Evaluating the influence of the TrophyCatch program

bass.jpgFlorida is considered the “Fishing Capital of the World,” in part because of the Florida strain of largemouth bass, which is renowned for producing trophy-sized fish. For years, anglers have considered bass fishing in Florida an opportunity to catch that once-in-a-lifetime bass. In fact, Florida largemouth bass are held in such high regard that they have been stocked in other states and countries to provide anglers more opportunities to catch trophy-sized fish. Freshwater fisheries managers take great care to prevent other bass species from interbreeding with the Florida largemouth bass, helping preserve the unique genetics that make it one of the most sought-after freshwater species in the world. But to protect this resource, managers must also be mindful of angler behavior. Those lucky enough to catch a trophy-sized Florida largemouth often harvest the fish, perhaps to have it mounted above their fireplace. The downside of this continued harvest is that it could produce a population of smaller fish and lead to less trophy-catch opportunities, which would diminish the international appeal of freshwater fishing in Florida.

So in 2012, the FWC initiated the TrophyCatch program to encourage catch-and-release of trophy-sized largemouth bass weighing 8 pounds or more by offering anglers incentives such as replica mounts, clothing and gift cards to sporting goods retailers. By reducing harvests of fish this size, this program aims to increase opportunities for anglers to experience the thrill of catching a trophy-sized largemouth bass in Florida. Now, managers need a way to determine whether or not the TrophyCatch program is effective. That’s why FWRI researchers are comparing the catch and harvest rates of trophy-sized largemouth bass from before the TrophyCatch program to those recorded after its launch.

During this five-year research project, FWRI researchers and partners are capturing and tagging trophy-sized largemouth bass at Florida lakes, ponds and rivers open to public fishing. Researchers carefully select sites based on location, size and angler use to ensure they are representative of all largemouth bass fishing opportunities in Florida. As of January 2016, the project included 110 water bodies in 36 counties.

When researchers collect trophy-sized largemouth bass, they measure and weigh the fish. They then fit each with an external dart tag before release. Each tag has a unique identification number and a phone number for anglers to call to collect a $100 reward. When anglers report the catch of a tagged bass, researchers note whether they harvested or released the fish. Researchers also ask whether anglers are aware of the TrophyCatch program and whether they plan to register and participate in the program to become eligible for incentives.

The results of this study will help managers determine if the TrophyCatch program incentives are having the desired effect on harvest rates. If the TrophyCatch program works as planned, it should help increase opportunities for anglers to hook a trophy-sized largemouth bass in Florida. More people catching more big Florida largemouth bass would ultimately strengthen the state’s reputation as the “Fishing Capital of the World.”

FWC Facts:
Snook are ambush feeders, often hiding behind bridge pilings, rocks and other submerged structures to surprise their prey.

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