The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recognizes that black bass (Florida largemouth, shoal, spotted and Suwannee basses) are tremendous natural resources enhancing the quality of life for citizens and tourists. In 2006, anglers enjoyed more than 14 million days fishing for this premier sport fish in Florida. Moreover, they generated approximately $1.25 billion in economic impact for Florida communities and supported approximately 12,000 jobs. Trophy Florida largemouth bass are a huge draw to resident anglers, tourists from around the globe and tournaments, while fisheries with high catch rates of quality bass, and fisheries with relatively rare shoal, spotted and Suwannee basses have an appeal of their own. Properly managing black bass fisheries will provide profound ecological, economic and sociological benefits for Floridians.
Numerous pressures challenge fisheries managers, including human population growth and development, declining water quality and current water management and fish management policies. Climate change, including precipitation and sea level changes, may create additional impacts. Preliminary surveys of stakeholders indicated general satisfaction with the current fishery but expressed some concerns with the adequacy of FWC fish management to deal with increasingly negative impacts on bass populations and fishing opportunities from development and other pressures.
This long-term management plan was compiled based on science, augmented by the input of more than 7,500 people who completed one of two surveys (or both) or spoke with our biologists. A technical assistance group – comprised of a variety of public stakeholders, including avid anglers, tackle shop owners, lure manufacturers, tournament anglers, fishing guides, outdoor writers, university researchers and tourism destination marketers – helped to further refine the plan. The plan is now ready for implementation. However, public, corporate and angler support to help bring the vision to reality is essential.
Action steps have been divided into four sections: New Opportunities, Habitat Management, Fish Management and People Management. Among some of the innovative approaches promoted in the plan are a new high-profile TrophyCatch angler recognition program to document trophy catches by rewarding anglers for releasing and reporting bass weighing more than 8 pounds, including special categories for 12 pounders and bass greater than 13 pounds. Renewed aquatic habitat enhancement efforts, including modified aquatic plant management approaches, will enhance production of these fish.
The Florida Bass Conservation Center, a state-of-the-art hatchery, will develop new stocking protocols to ensure effective and efficient stocking programs using both normal 1-inch fingerlings and larger, advanced fingerling bass (4-6 inches), both of which will meet stringent genetic and health standards. Another major focus will be expanding access to new waters (e.g., reservoirs, reclaimed phosphate pits and some private lakes) for Florida anglers. Boat ramps, fishing piers, fish attractors, fish spawning substrate and other infrastructure enhancements will allow additional fishing. Embellishing some ramps and marinas to host major tournaments and promote Florida bass fishing via national media will pay dividends for all bass anglers and local business communities, while helping encourage them to safely and sustainably enjoy this sport.
The North American Model of Wildlife Management is a key concept of fish and wildlife management emphasized by Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold and many other conservation leaders. It provides the framework that ensures conservation and restoration of sport fisheries and will be essential to funding and implementing this plan. It is being implemented throughout the nation and sets us apart from other countries, in which there is a general lack of conservation management, the resources are owned by private individuals or commercial interests, or the political elite control fish and wildlife recreational opportunities.
In accordance with this model, FWC uses various funding avenues to manage fish and wildlife resources for everyone. A major contribution comes through sale of hunting and fishing licenses and permits (all those fees go to FWC). Federal excise taxes are collected through the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration (Wallop-Breaux) program on equipment used for recreational fishing and on taxes on imported pleasure boats and motor boat fuel. Florida’s share of the national pot is based on how many certified fishing license holders we have. Collectively, these “user pays-user benefits” fees are central to funding this plan. Florida also receives funding for research, conservation and management of fish and wildlife resources from other local, state and federal programs, sale of specialty tags for vehicles (e.g., the “Go Fishing” largemouth bass tag) and private grants. As part of this plan, we seek to develop additional partnerships and sponsor support from industry and tourism development groups to fund implementation without seeking additional state revenues. Due to diverse connections between economic benefits and jobs that are dependent on recreational fishing, this is a well-supported course of action.
This will be a living document that we will refine as public opinions shift and new research and interim program evaluations merit changes. We look forward to working with stakeholders to make Florida the undisputed “Bass Fishing Capital of the World.”