Mississippi wildlife officials on Wednesday gave final approval to 2016-17 statewide fisheries regulations, including a change in the minimum length limit on bass at Barnett Reservoir.
The effective date of the measure has not been posted by the Secretary of State, but sometime in June fishermen at Barnett will be required to release all black bass — largemouth and Kentucky spotted bass — shorter than 14 inches. The current length limit is 12 inches.
It is a change that most tournament anglers on the 33,000-acre lake near Jackson have sought for years.
“If you look back at the statistics over the past few decades, it is clear that the highest weights (tournaments) came back when the minimum length was 15 inches, before it was reduced to 12,” said Shannon Denson, a longtime and third-generation angler at Barnett. “I also think we have seen a decline in the fish population, too.”
His statements were supported by statistics compiled by biologists from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
“We are proposing the regulation change due to a slow decline in sampling catch rates of fish between 15 and 20 inches over the last four years,” MDWFP regional fisheries biologist Ryan Jones said. “A decline in overall angler catch has also been observed over the same time period. Our goal is to protect the fishery, but still provide anglers the opportunity to harvest a few bass.”
The Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, the state agency that oversees management of the reservoir, has held several meetings involving lake anglers and the biologists. At a February meeting, Jones and MDWFP fisheries director Larry Pugh told anglers the 14-inch proposal was coming.
“I would have preferred 15 inches, but I think 14 is a good compromise because it protects bass at least another year,” Denson said. “I just know we had to do something.”