BATON ROUGE — The Atchafalaya Basin has an “excellent” bass fishery, the state’s top inland fisheries biologist proclaimed Thursday.
After June 20, unless something unforeseen happens, a 14-inch minimum length limit on those bass that has been in place since 1993 will be removed and anglers can harvest bass of any size from the nation’s last great overflow swamp. Hurricane Andrew’s deadly passage in 1992 decimated the bass population in the Atchafalaya Basin and prompted the state’s biologists, led by recommendations from Mike Walker of New Iberia, to implement the 14-inch minimum length limit to aid in the recovery.
The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission put the wheels in motion to remove that regulation Thursday by approving a recommendation from Mike Wood, director of inland fisheries for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, to get rid of the 14-inch minimum length limit on bass in the Atchafalaya Basin, Lake Dauterive-Fausse Pointe, Henderson Lake and Lake Verret. Also, as a temporary transition measure, the daily creel limit for bass in those areas will be reduced from 10 to seven for a two-year period, the LWFC agreed at its monthly meeting in Baton Rouge.
“We’ve got a little something in the interim to protect the fish. I wanted to avoid a ‘gold rush’ and bombardment of pressure,” Wood said during a telephone call a few minutes after the LWFC meeting.
With little discussion and no negative comments from the commissioners or the three people who spoke,the LWFC adopted a notice of intent. There is a 120-day comment period in effect and the proposal must be approved by a legislative oversight committee before becoming law
To read the full notice of intent, go to http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov. To submit written comment about the proposed rule, write to Mike Wood, Office of Fisheries, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, P.O. Box 98000, Baton Rouge, La. 70898-9000, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I want lots and lots of comment,” Wood said.
The comment period ends March 1.
Wood was satisfied a long process to change the 20-year-old regulation was at an end. It was outdated, he said.
“The usefulness of this went away long ago. I feel good because we were able to support our recommendation with good, solid data. We were able to relay that to the public, who read it and agreed with it,” Wood said.
And how. After the state agency released results of the three-year study via various media outlets and asked for feedback, 91 percent of the more than 450 people who responded wanted the 14-inch minimum length to be a thing of the past.
Walker, the local state biologist who retired in October as biologist manager for District 9, felt the same way as Wood about the extensive study, which examined the effectiveness of the regulation as a management tool, used to present information to the public and the LWFC. The study showed the overflow swamp’s bass population is more heavily influenced by environmental factors, including water fluctuation and the effects of tropical weather, rather than angler harvest.
The 14-inch minimum length limit served no purpose in producing bigger bass. After it was enacted as an emergency measure in 1993, it was put on the books permanently in 1998.
“I think this is what needs to happen for the Atchafalaya Basin. The 14-inch minimum length limit was just way too much for growth rates out there and the fact they don’t live too long,” Walker, who has been developing some waterfront property for a retirement home on the Louisiana side of Toledo Bend, said Friday.
The regulation served its purpose in the immediate years after Hurricane Andrew, Wood and Walker agreed. It allowed bass to have the opportunity to spawn at least once before reaching harvestable size.
The bass population, which also got a boost from restocking of adult bass caught elsewhere and from fingerlings, bounced back quickly.
Walker said he supported keeping the 14-inch minimum length limit on the books in 1998, despite pressure from anglers east of the Spillway, including members of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation. At the time, he said, it was supposed to allow anglers to harvest bigger bass and have a higher catch rate.
“I supported it for a number of years,” Walker said. “Over the years, when this first started, a lot of anglers were just as enthusiastic about this as we were.”
But he started having reservations in the mid-2000s. He became less enthusiastic about the regulation for several reasons, he confided, starting with three different conversations he had with fishermen.
“Fishermen would come up to me and tell me ‘Where are all the big fish?’ I said ‘Wait until next year.’ That happened at least three times,” he said. “Every time we’d get close, a hurricane would come and we’d have to start over.”
As the study pointed out, the average age of a 14-inch bass was 3.4 years old and seldom did bass live more than five years, Brac Salyers, Walker’s replacement in District 9, told the LWFC on Thursday.
Walker said it took much, much longer than he wanted to change the status quo. There were changes in leadership positions in the state agency, among other factors, he said, that prolonged the start of the study.
“We had to go through a three-year study. Before we do anything like that we have to make sure we have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed to be able to answer whatever questions anybody might have,” he said.
“I’m in total support of it (the proposal). I wish I could have done this three or four years ago. But as a district biologist I’m not the policymaker. It’s got to go through Baton Rouge,” he said, noting there were five levels above him in the state agency.
He’s pleased with the seven-fish daily creel limit. If people abuse the proposal when it becomes law, such as going out more than once a day to get a limit of bass, that is illegal.
“I’ve always said this. You cannot regulate a population on what you think is going to happen,” he said.