Black Crappie Management: Linking Stakeholder Input and Scientific Data
By Laura Walthall
The black crappie is a highly valued game fish throughout much of North America, including Florida, where the species is locally known as speckled perch or specks. Florida’s black crappie fisheries are seasonal, with high catch rates occurring during winter and spring, making Florida a popular winter destination for travelling anglers. Florida’s crappie fisheries are important to resident and non-resident anglers alike, making black crappie the most targeted fish during winter at some lakes and in some cases the most targeted fish for the entire year.
Black crappie length limits vary across the state to reflect the differences in their populations from region to region as well as management objectives. Florida’s warmer climate leads to a long growing season and crappie in the Sunshine State have varied food sources as they mature, as well as differences in spawning seasons as you move north to south in the state. With these differences in mind, waterbodies can be managed to accomplish different goals. For example, the regulation on one waterbody could be tailored to produce trophy size black crappie and a different regulation on another lake can be implemented to increase the total yield anglers harvest by balancing the size of the fish and total numbers caught.
When a length limit is proposed, biologists collect data on growth rates, natural and harvest mortality, angler effort, and total harvest. Biologists then utilize models to estimate how the fishery might change under different regulations. Once a regulation takes effect, biologists continue to monitor the population and conduct creel surveys to gauge angler satisfaction and record the number and size of fish that are being harvested. This data is collected in cooperation with local anglers and FWC biologists could not complete this evaluation without angler collaboration.
When an angler releases a fish in accordance with current regulations, several things happen. Research conducted by FWC has shown a very low hooking mortality of black crappie, meaning most fish released will survive and able to be caught again. Additionally, studies in several states have revealed length limits may be a factor in producing bigger fish or higher total yield by weight if fish growth is fast, natural mortality is low, and fishing pressure is high.
To best direct management and research for this popular species, FWC staff has drafted a comprehensive Black Crappie Management Plan, which utilizes a thorough review of existing scientific literature and extensive communications with crappie anglers. As one of the main objectives in the plan, freshwater fisheries biologists are currently reviewing crappie regulations. They have conducted 11 virtual meetings as well as a statewide survey to gather stakeholder input. The FWC will be taking the data collected from those meetings, mail out surveys and angler creel surveys and evaluating them along with biological data. This is the first review of statewide crappie regulations in Florida and the FWC staff will determine which regulations are effective for given waterbodies given stakeholder opinions and biological data. FWC staff will then provide regulation recommendations to our Commission, with the goal of ensuring the long term quality of Florida’s black crappie fishery.