Trophy Fish, Regular Fish, Fun Fishing and Healthy Fishery is Goal
At their regular meeting on June 24, the Missouri Conservation Commission heard a staff presentation that leads me to believe that change is in the air for smallmouth bass anglers.
The presentation covered research conducted in recent years, including surveys of angler attitudes about the possibility of more restrictive harvest regulations on smallmouths and goggle-eye. The goal of these changes would be to increase the average size of fish available to anglers. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) began looking into this at the urging of the Smallmouth Bass Alliance.
MDC conducted basic field research on the food habits and ecology of smallmouths from the 1960s through the 1980s. In the 1990s, they studied how far smallmouths move and the types of habitat they use. Seven years ago, MDC began exploring how increased length and reduced creel limits would affect the size distribution of smallmouth populations. After this work was done, the agency held open-house meetings and on-line surveys to gauge angler support for a tentative set of recommendations for regulation changes.
For many years now, the statewide length limit on black bass, including smallmouths, has been 12 inches. The daily limit has been six black bass – largemouth, smallmouth and spotted, in aggregate. In recent years, however, MDC has been conducting trials of 15- and 18-inch length limits for smallmouths within Smallmouth Management Areas (SMAs) consisting of parts of 11 streams. At the same time, anglers in the SMAs have been limited to one smallmouth daily in their aggregate limit of six black bass.
During the study, MDC conducted periodic electrofishing samples on the affected areas of the streams. It also sampled portions of the streams where the more restrictive regulations were not in effect so they could compare results and determine if the experimental regulations were having the desired effect. Streams included in the experiment were Big Big Piney, Gasconade, Elk, Jacks Fork, James, Little Platt, Meramec, Mineral Fork, Osage Fork of the Gasconade River and Joachim Creek. The resulting data suggest that the more restrictive length limits did increase the number of larger fish.
In addition, MDC imposed an 8-inch minimum length limit on goggle-eye – also commonly called rock bass – in some streams with the same goal – determining how this affected the size structure of goggle-eye populations.
Based on these data and angler attitudes, MDC Fisheries Division staff say they are developing recommendations that include:
- Maintaining the 12-inch minimum length limit on smallmouths and daily aggregate limit of six black bass for most streams in the state.
- Instituting a 15-inch minimum length limit and a daily limit of one for smallmouth bass on most of the streams where more restrictive regulations have been tested.
- Placing a statewide minimum length limit of 7 inches on goggle-eye.
- Extending the SMA boundaries on the Jacks Fork, Big, Meramec and Big Piney rivers.
MDC’s Fisheries Division Staff decided not to recommend more restrictive harvest regulations on smallmouth bass on the Current River, where tournament anglers expressed strong objections to the idea. They also decided to recommend discontinuation of the restrictive smallmouth harvest regulations on the Osage Fork SMA, because data suggested it was not needed there.
These changes would affect only smallmouth bass in the SMA’s. A minimum length limit of 12 inches would remain in effect for largemouths and spotted bass.
Also during the June 24 meeting, the Conservation Commissioners seemed to like the idea of the changes. Consequently, MDC Fisheries Division Staff expressed their intention to develop a formal proposal for the Commissioners’ consideration at their upcoming meeting on August 26.
Many smallmouth devotees will hail the proposed regulations as long overdue. Those who want to catch and keep up to six smallmouths of at least 12 inches daily will still have streams where they can do so. Those who think the chance to catch a trophy smallmouth is more important than taking fish home will have places to follow their bliss, too.
The Conservation Commission encourages anglers who have preferences in this matter to visit mdc.mo.gov/contact-engage, and express those preferences. If the commissioners vote to approve the proposed regulation changes, there will be a period for comments afterwards.
If they receive no comments or hear nothing that changes their minds, the regulation will go into effect March 1, 2017.