SportsWire)--Jan., 20, 2000--Seven of the nation's premier
fisheries will benefit from a $35,000 donation and partnership
announced today between the Wal-Mart FLW tour, the world's
foremost professional bass fishing series, and the FishAmerica
Foundation, the conservation arm of the American Sportfishing
"As an industry leader, we are proud to take this extra
step toward the preservation of our nation's fisheries,"
says Charlie Hoover, chief executive officer of Operation Bass
Inc., the organization responsible for running the Wal-Mart FLW
Tour. "These irreplaceable natural resources provide
habitat for largemouth bass and a host of other wildlife
species. They also benefit local communities and millions of
outdoor enthusiasts nationwide."
First among the beneficiaries is Lake Okeechobee, where the
FLW Tour and FishAmerica will assist the Florida Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers in deployment of artificial habitat and reintroduction
of native aquatic plants that have been adversely affected by
"Lake Okeechobee is nationally recognized as supporting
a high quality largemouth bass fishery," says Tom Marshall,
managing director of FishAmerica. "The FLW Tour and
FishAmerica want to do our part to ensure that all anglers have
an opportunity to enjoy the great fishing on this lake for years
The first stage of the habitat restoration project will be
the June deployment of 100 Reef Balls - hollow, dome-shaped
concrete pods riddled with holes - along five half-acre sites
around the lake. The balls, which each weigh about 1,800 pounds,
measure 4 feet in diameter and stand 3 feet tall, will be placed
by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps of Engineers also is
matching funds raised by the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission for expansion of the habitat restoration
Since 1993, Reef Balls have been used as an environmentally
friendly alternative to sinking old tires, cars, airplanes and
ships to provide new homes for game fish and coral in the
world's oceans. More than 40,000 of the balls have been deployed
in over 400 projects worldwide. The Lake Okeechobee habitat
restoration project, however, will mark the first freshwater use
of the technology.
"We are excited to be involved with Florida Fish and
Wildlife and the Wal-Mart FLW Tour on this project," says
Karen Estock, chief of field operations and readiness section,
Army Corps of Engineers. "The structures will be a haven
for small fish and a place for larger fish to feed. They also
will give the average angler a new place to fish and allow for
more scientific studies of our various fish species."
The second stage of the project is planting native aquatic
vegetation along a five-acre site between Indian Prairie Canal
and Pearce Canal. Torpedograss and cattail now dominate the
site, which was once home to giant bulrush that provided a
critical spawning ground for black bass and other fish species.
Plants to be reintroduced to the site by mid-August are bulrush,
eelgrass, peppergrass and knotgrass.
"Sustained high water levels have definitely had an
effect on the lake's ecology," says Don Fox, biological
administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission. "Increased water levels have permitted high
energy waves to build and move across the lake, uprooting
submerged and emergent plant communities in the process."
The waves also stir up sediments that can bury seedlings and
prohibit light penetration into the water, both of which affect
the growth of new vegetation, Fox explained.
In 1984, bulrush covered 9,808 acres of Lake Okeechobee. A
1994 study by the Florida Department of Natural Resources,
however, estimated that bulrush coverage had dropped to 733
acres on the lake, which ranks second only to Lake Michigan in
terms of surface area of lakes entirely within the United
States. When coupled with declines of other plant species,
significant amounts of vegetation have been lost.
Loss of vegetation translates into a decrease in spawning
habitat, protective nursery grounds and foraging areas used by
black bass and other fish species as well as waterfowl and
manatee. It also compromises the lake's water quality.
The lake supplies water to the Everglades Agricultural Area,
Everglades National Park and Florida Bay as well as Palm Beach,
Broward and Dade counties. It also provides flood control,
navigation, fish and wildlife conservation, and recreational
Lake Okeechobee's recreational and commercial fishery is
valued at more than $100 million. Recreational fishing alone
contributes $26 million to local economies, and annual
expenditures for bass tournaments top $4.2 million according to
the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The lake
and its waterway received more than 6.9 million visitors in
1999. More than 555,000 of the visitors stayed at Corps of
Engineers managed campgrounds.
Other fisheries receiving help from the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and
FishAmerica are the Pascagoula River in Mississippi, Lake Murray
in South Carolina, Beaver Lake in Arkansas, the Mississippi
River in Tennessee, Pickwick Lake in Alabama and the Red River
For more information about the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, visit
www.flwtour.com. For more information about the FishAmerica
Foundation, visit the American Sportfishing Association's Web
site at www.asafishing.org.