LDWF Releases Report on the 14” Minimum Length Limit for Largemouth Bass in the Atchafalaya Basin

An Open Letter to Atchafalaya Basin Sportsmen,

Our department has recently completed an extensive study to evaluate the 14” minimum length limit for bass in the Atchafalaya Basin.  Through this study, we have determined that the regulation does not produce larger bass.   The Atchafalaya Basin and adjacent waters, including Lakes Verret, Palourde, and Fausse Pointe, have unique characteristics that will just not allow it.  We have generated a technical report to describe our process and the results.  It’s important that you have a full understanding of the information, because in the coming months you’ll have an opportunity to provide input regarding the future of bass regulations in the Atchafalaya Basin.

When Hurricane Andrew struck the Atchafalaya Basin in 1992, it left an estimated 200 million dead fish in its wake.  In response, LDWF initiated efforts to aid recovery including fish stocking and imposing a 14” minimum length limit for bass.  The regulation was put in place to protect bass long enough to produce fingerlings and was planned to expire in two years  The Atchafalaya Basin fishery rebounded quickly after Andrew, and many credited the regulation as the primary factor for the recovery.  There was also optimism among anglers and biologists that the regulation might increase the number of large bass in the basin.  However, those early expectations began to fade when Hurricane Lili roared into the Atchafalaya Basin in 2002 and left many of those protected bass dead.  Later in 2008, Hurricane Gustav also caused significant fish kills, similar to Hurricane Andrew.  Healthy and vibrant bass populations were eliminated with each storm.  Many basin anglers began to question the logic of releasing bass only to see them become victims of the next big storm.  The regulations began to lose much of the public support that had helped transform them from a temporary protective measure into a long-term regulation.

Results from our study indicate that the basin bass population is more heavily influenced by environmental factors than anglers.  Springtime water fluctuations can produce a highly successful spawn if the water is right, a poor spawn if it’s not.  When the basin produces a poor year class of fingerlings, fewer adults are available down the road.  Growth rate and life span are also critical factors of any population.  We found that bass in the basin don’t grow very fast compared to other waters, and those that reach the 14” mark are well over three years old.  Basin bass also have short life spans, with few living past the age of five.    Slow growth and short life spans aren’t necessarily bad; they come with the territory in the Atchafalaya Basin.  The basin still has a very healthy bass population, but the combination of slow growth and short life spans lends to smaller bass. 

During the next few months, we plan to share the information we’ve compiled through the study and address your questions.  We’ll then want to hear from you with your feedback, comments and questions.  A full evaluation of the 14” minimum for bass in the Atchafalaya Basin report is available below.

Mike Wood

Director of Inland Fisheries