South Santa Rosa News file photo of a largemouth bass
At its December meeting, Commissioners with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) directed staff to move forward with draft rules allowing for the production and sale of largemouth bass. Staff will bring final rule language before the Commission at its next meeting. Statutory changes made during the 2021 legislative session sanctioned the sale of Florida largemouth bass produced in aquaculture facilities for food.
Staff worked with the legislature to incorporate genetic authentication standards into rule to ensure the continued genetic conservation of Florida’s iconic freshwater game fish. At the October 2021 Commission meeting, the Commission directed staff to engage with affected stakeholders and develop rule language to allow for the culture of Florida largemouth bass as a food fish. Key points from the draft rule language include:
- Allow for the culture and sale of Florida largemouth bass as a food fish.
- Incorporate FWC’s Genetic Authentication Standards for Florida largemouth bass into rule by reference.
- Prohibit the importation into or transportation within the state of any live bass species, except Florida largemouth bass that meet FWC’s largemouth bass Genetic Authentication Standards.
- Require any shipment of live bass in Florida to be accompanied with documentation required by Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Aquaculture and FWC.
Staff held four public meetings and solicited online comments from interested stakeholders. Both angling and industry stakeholders attended meetings and their combined input was taken into consideration and utilized during the rule drafting process.
“I appreciate staff’s hard work in developing rules that will provide protections for Florida’s iconic gamefish. I requested from staff more information on the enforcement procedures associated with these rules,” said Commissioner Gary Lester.
Staff received direction to continue working with FDACS to further refine Genetic Authentication Standards and enforcement processes to ensure the long-term conservation of Florida largemouth bass.
“FWC staff will remain vigilant and maintain dialogue with FDCAS to ensure that this emerging industry for largemouth bass does not negatively impact Florida’s largemouth fishery,” said Eric Sutton, FWC Executive Director.
Additionally, also during the December meeting, FWC approved rules to facilitate management for trophy largemouth bass. Staff has engaged stakeholders through angler creel surveys, a virtual public meeting, email outreach and signage at the effected resources listing the proposed rule changes. Stakeholder support was high.
The FWC manages largemouth bass for conservation and general angler success. As part of the Florida Trophy Bass Project, staff proposed customized management strategies focusing specifically on trophy bass production at four select waterbodies. The proposed regulations will protect large bass, allowing them to achieve the largest size possible. These efforts, coupled with the documentation and promotion of trophy bass caught in Florida, will help establish Florida as the Trophy Bass Capital of the World.
“As part of the Florida Trophy Bass Project, these four waterbodies will benefit from customized regulations designed to maximize trophy largemouth bass production,” said Commissioner Gary Lester.
The rule language includes:
- Suwannee Lake FMA: 16-inch maximum length limit (i.e., possession of fish over 16 inches prohibited) for largemouth bass, 15 fish daily bag limit for largemouth bass, and circle hooks required when fishing with live bait greater than 3 inches in length.
- Lake Victor FMA: 16-inch maximum length limit for largemouth bass, 15 fish daily bag limit for largemouth bass, and circle hooks required when fishing with live bait greater than 3 inches in length.
- Shop Lake at Tenoroc FMA: 16-inch maximum length limit for largemouth bass, no daily bag limit for largemouth bass, and circle hooks required when fishing with live bait greater than 3 inches in length.
- Fellsmere Water Management Area (Headwaters and Egan Lakes): Catch and release of all largemouth bass, and circle hooks required when fishing with live bait greater than 3 inches in length.
View the Commission meeting agenda and documents at MyFWC.com/Commission by clicking on “Commission Meetings” and the agenda under “Dec. 15-16, 2021.”