Earlier this month, for the first time ever, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has approved a law that will allow for farm-raised largemouth bass. The species will be among the many that the state can raise and sell for food.
When it comes to the wild-caught versus farm-raised debate, most seafood fans will always opt for wild-caught in favor of those natural flavors. However, farm-raised largemouth bass can be more affordable and readily available. Not to mention, creating these fish farms may give a boost to Florida’s economy and provide more jobs.
“It’s a great opportunity to enjoy bass, just like they enjoy catfish or tilapia or salmon and the other fish that are farmed,” Rep. Dana Trabulsy of Fort Pierce told Florida Politics in April 2021. Trabulsy introduced the new rule to Florida’s legislation in 2021. The state legislature passed the bill last October despite the objections of FWC commissioners.
Of course, there are risks to this drastic change in the industry, as commissioner Gary Lester of Oxford pointed out. One of the most concerning is how these farms may affect the wild populations of Florida’s largemouth bass.
“I don’t think we should do this,” Oxford told the Associated Press. “Yes, we do have an aquaculture industry. We have a lot of fish and a lot of jobs in it. But the largemouth bass has a special iconic place in our state and in our economy.”
New Florida Law Could Affect Wild-Caught Largemouth Bass Populations
Because farm-raised fish are separate from the rest of the ecosystem, they tend to create new hybrids and genetic mutations within the facility. If those fish escape, the wild-caught population loses its “genetic purity.”
“If that happens, we could lose genetic purity,” Oxford explained. “This agency has the responsibility to protect that. I’m very concerned when we have to use terms like ‘chain of custody,’” he said. “That ought to tell us something.”
On the plus side, Florida legislators did meet with recreational anglers and other stakeholders to develop a few safeguards. The new rule states that “only largemouth bass that have been certified as pure Florida largemouth bass will be approved for culture.” Additionally, farms will have to meet strict “genetic authentication standards” to prevent hybridization.
“We appreciate the ongoing collaboration with FDACS,” commissioner Lester later said in a press release that announced the rule change. “We are confident in the established protocols in place to protect Florida’s iconic gamefish.”
Still, not everyone is ecstatic about the change. Some recreational fishermen worry that the new rule could open the door to strain on the wild largemouth bass populations down the road.
“I occasionally catch bass, but I haven’t eaten once since I was a kid, and I wasn’t crazy about it then,” shared Ed Killer, a local outdoor writer for Treasure Coast Newspapers. “My biggest concern is commercial fishers will [one day] pressure legislators to harvest largemouth bass from the wild.”