Another successful milestone has been achieved in the recovery of the bass bass, a Florida species with the greatest need for conservation by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) freshwater fisheries biologists and managers.
In May 2022, biologists from the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management released 3,300 Genetically pure 1- to 2-inch bank bass, spawned by breeding Blackwater Fisheries Research and Development Center in the Chipola River to supplement and improve the population of the species.
This river is home to Florida’s only known breeding population of largemouth bass, which is potentially the most genetically pure population of the species existing in its native range.
In 2018, the Chipola River bass population was nearly wiped out by Hurricane Michael. The storm’s impacts resulted in a nearly 90% decline in the largemouth bass population, which was already at risk from habitat limitations and degradation, as well as threats from genetic hybridization.
A recent sampling conducted in September by FWC researchers found that fish released after May 2022 have made a significant contribution to the existing population. DNA analysis of fin clips taken from bass collected during these sampling events confirmed that 65% of yearlings (young fish) collected were from fish produced and released by the Blackwater Hatchery.
These stocked bass have grown 4 to 6 inches in length in the four months since they were stocked. Furthermore, these data suggest that these successfully stocked fish may constitute nearly 20% of the entire current river bass population.
“The bass population in the Chipola River has become a top priority for fisheries biologists in the Northwest Florida region since Hurricane Michael,” he said. “Management actions to suspend harvest and successfully stock bottom bass have yielded positive results for this unique species of black bass.”
FWC biologists plan to stock more hatchery-raised largemouth bass into the Chipola River in the spring of 2023 to increase the number of genetically pure fish in the population and eventually restore population numbers to pre-Hurricane Michael levels.
“These cooperative management, hatchery, and conservation research actions for this unique species of Northwest Florida bass exemplify how effective FWC’s efforts can be to preserve a species in greatest conservation need,” he said. Christopher Paxton, DFFM Biologist, and Regional Fisheries Manager.
The population will continue to be monitored to determine if the additional stock will be needed in future years. The continued use of DNA analysis will allow biologists to determine whether stocked fish have successfully contributed to the overall population and is a critical part of determining the success of this FWC stock improvement program and for the conservation and improvement of this native black bass species.
The Chipola River rises just north of Marianna and flows south for 95 miles through Jackson, Calhoun, and Gulf counties where it joins the Apalachicola River. Currently, there is a catch-and-release-only regulation in effect for largemouth bass in the Chipola River and its tributaries. Any largemouth bass caught must be released alive immediately and possession is prohibited.