Bass fishing is a “big deal” in Florida, especially in our north central region. Of 2.8 million anglers fishing in Florida, 1.9 million were residents and 0.9 million were tourists from virtually every state and numerous countries. Anglers averaged 17.2 days per year fishing in Florida, for a total of 46.3 million days of quality outdoor recreation. Of those, 24.4 million days were spent on fresh water by 1.4 million anglers, and 23.1 million days were spent on salt water.
Bass anglers spend more than 14 million days fishing in Florida each year, which generates $1.25 billion for the state’s economy (U.S. Department of Interior, 2006, Florida Edition). With 3 million acres of freshwater lakes, ponds and reservoirs, and 12,000 miles of rivers, streams and canals, Florida is a premier destination for bass anglers.
The Florida largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides floridanus) is genetically unique and has been stocked worldwide because of its potential for rapid growth to trophy size (10 pounds or heavier). Every year, a few Florida anglers catch 13- to 15-pound trophy largemouth bass. Moreover, Florida has shoal (M. cataractae), spotted (M. punctulatus) and Suwannee bass (M. notius), each of which exists only in discrete areas and requires specific habitat and prey to maintain its populations. Programs such as the Black Bass Grand Slam promoted in BassMaster Magazine draw more attention to these limited populations – necessitating greater attention to conservation practices to ensure their sustainability.
The fishing public perceives Florida to be among the top bass fishing states, but the fishery and trophy fish availability are depleted from historic levels in many localities, as documented in big-fish tournament records over the past several decades (see graph). Numerous pressures challenge fish management, 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 indicate overall satisfaction with the fishery but some concerns about negative impacts on bass populations and fishing opportunities, and the need for an enhanced management strategy.
The Black Bass Management Plan is action-based and will help FWC staff develop solutions for management issues such as habitat enhancement, aquatic plant management, fisheries regulations and appropriate stocking plans, while improving communications about angling ethics and opportunities, ensuring access, and reaching out to youth to keep them engaged in recreational fishing and conservation. The plan must be integrated with other local, state and federal programs. Effective implementation of the plan should also benefit fishing-dependent private businesses, including those that indirectly profit (e.g., gas stations, local grocers, motels and restaurants), and riparian land owners whose waterfront property values are affected by aesthetics and fishing quality.
Florida is recognized as the overall “Fishing Capital of the World” and by implementation of this plan seeks to become the undisputed “Bass Fishing Capital of the World” too.