Scaling Up: Fish Habitat Conservation Efforts are on the Rise | Sports Destination Management

Scaling Up: Fish Habitat Conservation Efforts are on the Rise

Apr 26, 2024 | By: Judy Leand

Photo courtesy of Major League Fishing

In an effort to preserve, protect and create fish habitat, local fisheries management agencies, fishing pros and their affiliated professional tour organizations and local community volunteers are teaming up to make a difference. The many initiatives, which are occurring throughout the U.S., benefit the fish, fishing destinations, anglers, outdoor enthusiasts and the environment as a whole—it’s a win-win across the board.


One such project is the AFTCO x B.A.S.S. Nation Conservation Grant Program, which continues in 2024 to support conservation initiatives throughout the country. The program was created in 2018 to help provide funds to approved freshwater bass conservation projects proposed by B.A.S.S. Nation clubs. To date, AFTCO’s total contribution to the effort has exceeded $120,000 in grants. This partnership with B.A.S.S. Nation Conservation has actively contributed to the shared goals of AFTCO and B.A.S.S., fostering community and youth-oriented conservation projects that positively impact local fisheries.


The Grant Program provides financial support for stocking bass, habitat enhancements and ensuring that bass are properly cared for and returned to lakes and rivers in the best possible condition for future generations to enjoy. These efforts are coordinated locally with the aid of B.A.S.S Nation chapters, governmental fishing agencies, local businesses, and the valuable support of volunteers and youth organizations.


“These grants are a great example of the efforts our B.A.S.S. Nation clubs are putting forth to enhance the fishing in their local lakes and reservoirs,” stated B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland. “Our state chapters are blessed to be associated with a company like AFTCO that takes conservation to heart. That continued commitment to the B.A.S.S. Nation and to the fishery resources that our sport depends on is unmatched.”


Past conservation efforts spearheaded by B.A.S.S. Nation include the B.A.S.S. Conservation Clean-up Challenge that encouraged anglers and boaters to tackle the problem of trash in waterways. The organization noted that, “Shoreline cleanups are a great way to get anglers involved, and they also show local communities that bass anglers care about more than just the latest tournament.”


Photo courtesy of AFTCO
Photo courtesy of AFTCO

In 2022, Bassmaster volunteers hauled in nearly 13,000 pounds of trash at Chickamauga Lake in Tennessee. Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful reported that 80 percent of the trash pulled from waterways originated on land, making clean-up efforts at ramps and parks adjacent to waterways even more critical for the long-term health of fisheries. Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful, along with the TVA, Tactical Bassin’ and AFTCO staff, worked alongside 95 junior and high school anglers and seven Bassmaster Elite Series pros during the Lake Clean-Up Challenge at Chickamauga.


Looking ahead, volunteers, community organizers and Bassmaster anglers will come together at two venues to help make an impact on Elite Series fisheries thanks to the Lake Clean-Up Challenge sponsored by AFTCO and Yamaha Rightwaters. The events will be held June 4 in Counce, Tenn., and August 27 in La Crosse, Wis.


“B.A.S.S. was founded on three things: tournament fishing competition, youth participation and conservation,” said Gilliland. “We’re thrilled to partner with AFTCO, Yamaha Rightwaters and the communities we’ll be visiting for Elite events for these Clean-Up Challenges. One of the things that we want to try to do is to improve the resource anytime we have a chance.” He added, “An event like this builds camaraderie between those participating. It builds goodwill with the communities that host our events. Most importantly, it helps us leave the venue better than we found it.”


Meanwhile, Major League Fishing has also been ramping up fish habitat conservation efforts. In March, MLF Fisheries Management Division (FMD) held two artificial habitat deployment events at Lakeside Park at Lake Logan Martin in Cropwell, Alabama, in conjunction with REDCREST 24 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium and the MLF Outdoor Sports Expo that took place in Birmingham, Ala. The two events were the second of five this year for the FMD Minn Kota Habitat Restoration Program at Bass Pro Tour and Tackle Warehouse Invitational stops across the country.


This past April, MLF held a Tennessee habitat restoration event at Center Hill Reservoir—a hot spot for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. MLF’s partnership with the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA), MLF pros from the MLF Bass Pro Tour, and volunteers from the Dekalb High School Fishing Team resulted in the deployment of artificial bass habitat—made of recycled PVC habitat products provided by MossBack Fish Habitat—into Center Hill Reservoir. The event was held in conjunction with the Bass Pro Tour event that took place in Byrdstown, Tennessee, PowerStop Brakes Stage Three at Dale Hollow Lake Presented by Mercury.


Earlier this year, in Brookeland, Texas, MLF and Tackle Warehouse Invitational pros joined Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists to complete the first MLF Fisheries Management Division Minn Kota Habitat Restoration Project of 2024 on the Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The project was supported by Kubota Tractor Corp. and featured MossBack Fish Habitat.


Sam Rayburn is one of the world’s most popular bass fisheries. It has been estimated that there are more than 200 tournaments on the reservoir each year—roughly one tournament every four days. A high percentage of these events take off from Umphrey Family Pavilion and boat ramps near the dam. Such tournaments result in fish being released from one of the two floating docks or just inside the island from a live release boat. “These fish will likely stay within a couple miles of their release site for a full year. The Bass Recovery Zones created during the Minn Kota project will provide these fish with an immediate place to recover and feed,” according to MLF Fishing Management Division.


MLF announced that throughout 2024, Minn Kota and FMD will continue to improve habitat on fisheries using the Bass Recovery Zone model near popular tournament destinations.

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