Hurricane Michael’s impact on shoal bass in the Chipola River and its tributaries drew a state emergency order Wednesday against harvesting the freshwater fish.
The order from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also prohibits the possession of shoal bass from the waters in Jackson, Calhoun and Gulf counties. Anglers can still catch and immediately release the fish.
The Chipola River is the only waterbody in Florida that has genetically pure, naturally reproducing shoal bass.
“Shoal bass are one of the least common bass species found in Florida because of their limited range,” Chris Paxton, the commission’s Northwest regional fisheries administrator, said in a statement. “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.”
The order, which came nearly eight months after Hurricane Michael caused massive damage in Northwest Florida, did not include an end date. The commission said state biologists have taken 16 shoal bass from the Chipola River to the Blackwater Fish Hatchery near Holt in an effort to rebuild the population.