Fish Population and Angler Responses to a 406-mm Minimum Length Limit for Largemouth Bass on Lake Eufaula, Alabama-Georgia

Due to a history of cyclic adult largemouth bass population trends, a 406-mm minimum length limit was imposed on largemouth bass on Lake Eufaula in July 1992. Two main objectives for the harvest restriction were to increase the abundance of adult largemouth bass in the fishery and to maintain an abundant bass population so that the cyclic nature of this fishery would not be as severe. We examined the effects of the harvest restriction by comparing several population variables from sampling data collected 6 years before the length limit (1987-1992) and 6 years after the length limit (1994-1999). A large database was available due to consistent standardized sampling by Alabama and Georgia fisheries personnel. Spring proportional stock density estimates did not change significantly, with an average of 63 before and 65 after the length limit. Fish conditions declined for every relative stock density (RSD) group, with significantly lower mean relative weights for fish in the RSD-Stock and RSD-memorable groups, as well as for annual averages for all fish >200 mm. Growth was significantly slower for Age-2 through Age-5 fish, with fish requiring almost 10 additional months to reach 406 mm in length. Bass abundance increased after the length limit, with significant increases in RSD-P fish. After the length limit was imposed, young-of-year (YOY) shad, YOY bass, and spring adult bass densities continued to fluctuate. Spring electrofishing was low in 1998 following a chronic bass die-off during spring and summer 1997. Virology examinations confirmed the presence of largemouth bass virus in the population in 1997 and 1998. Creel survey data from 1984, 1987-1992, and 1999 indicated that angler effort for bass changed very little after the length limit, but harvest rates declined 85% to 95% while release of "keeper" fish increased to over 92%. The majority of anglers interviewed in 1999 (64%) indicated they did not wish to see the length limit changed. However, many negative comments from anglers, tournament organizers, and local business owners with an opposing view lead Alabama and Georgia fisheries personnel to re-examine possible changes to the 406-mm minimum length limit.

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ID
10979