant forage, and plentiful habitat, preferably vegetation. Originating in subtropic Florida, they’re most at home in shallow water with a long growing season and plenty to eat.

Simply for survival, climate is the most critical of the three. Temperature drop of just a few degrees can stress Florida bass, and rapid and/or severe drop can kill them. Unfortunately, a clear geographic boundary for determining where Florida bass can live and where they can’t does not exist.

 “It’s not a north/south thing,” Gililland said. “It’s a diagonal, with cold moving from the northwest to the southeast.”

To thrive, meanwhile, Florida bass require plenty of food both throughout the year and during all stages of their life cycle. In their native range, that means mostly golden shiners, shad, and sunfish. But they will grow large and fat on other species, including trout in California and tilapia in Mexico’s Lake El Salto.

Shallow-water, vegetated habitat is the least critical of the three components, especially if the climate is mild and food plentiful.

Okay, some of you say, “I understand that. But what’s the big deal if you stock Florida bass in a lake and they don’t do well. No harm, no foul. Right?”

Wrong.

Introducing Florida bass is not the same as a supplemental stocking to enhance a depleted fishery. There’s only one reason to stock them: To grow trophy fish. If a water body isn’t conducive for that, then Florida genes mixed into the native strain actually can harm the fishery, making them less hearty, at least in the short term. Eventually, Florida genes will disappear from the population.

But the money wasted to maintain brood stock, spawn them, and stock the offspring still will have been wasted.

Additionally, as Florida bass breed with native bass, the potential for growing to trophy size is lost over time. “You can’t just stock and leave them,” Gilliland said. “As long as you have 50 percent or greater Florida genes, there’s still the potential. Below that, it’s no greater than with just native fish.”

Still, many anglers who want big bass in their home waters continue to lobby for something that is not in the best interests of their fisheries.

“Believe me, if past research projects indicated that Florida strain bass would produce lunker bass in Kentucky, we would have stocked them years ago,” said Brooks, voicing the frustration of many fisheries managers. “We strive to produce the best fisheries possible within the limits of our resources.”

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Wednesday
Nov052014

Hitch Protection Could Threaten Clear Lake Bass Fishery

Clear Lake bass. Photo by Bob Myskey

A recent decision by the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC) could foreshadow catastrophe for Clear Lake’s world-class fishery.

Depending on what happens now, “it could be an overnight disaster for bass,” according to guide Matt Allen who closely followed the state’s research into the status of the hitch, a forage fish native to the 43,000 natural lake in northern California.

That investigation culminated with the Department of Fish and Wildlife recommending that the hitch be the first aquatic species in the Clear Lake Basin to be classified as “threatened.” FGC then approved the classification under the California Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned both the state and the federal government to list the hitch, with the latter yet to act. Danger to the bass fishery will be intensified if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) follows the California lead.

In its petition, CBD recommended “reducing predation by invasive fish near the mouths of spawning streams.”

State and/or federal protections could include suspending limits on non-native bass and/or even mass harvest with nets. And even if California elects not to decimate the trophy bass fishery that it created more than 40 years ago, its hands would be tied if the FWS decides to target bass.

“Trapping largemouth bass in the mouths of the creeks will kill the biggest bass in no time,” Allen said.

That’s because the bass fishery revolves around the hitch. In spring, these plump forage fish move into creeks to reproduce, and big, prespawn Florida bass follow to eat them.

And state findings to the contrary, Allen said that hitch remain in the lake in huge numbers. They’ve simply altered their locations because of drought and increasing water withdrawals for vineyards and other uses, he explained.

“The fish have abandoned some creeks, like Adobe,” he added. “But one bay over, in Casino, I saw thousands and thousands of them boiling.  Their population is booming. If anything, they are on the rise because they are adapting.”

But environmentalists and their supporters in state government were more interested in pursuing a political agenda than the real status of the native fish, Allen said. 

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)