The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) issued an executive order on June 5, suspending the harvest and possession of shoal bass from the Chipola River and its tributaries effective immediately until the order is repealed. Anglers are still permitted to catch and immediately release shoal bass.

The shoal bass population in the Chipola River and its tributaries has potentially been affected due to the impacts of Hurricane Michael. Recent sampling efforts have produced significantly lower catches of shoal bass.

“Shoal bass are one of the least common bass species found in Florida because of their limited range,” said Chris Paxton, regional fisheries administrator for FWC’s Northwest Region. “We are doing everything we can to ensure through proactive conservation actions that the shoal bass population remains healthy, and anglers have the opportunity to enjoy this vibrant and valued bass species for years to come.”

FWC biologists collected and transported 16 shoal bass from the Chipola River to the Blackwater Fish Hatchery near Holt, to be spawned and potentially supplement the shoal bass population.

Shoal bass are similar in body shape to largemouth bass, but unlike the largemouth, the shoal bass has scales on the base portion of the second dorsal fin; its first and second dorsal fins are clearly connected, and its upper jaw does not extend past the eye. Shoal bass also lack the dark lateral (down the side) band that largemouth have. Shoal bass have vertical stripes above the midline of the body which resemble tiger stripes.

The Chipola River is the only waterbody in Florida where there is a population of naturally reproducing, genetically pure shoal bass. The Chipola River is a spring-fed cold-water river that stretches approximately 95 miles starting just north of Marianna and running south through Dead Lake and into the Apalachicola River. The Chipola River is located within Jackson, Calhoun and Gulf counties.

FWC has implemented several conservation projects to enhance this unique fishery. A video highlighting the charm of the Chipola River and the partnerships forged to protect it can be viewed on YouTube by searching “FWC Chipola River.”

To contact the Northwest Regional Office, call 850-265-3676.

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