When humans and fish were evolving together, catching and consuming fish was a matter of survival. Later, catches offered something to barter or sell. Now, most people fish recreationally. Regardless of the purpose behind fishing, big catches stroke the angler's ego.
Today, recreational fishing has an annual $7.5 billion economic impact in Florida. Habitat conservation and regulations help sustain these fisheries, but with greater demand it is increasingly important to protect and recycle the largest trophy fish by also promoting voluntary catch-and-release.
Florida's "Big Catch" angler recognition program helps stroke the ego of successful anglers by allowing them to show off their prowess. The Big Catch program provides a framable, full-color certificate and window sticker for anglers who catch any of 33 species of listed freshwater fishes that exceed a minimum length or weight. If people catch five qualifying fish of the same species, they are recognized as a Specialist. If they report five qualifying fish of different species, they become a Master Angler, and if they take and report qualifying fish representing 10 different species, they are an Elite Angler.
Young people can enter fish that are approximately 25 percent smaller than adult qualifying sizes.
Big Catch also encourages anglers to fish for a variety of species and to travel to locate them, while promoting appropriate catch-and-release.
A new set of "TrophyCatch" marks and awards are in the works for trophy bass anglers. The TrophyCatch angler recognition program will be the hallmark of the long-term Florida Black Bass Management Plan, which the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved in June. The FWC intends to ensure that Florida is the undisputed bass fishing capital of the world.
TrophyCatch will be a full-fledged initiative to document largemouth bass caught, and preferably released, throughout Florida that are heavier than 8 pounds. Incremental rewards and recognition will be provided to anglers reporting bass in the 8-10, 10-12, 12-13 and greater than 13-pound categories.
The anticipated rollout for TrophyCatch is October 2012.
"This program, driven by private dollars, can substantially enhance Florida bass fishing by addressing ecological issues and encouraging recycling of trophy bass, but it will also have a great social and economic impact," said Tom Champeau, director of the FWC's Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.
Biologists are developing specific handling guidelines to ensure anglers do the best possible job of effectively releasing these fish while providing the FWC with valuable research and marketing information. FWC representatives will certify bass over 13 pounds caught from October through April (beginning in 2012) for entry into the Florida Trophy Bass Hall of Fame. Sponsors, corporate partners and the media will provide incentives to encourage reporting and releasing all such catches.
Fisheries biologists will use TrophyCatch reports to identify Florida's best bass fisheries to determine which management practices (e.g., habitat and aquatic plant management, regulations, stocking) are most effective in creating trophy fisheries. VISIT FLORIDA and the FWC will work with the media to use this information to establish Florida as a prime trophy bass fishing destination. Incorporating social media and online mapping resources will make this information widely available to the public and create a buzz as anglers report new trophies and post photos.
Such recognition will increase both resident and nonresident angler participation and enjoyment, tackle and license sales, tourism and help create the next generation that cares about our natural resources and outdoor recreational heritage.
In Florida, more recreational fishing days are spent on fresh water (24.4 million days by 1.4 million anglers) than on salt water. Largemouth bass are the most sought-after species not only in Florida but also in the nation. Bass anglers alone generate $1.25 billion for our economy, supporting thousands of jobs.
Consequently, promoting and safeguarding Florida's trophy bass fisheries is good for everyone.
Tim O'Neil, an FWC marketing expert and liaison to the Wildlife Foundation of Florida a public-support organization affiliated with the FWC said that the FWC and the Foundation want to work with the sportfishing industry.
"TrophyCatch is in its infancy but will grow quickly," said O'Neil. "We want to work with the best and brightest in the corporate world to make this a win-win-win for the environment, anglers and industry."
Learn more at MyFWC.com/Fishing (select "Freshwater Fishing" then "Big Catch"). Send suggestions for ways to enhance these partner-driven programs to Bob.Wattendorf@MyFWC.com.
With a record of trophy catches, we hope to reaffirm our status as the Fishing Capital of the World and become the undisputed Bass Fishing Capital of the World.