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Florida Fish Busters: The future of bass tournaments

January 11, 2011
By BOB WATTENDORF, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

In surveying anglers about a proposed Long-term Black Bass Management Plan, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management learned that people have opposing views about fishing tournaments.

Ray Scott, founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, brought a network of large, competitive bass tournaments to reality and attracted millions of anglers to the sport, enhancing their understanding and enjoyment of what has become America’s most-sought recreational fish.

Along the way, tournament groups helped promote catch-and-release fishing and educated the public about conservation issues. However, many anglers feel tournaments exploit the resource and cause congestion at ramps. They are also concerned with bass that die after release and, especially, the impact of interfering with bedding bass.

One angler said tournaments shouldn’t be continued if they don’t overwhelmingly benefit the state. Someone else held the opposite view: that high-profile tournaments draw worldwide attention to Florida’s fisheries, boost local economies, and provide great public relations to the bass fishing Florida offers.

A third survey participant said that during and after weigh-ins, bass are kept out of the water far too long. “Go to a tournament site the next morning and look at all the dead bass floating in the water,” the participant said.

FWC staff, in drafting the Black Bass Management Plan, is considering another aspect of holding tournaments: the pros and cons of allowing bass tournaments to be temporarily exempt from size limits. A summary of those discussion points are provided below.

Continue tournament permitting (SUBHEAD)

Competitive bass tournament angling is very popular in Florida and has profound economic impacts locally and statewide. For example, the 2005 BassMaster Classic on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes generated an estimated $25 million for the community during the three-day event. Some premier largemouth bass fisheries in Florida (e.g., Istokpoga, Orange, Walk-in-Water) have protective slot limits (15-24 inches) that would restrict tournament anglers from maximizing their daily weight.

Because most tournaments, including small clubs, penalize anglers for dead fish, tournament anglers try to take very good care of their fish. Therefore, the FWC provides exemptions to size restrictions (but not bag limits) to allow tournament anglers to temporarily possess these fish. Permitted tournament anglers must follow strict permit requirements, including releasing all fish after weigh-in and any dead fish must be donated to charity or research. Tournament angling depends on temporary exemptions to be competitive.

So, for economic and social reasons, exemptions should be continued, since they don’t hurt the resource, compared with allowing these same anglers to harvest their catch.

Discontinue tournament permitting (SUBHEAD)

Many anglers think it is unjust for tournament participants to get even a temporary exemption from designated size limits. Harvest restrictions are set to manage a fishery based on a stated objective. Research from the University of Florida and elsewhere has shown that tournament-associated mortality could harm a fishery and prevent managers from meeting objectives. Tournament-associated mortality has been found to average 26-28 percent, and modeling effects of this mortality show that, under certain circumstances, it could affect the sizes of fish available for anglers. Thus, all anglers should follow size restrictions to ensure objectives are met.

Given that both sides have valid points, the FWC continues to review the impact of tournaments. It studied them in the 1980s and again in the ‘90s and found no significant impacts. An FWC subteam is looking at the tournament issue again, as is its technical assistance group of stakeholders representing various groups that use these fisheries or are affected by management decisions.

The FWC’s No. 1 objective is to ensure sustainable bass populations. Tournaments won’t affect that, but they could alter the quality of a local fishery. Moreover, this is a resource-allocation issue, so sharing of public resources in an equitable manner and economic and social considerations need to be weighed.

An FWC team is endeavoring to think outside the box and consider testing alternative solutions, at least for smaller qualifying tournaments, such as digital tournaments. As an example, with smart-phone technology, fish can be photographed on official rulers, date-stamped and the location plotted with GPS accuracy, enabling the angler to release the catch immediately.

On a preliminary basis, the team identified five main issues that could be addressed through FWC efforts:

• Tournament mortality

• Issues with moving fish from one water body to another for weigh-in

• Crowding/pressure (at access points and on the lake)

• Data collected from tournaments

• Education

Recommendations have not been finalized, and people can still contribute by completing a brief survey about tournament bass fishing at



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