FWC News Release

People often call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) because they want to stock their private ponds or lakes with largemouth bass. Typically, they want to know where they can get them and what kind of largemouth bass they can legally stock.

The kind of bass depends upon where the stocking will take place. Last year, the FWC passed a rule making it illegal to possess or release any kind of largemouth bass in peninsular Florida except pure Florida-strain largemouth.

The reason for the rule is to protect the genetically pure Florida-strain largemouth bass, also called Florida largemouth bass. This subspecies of largemouth bass is native only to peninsular Florida (south and east of the Suwannee River) and is the cornerstone of the state's billion-dollar black bass fishing industry.

Florida residents who live south and east of the Suwannee River, therefore, should purchase largemouth bass only from aquaculturists, or fish farmers, whose fish have been genetically tested and authenticated by the FWC as pure Florida largemouth bass. So far, only two such fish farms in Florida possess authenticated largemouth bass. To date, no out-of-state farms meet the FWC requirements. The two farms in Florida are Florida Fish Farms Inc. (352-793-4224) and Shongaloo Fisheries (352-468-1251). Both fish farms are registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and sell authenticated, pure Florida largemouth bass.

Nobody may possess northern largemouth bass or their hybrids south and east of the Suwannee River, so Florida residents should not purchase largemouth bass from the Florida Panhandle or an out-of-state fish farm for transport into peninsular Florida. Panhandle residents (north and west of the Suwannee River) may possess intergrade or hybrid largemouth bass.

The release of nonnative northern largemouth bass and intergrades occurs through stocking private ponds and lakes, but sometimes these fish end up in Florida's rivers and lakes. The problem is that the two subspecies - northern largemouth bass and Florida largemouth bass - will readily interbreed. That's why scientists say that stocking the northern largemouth is a real threat to the pure Florida largemouth.

"Florida largemouth bass are adapted to Florida's subtropical climate and typically spawn earlier in the year than northern largemouth bass. If the northern subspecies or intergrade (hybrid) bass spawn with Florida largemouth, their offspring may inherit genes that reduce growth or survival, and other, less obvious genetic problems," said Dr. Brandon Barthel, FWC black bass geneticist. "If enough bass with northern genes spawn with Florida bass, the unique characteristics of the Florida subspecies will be lost forever."

Anglers come to our state from all over the world to catch trophy Florida largemouth bass, so the FWC is doing everything possible to protect the genetic purity of this ecologically and economically important subspecies of fish.

To help do this, the FWC passed a rule (Florida Administrative Code 68-5.002[r]), which went into effect July 1, 2010, making northern largemouth bass and intergrades (hybrids) of northern largemouth bass "conditional species" south and east of the Suwannee River and banning possession or release in those peninsular areas.

The northern-Florida intergrade cross of largemouth bass can still be stocked in private waters north and west of the Suwannee River, but pure northern largemouth bass cannot be stocked anywhere in Florida. Both "gorilla bass" and "tiger bass" are intergrade crosses of the largemouth bass and cannot be stocked south and east of the Suwannee River.

Violation of this rule is a criminal offense and also may result in federal prosecution under the Lacey Act if fish are transported interstate. Civil penalties may be up to $5,000 per fish.

For more information about stocking largemouth bass, contact Rick Stout at 352-732-1225.