FWC News Release

How often have you caught a great fish and wished you could release it somewhere special for you or a friend to catch again? Catch-and-release has caught on, especially among bass anglers. However, sometimes the release isn't immediate or the angler wants to relocate it in a different lake or river.

Catch-photograph-release is a great way to collect memories. The big thing to remember is this: Proper handling means keeping the fish out of the water for as short a time as possible. Consider holding your own breath while the fish is out of the water as a gauge. If the fish is going in a livewell, remember to exchange the water frequently and keep it cool.

When and where should you release your catch? First, if the law requires a freshwater fish to be released in Florida, do so as quickly and effectively as possible, but taking the necessary measurements or a photo is permitted. Release it where you caught it.

When a native fish is legal to take, it is your decision whether you harvest it or release it. Generally speaking, size and creel limits have been established so that harvesting these fish will still allow sustaining the fish population. In certain circumstances, such as where slot limits are specified, it is especially helpful to remove the smaller fish (below the slot). In theory, reducing the numbers of small fish reduces competition, which allows the protected fish in the slot (for instance 15 inches to 24 inches) to grow more quickly.

Nonnative fishes (other than peacock bass and triploid grass carp) should be harvested. Most make good eating, and the best way to transport them is on ice. They should not be released and definitely should not be relocated.

Rules for relocating largemouth bass went into effect in July 2010. They affect anglers relocating bass and purchasing and stocking bass in private ponds.

The reason for Rule 68-5.002 (see FLrules.org) is to protect genetically pure Florida-strain largemouth bass, also called Florida largemouth bass. Under this rule, only aquaculturists, or fish farmers, whose fish have been genetically tested and authenticated as pure Florida largemouth bass by the FWC are allowed to possess or sell bass to customers for stocking south and east of the Suwannee River. Two farms (Florida Fish Farms Inc., 352-793-4224; and Shongaloo Fisheries, 352-468-1251) are registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and authorized to sell authenticated pure Florida largemouth bass.

Largemouth bass produced out of state must be tested using procedures approved by the FWC before they can be brought into peninsular Florida. Intergrade or hybrid largemouth bass may only be transported into the Florida Panhandle for stocking in private waters west and north of the Suwannee River.

These rules were implemented following extensive genetic research that identified even more refined differences with largemouth bass stocks in Florida, which could relate to localized adaptations that allow the fish to thrive in particular habitats and climates. State-run hatcheries now actually use four specific genetic conservation units to ensure that our hatcheries protect these resources. But in an age of commercial hatcheries and anglers transporting fish around the state in livewells, regulations were necessary.

Release of impure Florida largemouth bass (with northern largemouth bass genes) mainly occurs through stocking private ponds and lakes, but they can end up in our rivers and lakes. This was verified during the genetic analyses of bass populations in South Florida that should have been "pure Florida" but were not. The problem is that the two subspecies, northern largemouth bass and Florida largemouth bass, readily interbreed, and stocking northern largemouth is a real threat to 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 (i.e., hybrid) bass spawn with Florida largemouth, their offspring may inherit genes that may reduce growth or survival, and other, less obvious genetic traits," said Brandon Barthel, Ph.D., an FWC black bass geneticist.

Anglers come to the Sunshine State from all over the world to catch trophy Florida largemouth bass. The FWC is doing everything possible to protect the genetic purity of this ecologically and economically important subspecies of fish and to promote their wise use and release. Anglers and concerned citizens can help.