Beware moving fish—even native bass
Catch-photograph-release (CPR) is a great way to collect memories. The big thing to remember is if you are going to release a fish–do it legally and do your best to ensure the fish will survive to thrive. Proper handling means keeping the fish out of the water 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 live well, remember to exchange the water frequently and keep it cool.With that said, when and where should you release your catch? First, if the law requires a freshwater fish to be released in Florida, it should be done as quickly and effectively as possible, but taking the necessary measurements or a photo is permitted. It should be released in the immediate vicinity to where it was caught without placing it in a livewell or stressing it.
When a native fish is legal to take, it is your discretion 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 based on natural reproduction, mortality rates, growth rates, and habitat capacity. 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.Non-native 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.
Rule 68-5.002 (see FLrules.org) states that northern black bass (Micropterus salmoides salmoides) is a conditional non-native species. Possession, importation into Florida, sale or transportation of any live specimens or eggs of this species of black bass is prohibited except by special permit from the FWC. Hybrids of the northern black bass and Florida subspecies (M. s. floridanus) are legal to possess in the Suwannee River and its tributaries and north and west of the Suwannee River.
The reason for the rule is to protect 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 annual billion dollar black bass fishing industry.
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. Thus, “gorilla bass” and “tiger bass,” which are hybrid largemouth bass, cannot be stocked south and east of the Suwannee River. The same guidance applies to movement of bass by anglers from northwest of the Suwannee to waters southeast of that system.
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. Florida 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 live wells, 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’s and were not. The problem is 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., a 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.”