The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission investigated reports of a fish kill on Lake Okeechobee last week, but could not find any dead fish.
A video posted on Facebook by angler Kail Stevens on June 21 shows dead bass scattered on the surface of Lake Okeechobee near Lakeport. FWC biologists visited the area where the video was taken, but did not see any fish kills.
“It is possible that winds blew fish around the lake since the event was first observed. We are continuing to investigate reports and are monitoring the lake,” explained Andrea Dominguez, resource biologist for Lake Okeechobee.
According to Mike Krause at Okeechobee Fishing Headquarters, fishing guides noted haul seine boats were working that area on June 19 and 20. He wondered if the dead bass might have been the unintended result of fish thrown back by net fishermen, who are not allowed to keep bass.
“We currently have four commercial haul seine fishermen that operate on the lake and most often they fish on the south of the lake, however, it is possible that some could have fished the north end of the lake,” explained the FWC biolgoist. “We monitor the harvest and by-catch of the commercial haul seiners and although they do catch some bass in their nets, they are required to release any bass and crappie back into the lake.
“The haul seiners are required to stay at least 1 mile from the edge of the marsh and follow the GPS boundaries around the lake that have been established to limit encroachment into vegetated or sensitive marsh areas,” Ms. Dominguez explained. “These boundaries also limit the probability of catching larger bass since those fish tend to stay within the marsh among denser vegetation. When lake levels are lower than 11 feet, the haul seiners are required to move lakeward and follow a second boundary to mitigate for lower water levels. We believe the fisheries in the lake are healthy and resilient so they do not suffer detriments from haul seine harvests. This is also why harvest by haul seine of largemouth bass and black crappie is prohibited, to protect these sport fisheries from excessive culling.”