Effects of Large-Scale Habitat Enhancement Strategies on Florida Bass Fisheries
Jason R. Dotson, Kimberly I. Bonvechio, Brandon C. Thompson, William E. Johnson, Nicholas A. Trippel, J. Beacham Furse, Steven Gornak, C. Kevin McDaniel, William F. Pouder, and Erin H. Leone
Abstract.—Many of Florida’s natural lakes have experienced degradation of habitat resulting from anthropogenic influences, which can impact Florida Bass Micropterus floridanus populations. Over the past 40 years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and cooperating agencies have employed a variety of enhancement strategies to combat these habitat changes. We provide a historical overview of habitat degradation, large-scale habitat enhancement strategies that have been conducted, and resulting effects that these strategies have had on Florida Bass recruitment and fisheries in Florida lakes. We provide a case study evaluation of different large-scale enhancement strategies aimed at improving degraded habitat in four natural systems: (1) extreme lake drawdown conducted at Lake Griffin, Florida; (2) mechanical removal of macrophytes and organic sediment under dewatered conditions at Lake Tohopekaliga, Florida; (3) hydraulic dredging of macrophytes and organic sediment under inundated conditions at Lake Panasoffkee, Florida; and (4) lake-wide herbicide treatment of hydrilla Hydrilla verticillata over a 25-year period at Lake Istokpoga, Florida. The Lake Griffin drawdown showed significant increases in Florida Bass recruitment, angler catch, and effort. The Lake Tohopekaliga habitat enhancement project produced at least one strong year-class, which achieved higher growth rates than other cohorts and contributed positively to the fishery after 3 years. The Lake Panasoffkee habitat enhancement project did not show any significant impacts to Florida Bass recruitment, but significant increases in angler catch of Florida Bass were measured. We failed to detect significant relationships between hydrilla coverage and Florida Bass recruitment at Lake Istokpoga, Florida, although hydrilla coverage had significant effects on angler catch and effort of Florida Bass. We show that a variety of habitat enhancement strategies can be utilized to improve habitat and thereby maintain quality or improve declining Florida Bass fisheries.