The Wild Side for Dec. 9, 2012

Since 1993, there have been complaints about the 14-inch-long size limit on taking bass in the Atchafalaya Spillway and the nearby waters of the Lake Verret-Belle River basin.

The limit was placed on fishermen the year after Hurricane Andrew came close to wiping out all fish species in the country’s largest overflow swamp. At first, freshwater anglers tended to dismiss the Wildlife and Fisheries biologists determination that Andrew killed 175 million fish across these waters.

Granted it was difficult to believe that 5 million bass were among the 175 million, but I verified those estimates after spending most of two post-storm months in 1992 with the 10-man LDWF crew surveying the devastation across this treasured Louisiana waterway.

The perception was that the new size limit was solely the result of Andrew’s powerful sweep.

Not so: Beginning in 1989, Spillway fishermen complained about a continued decline in bass catches, and state fisheries biologists began studying bass catches and the Spillway’s unique flood-to-summer-low environment.

What they found was that a 12-inch-long bass (the pre-1993 size limit) might have spawned once, but a 14-inch-long bass spawned at least twice. Presented with the pre-Andrew decline and the storm’s destruction of fish stocks, the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission approved the 14-inch minimum “keeper” size plan.

So, nearly 20 years later, and with an increasing number of Spillway fishermen decrying the current plan’s effects, the LDWF’s Inland Fisheries Section began another study.

Section chief Mike Wood issued the new study’s results earlier this year: In short, the findings were that the current size limit “in the Atchafalaya Basin, Lake Verret, Lake Palourde and Fausse Pointe Lake is not effective in increasing the abundance of large size bass.”

Now, the state fisheries managers want to hear from you. Wood said he fully understands any new regulation will affect thousands of fishermen, and that’s why managers need your input.

You can make your comment on the LDWF website: http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/webform/basin.

While any size-limit decision is likely to come next year, a change could be the best Christmas present for Spillway and Lake Verret-Belle River fishermen.