BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — New state regulations in Maryland that threatened to force cancellation of the Bassmaster Elite at the Potomac River have been relaxed for bass tournament organizations that agree to abide by stringent fish care guidelines.
Under the new plan, announced by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources late Friday and effective immediately, tournament organizations, such as B.A.S.S., are permitted to choose between two options when applying for permits to hold events in Maryland.
Option 1, originally imposed by the state and announced March 15, would allow tournament competitors to weigh in five bass per day, 12 inches or longer, of which only one bass could be 15 inches or longer. That would not have worked for the Bassmaster Elite Series, B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin said shortly after the rule was made public.
“Although we understand Maryland DNR’s desire to address a decline in the bass fisheries of the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay, obviously we could not conduct an Elite Series event on waters where anglers cannot weigh in their biggest catches,” Akin said. “That would not be fair to the anglers, the fans, the hosts or the sportfishing community.”
The second option, proposed Friday, allows tournaments to be operated under a five-bass, 12-inch minimum size limit — and no maximum size — if the organizations observe a number of rules governing fish handling. Among them, organizers must recover and redistribute bass to approved locations using live release boats or other approved fish transport services, and they must conduct weigh-ins using procedures and equipment that maximize the survival of released bass. In addition, anglers must possess a free permit and comply with simple fish-care protocols.
B.A.S.S. will apply for a permit to hold the Bassmaster Elite event out of Charles County, Md., in August under the new “Option 2.”
B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland, who has been in discussions with Maryland DNR for the past two weeks, credited state officials for finding a solution to the impasse.
“Maryland DNR recognized that a problem with the bass population exists in the Potomac and wanted to act quickly to protect it from further decline. Their first proposals were met with a great deal of opposition from tournament organizations, including B.A.S.S.,” Gilliland said. “But to their credit, they have been willing to listen to angler concerns and have now presented new options that allow tournaments to be conducted if they follow what DNR calls ‘Best Management Practices’ for fish care.
“Complying with the criteria in Option 2 should not prove difficult for us. Most of these requirements were taken directly from the B.A.S.S. publication, Keeping Bass Alive, and are standard operating procedures at all B.A.S.S. tournaments.”
Steve Blazer, director of fisheries for Maryland DNR, explained in a memorandum that his department is “responsible for the health of the black bass resource, and the department has determined that immediate conservation action is necessary.”
However, after a “considerable amount of valuable input” from constituents over the past two weeks, he said Maryland DNR decided to modify the slot limit requirement for tournaments.
“While this modification does not address all the concerns we heard, it should alleviate some significant concerns while still meeting the goal of reducing fishing mortality,” Blazer said.