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Tournament Released Bass May be a Violation of Alabama’s Public Water Stocking Regulation
March 10, 2009
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) has recently become aware of a type of fishing tournament where rules permit anglers to fish in various water bodies and then bring their catch to a particular lake for a weigh-in ceremony where fish are then released alive into that body of water. For example, fish caught from Martin, Guntersville, Smith and Neely Henry could all be arriving at an official weigh-in site on Lay Lake where they are released following the weigh-in. Moving live fish from one lake to another is a direct violation of Alabama’s public water stocking regulation.
The State of Alabama’s regulation of Public Water Stocking (220-2-.129) reads:
“It shall be unlawful to intentionally stock or release any fish, mussel, snail, crayfish or their embryos including bait fish into the public waters of Alabama under the jurisdiction of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries as provided in Rule 220-2-.42 except those waters from which it came without the written permission of a designated employee of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources authorized by the Director of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries to issue such permit. The provisions of this rule shall not apply to the incidental release of bait into the water during the normal process of fishing.”
According to Stan Cook, Chief of Fisheries for the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, this regulation has been in place for many years and is intended to protect the quality and integrity of our sport fisheries. He says, “Moving fish from one reservoir to another can have a number of detrimental consequences; examples include 1) moving fish caught from lakes with consumption advisories into lakes without advisories; 2) introducing genetically inferior strains of spotted bass into our world-class spotted bass fisheries on the Coosa River; 3) introducing diseases such as the Largemouth Bass Virus, which decimated many of our bass fisheries in Alabama beginning in the late 1990s; 4) diluting the genetic benefits of our Florida bass stocking program; and 5) introducing non-native, potentially harmful species into lakes where they do not currently exist.”
Cook also pointed out that, “It is important for anglers to know that these types of tournaments are not illegal; however, releasing fish into a body of water other than where they were caught is illegal. If tournament organizations want to continue to offer these types of tournaments to their competitors, they are certainly free to do so as long as the fish brought in from other reservoirs are not released. These fish can be donated to a charitable organization such as an orphanage, they can be harvested and eaten by the anglers who caught them, or they can be returned by the anglers to the reservoirs from which they were caught.” It is also worth noting that fish can legally be moved from one reservoir to another only if they are transported by boat through a navigable lock.
Damon Abernethy, Fisheries Development Coordinator for the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, says, “Most Alabama tournament anglers are very conscious of what is necessary to ensure the health and survival of the fish they catch and weigh in during tournaments; bass anglers in particular, go to great lengths to protect the fish that provides them with the opportunity to enjoy their most favorite pastime.” Abernethy also states that “Anglers and tournament directors need to be aware that transporting, crowding, or handling fish when water temperatures are high (greater than 85 degrees Fahrenheit) drastically increases the likelihood that they will not survive.” A fish’s slime coat acts as a barrier to harmful pathogens that can enter a fish’s body through areas where this protective coating has been removed. Diseases are more easily transferred from one fish to another when they are held in close proximity to other infected fish, such as in livewells or holding troughs.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.