Anglers utilizing the Atchafalaya Basin area may have the opportunity to fill their freezers with bass this summer, pending a proposal to change the 14-inch minimum size limit that has been in place for 20 years.
The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission adopted a notice of intent earlier this month that proposes to remove the minimum length on bass in the Atchafalaya Basin, Lake Fausse Pointe and Lake Verret areas.
Currently, anglers fishing in the Basin area are only allowed to keep 10 bass per person and each of those fish have to be at least 14 inches long. The proposal would remove the current size limit and lower the creel limit to seven fish per person for a two-year period. After two years, the plan is to raise the creel limit back to a 10 fish limit, which follows state-wide regulations. If enacted, the proposal would become law and go into effect around June 20.
The proposal was made by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologists after a multi-year study that examined the Basin area and the effect of current regulations on bass.
“Our results essentially said that the regulation was not effective at all,” said Mike Wood, director of inland fisheries for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
The current regulations aren’t right for the Basin’s unique ecosystem, Wood said, and study results show that bass populations are inherently affected by that ecosystem rather than by human predation.
“It takes a long time to grow big bass, and [the Basin] is just a system that is too fluctuating,” said Michael D. Kaller, assistant research professor/coordinator of undergraduate programs in the University School of Renewable Natural Resources. “[There are] too many hurricanes and floods, dry years, wet years – it’s too unpredictable to allow enough bass that long enough period of time to grow into those large sizes.”
However, he said while the Basin may not have the quantity of large fish that are present in different areas of the state, big fish are present in the fishery and bass are plentiful.
Kaller said he supports the proposal made by LDWF because of the large amount of data that was collected and how transparent the department is being on the matter.
“It’s evident that this was a decision they made with great care and a really deep inspection of the data they have and data that were available,” he said. “People should really look at this in a positive light that their state agency is using the information they’re collecting and making an adaptive management decision.”
According to the LDWF Atchafalaya Basin LMB Technical Report, bass in the Basin don’t live as long as they may in other parts of the state mainly because of environmental factors, and it takes longer for those fish to reach 14 inches. The shorter life span coupled with a slower growth rate generally produces smaller bass, the report states.
Wood explained how the current regulations on bass were set in place after Hurricane Andrew severely damaged the bass population in the Basin area in 1992. LDWF wanted to protect the bass left in the fishery while still allowing a harvest by fisherman, Wood said.
“We determined that the 14-inch length would allow a fish to have spawned at least two times by the time it was eligible to be harvested,” he said.
Wood said the measure was initially only supposed to last three years, but the length limit carried popular sentiment among anglers, making it difficult for LDWF to make any changes. In the past 20 years, several other storms and natural events have adversely affected the Basin area and fishermen began to notice the size limits weren’t working as well as they should have, he said.
Jordy Bloodsworth, wetlands science junior and vice president of the LSU bass fishing team, said he supports the change in regulations.
Bloodsworth said more people will probably fish the Basin area, but some may not fully agree with the proposal.
“You can’t make everybody happy in these situations,” he said.
In the long run, the new regulations aren’t going to hurt anything, he said.
Chemical engineering senior and LSU bass fishing team treasurer Doug McClung fishes the Basin area frequently and said he doesn’t have a problem with the change in regulations but would like to see a five fish creel limit.
McClung said it will probably be easier for anglers to go home with bass, but he would rather see people catching other species of fish to eat while throwing bass back to live another day.
“I hope everybody respects what law they decide upon,” he said.
LWFC is allowing public comment on the notice of intent, which is basically a notice to the public that the proposal is being considered by state officials, Wood said.
“I’m encouraging people to comment on the notice of intent,” he said. “I want people to know what we’re doing and I want to hear from them what they think about it.”
Those interested in commenting on the notice can contact LDWF office via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.