Fishermen on Barnett Reservoir soon won’t be able to keep any largemouth or Kentucky spotted bass less than 14 inches in length, under a plan approved Wednesday by the Mississippi Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

Anglers now have 30 days to comment on the change before the Commission offers its final ruling on that change and others included in the proposed 2016-17 statewide fishing regulations.

At meetings organized by the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, the state agency that oversees the 33,000-acre lake near Jackson, fishermen were supportive of — many to the point of demanding — an increase from the current minimum of 12 inches.

Fisheries biologists from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks used those meetings to present fishermen with their latest biological data and surveys on Barnett Reservoir. They answered questions and sought input from anglers.

“I would have preferred 15 inches, but 14 is a good compromise, I guess,” said Shannon Denson of Fannin, a tournament fisherman who has long supported the 15-inch minimum and has attended every meeting. “You look at the data from tournaments and you can see that the highest average winning weights were posted back when there was a 15-inch minimum. 

“The weights have fallen and are continuing to fall. You look around the country and see these lakes where winning weights are highest and most of them have longer minimum lengths than the 12 inches we’ve had on Barnett.”

Some anglers oppose the change to 14, saying it makes it more difficult to get a limit and will lead to more “zeros” in tournaments — the term for a competitor failing to weigh-in a legal fish. They argue that it could doom a lot of tournament trails that visit Barnett Reservoir.

“I don’t see that happening,” said Myron Watson, who conducts Media Bass events on the lake, as well as serving as weighmaster for Barnett’s biggest annual event, the Catch-A-Dream Classic. “Our fields are up this year and I think the majority of fishermen support doing what is best for the lake. If the biologists think a 14-inch minimum is best, then that’s what it ought to be. That’s more important than worrying about a zero.”

Said Denson: “If you’re carrying 12- and 13-inch fish to the scales, you aren’t winning or getting a check. I don’t understand that attitude, at all.”

MDWFP district fisheries biologist Ryan Jones, whose central Mississippi area includes Barnett, said that the reason 14 inches was chosen over 15 inches was that 14 accomplishes the same goal and it serves as a compromise between the fishermen wanting 15 and those preferring 12.

“For two years, we’ve seen a strong population of 10-, 11-, 12- and 13-inch fish in Barnett, but we didn’t see a lot of evidence of those fish moving up to the preferred catch sizes (14 and up),” he said. “That’s why in 2015 we held off in making a change. We needed to gather the biological data to see if the increase was the right move.”

If the MDWFP gives final approval, the new limit would go into effect on July 1.