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Florida Black Bass Management Plan Survey Results

Fish Busters' Bulletin

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Media contact: Bob Wattendorf

Florida anglers want a homespun management plan for the most popular freshwater sportfishes in America - the freshwater black basses. Recent surveys indicated more than 94 percent of nearly 5,000 respondents feel such a plan is important, and nearly two-thirds felt angler input was critical.

More than 10 million anglers target black bass nationally (the group to which the Florida largemouth, Suwannee, shoal and spotted basses all belong). Florida produces many of the world's premier bass fisheries, with bass anglers enjoying more than 14 million days fishing here annually. Although the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) zealously manages these fishes, a variety of considerations caused us to decide it was time to seek public input to help write and publicize a comprehensive, long-term Black Bass Management Plan.

By June, we received 773 responses requested via presentations at Florida BassPro Shops, the Tampa Tribune Expo, Florida Sportsman's fishing/boating shows and fishing clubs, as well as from news releases and posters encouraging completion of an online survey. We also received 4,085 responses from a direct e-mail solicitation of licensed freshwater anglers.

The surveys were not intended to provide scientifically valid results with specific confidence intervals, but were an important effort to communicate with members of the public who wish to provide us with thoughts about bass fishing and how to manage the resource. On June 15, we shared these results, at the Florida Bass Conservation Center, with a Technical Assistance Group (TAG). The TAG is composed of knowledgable Floridians representing diverse stakeholder groups affected by the FWC's black bass management decisions.

Members of the group are Todd Kersey (Florida Freshwater Fisheries Coalition President and manager of, Chris Horton (Conservation Director, BASS/ESPN), Dr. Mike Allen (professor of fisheries science at UF), Gary Simpson (outdoor writer and tackle shop owner), Shaw Grigsby (tournament fisherman and TV personality), Jim Hoovan (President of Lakeland Bassmasters), Mark Jackson (Central Florida Tourism Development Council), Mark Detweiler (Big Toho Marina owner), Tommy Thompson (Executive Director, Florida Outdoor Writers Association), Terry Segraves (Kissimmee Visitors Bureau and fishing spokesperson), Peter Thliveros (professional angler), and Herb Stephen (bass guide). These individuals were asked to represent various segments of the fishing community and to communicate with their peers to ensure the FWC receives as much candid public opinion as possible during plan development. They also were asked to consider opinions of anglers who responded to surveys prior to rendering their own input on what the plan should include. TAG meetings are publicized on the calendar and open to visitors.

Members of the public, who responded to the survey, as well as everyone with a Florida freshwater fishing license, will receive an invitation to participate in the next survey. Others can follow the plan's development and comment at

Combined results from the first two surveys indicated the public considers the most important factors for a successful fishing trip to be: having a good time (97%), enjoying the scenery and time on the water (95%), relaxing (94%), being safe (92%), being with family and friends (87%), excitement (86%), catching big fish (72%) or catching many fish (71%). A take-home message is the overall fishing experience is as important as the actual catch.

Florida freshwater fisheries rated OK in terms of overall satisfaction, with 84 percent satisfied or extremely satisfied with their most recent trip (as individually defined by the previous considerations) compared to a virtually identical 83 percent for saltwater. Among anglers, who fished in freshwater elsewhere on their last trip, 89 percent reported being satisfied.
Overall 12 percent of respondents used a fishing guide in the past year, 32 percent fished in tournaments, and 25 percent were members of bass clubs.
Similarly, 65 percent occasionally fished from shore, 30 percent from kayaks/canoes and 88 percent from power boats.

The following are top issues (2,245 individuals thought the top-ranked issue was critical and only 299 felt the bottom-ranked one was) related to recreational bass fishing in Florida: 1) public impacts from pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and water use; 2) point source pollution; 3) poor angler ethics, including failure to comply with laws; 4) water quality-nutrient loading etc.; 5) development and population growth; 6) lack of conservation funding; 7) water quantity issues; 8) nonnative fish; 9) lack of access; 10) muck deposits; 11) too much chemical control of aquatic plants, 12) too many aquatic plants. Other issues were boating conflicts, bed fishing, loss of interest in fishing, too many tournaments, climate change and too many anglers.

Somewhat corresponding to the issues, anglers suggested the following solutions are critical for FWC to pursue: 1) work with DEP on water quality; 2) control non-native fish; 3) stock more bass; 4) work with WMDs on water quantity; 5) conduct more habitat restoration projects, 6) improve aquatic plant management; 7) increase communications with anglers on laws, ethics, stewardship; 8) provide more boat access; 9) simplify fishing regulations; and 10) provide more shoreline, pier and boardwalk fishing. Other considerations are to increase fishing education programs, provide more law enforcement, create more customized bass regulations, regulate tournaments more, protect Suwannee/shoal bass, provide more fishing clinics/outreach events, engage bass clubs and organized groups, implement more fishing rules and create more sponsor opportunities.

Relative to how we develop this plan (in priority order), the following are key points: focus on preservation of natural fish and wildlife communities; obtain input from anglers; publicize a long-term plan; obtain fishing-related business' input, and science should be the principal consideration. Clear losers were economics should be the principal consideration or continuing without a formal plan is adequate.

It was also interesting to observe that the preferred statement was: "I'd prefer to be able to catch and release three 3-pound bass," indicating a quality emphasis (53%). "I'd prefer to catch-and-release one bass over 10 pounds," representing a trophy emphasis, was selected by 32 percent. Finally, "I'd prefer to be able to catch and harvest five 1-pound bass," which is a consumption emphasis, was chosen by 13 percent of respondents. Consequently, the plan should address each type of opportunity, since neither trophies nor harvest is a dominant issue.

After hearing this input, TAG members worked on developing a simple goal and descriptive vision. Tommy Thompson and Herb Stephen both pointed to the need to have a concise and pithy goal statement that could be easily communicated. The team subsequently came up with this preliminary goal: "Establish Florida as the undisputed Bass Fishing Capital of the World."
Mike Allen stated "Most plans for other states are not specific enough and actionable-they tend to feel good and be very generic. We want ours to be more focused and definitive." With that in mind, a tentative vision statement was crafted.

Vision: Improve Florida black bass populations and fisheries by establishing quality habitats that provide anglers with more trophy bass, more locations and opportunities with a higher probability of catching quality bass, increase numbers of anglers and angler effort, and achieve a higher degree of angler satisfaction. With active support from the general and angling publics, achieve worldwide public recognition and support for sustaining Florida as the "Bass Fishing Capital of the World," based on great resources and responsible management.

Tom Champeau, director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries, thanked participants for their insights, including a lengthy list of actions and ideas focused in areas of habitat, fish and people management. The next step is for fisheries biologists to work with the TAG team to create a complete draft plan and to share it with the public for a second round of input and discussion in August. Stay tuned to and the Fish Busters' Bulletins for more.

Black bass have long been the main attraction in Florida's fresh waters. This 1961 cover was illustrated by Wally Hughes (1918-2010), a renowned wildlife artist. He was best known for his work as an illustrator, photographer, and art director for Florida Wildlife Magazine.

The resulting proposal will be shared with the public and, after another round of public comment and refinement, presented to the Commissioners at a public meeting to finalize the plan. It is anticipated the plan will be accepted in early 2011, allowing the FWC to pursue implementation with the ultimate goal of making Florida the undisputed Black Bass Fishing Capital of the World.

FWC Facts:
Black bears may look slow because they walk flat on their feet (called plantigrade) like people and travel with a shuffling gait, but they can run as fast as 30 miles an hour.

Learn More at AskFWC