AGFC approves changes to fishing regulations

By RANDY ZELLERS/Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission unanimously voted at today’s regularly scheduled meeting to approve new changes to Arkansas’s regulations on recreational fishing, commercial fishing and aquaculture.

The recreational sportfishing regulations changes were announced to the Commission during its March meeting and were circulated in a public comment survey on the AGFC’s website beginning in March. The responses from that survey were then presented with official proposals during the Commission’s August Commission meeting.

Ben Batten, chief of the agency’s Fisheries Division, said 80 percent of the 46 regulations changes were clarifications, simplifications or reductions in current regulations. The other 20 percent were changes backed by scientific evidence or public input aimed at improving sportfish populations and angler experience.

A few notable changes include:

  • Requiring boaters to remove drain plugs from vessels while being trailered to and from water bodies;
  • Requiring trotlines and limblines to be checked every 48 hours or removed when not in use;
  • Standardizing the number of free-fishing devices and yo-yos being used to 25 of each per person;
  • Increasing the possession limit on fish from two daily limits to three daily limits.
  • Removing rough fish gigging season dates an allow rough fish harvest by gig year-round;
  • Removing the requirement to possess an alligator gar permit to fish for alligator gar (a Trophy Alligator Gar Tag is still required to keep alligator gar longer than 36 inches);
  • Adding a 10-inch minimum length limit on crappie for Lake Dardanelle;
  • Allowing 10 additional spotted bass to the daily limits for Ouachita, DeGray and Greeson lakes;
  • Allowing twice the statewide limit of channel catfish on the Arkansas River, regardless of size, and
  • Allowing unlimited recreational harvest of channel catfish on Lake Erling.

Changes to Arkansas’s commercial fishing and aquaculture regulations also were passed today. Surveys were sent to licensed commercial anglers for their comments to proposals presented to the Commission at its March meeting as well. While most regulations proposals remained unchanged, a proposal to eliminate commercial fishing on the entirety of the Strawberry River was modified to allow it only on the 13-mile stretch of the river from its mouth to Arkansas Highway 25.

Additionally, the Commission unanimously voted to approve the proposed reworking of Arkansas’s aquaculture codes to benefit the integrity of Arkansas’s aquaculture industry while protecting our natural resources. Staff worked with aquaculture producers in focus groups as well as online surveys before their official proposal to the Commission in August.

A complete list of changes is available at All regulations will go into effect beginning Jan. 1, 2021.

Commissioners also heard the first reading of a proposed update to the Commission’s captive wildlife code to add 889 species of reptiles and amphibians to the unrestricted list and 49 species of reptiles and amphibians to the permitted list. The lists are available at and

In other business, the Commission:

  • Recognized Danielle Havens, Stacey Clark and Cpl. Shannon “Mac” Davis as recipients of this year’s annual Campbell Awards for their dedicated service to conservation and their communities.
  • Recognized Mike Harris with the AGFC’s George H. Dunklin Jr. Award for his work in conserving and promoting wetlands conservation and waterfowl management in Arkansas.
  • Recognized Noah Wyatt with the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s Firebird Award for his work in promoting northern bobwhite habitat on Arkansas’s landscape.
  • Recognized 18 employees representing 360 years of service to the natural resources of Arkansas.
  • Heard from Jeremy Wood, the AGFC’s Turkey Program Coordinator, with an update on the state’s turkey population and the 2020 turkey brood survey.
  • Granted a confiscated firearm to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory to be used in ballistics tests for their forensics analysis needs.
  • Approved the removal of outdated and obsolete inventory with a total original cost of $38,422 and a net book value of $9,428.
  • Approved a budget increase of $1,000,000 to the AGFC’s fleet budget for capital vehicle purchases to replace vehicles necessary for conservation and enforcement work throughout the state.
  • Approved a budget increase of $300,000 to the AGFC’s capital equipment budget to replace heavy equipment needed for conservation and habitat work throughout the state.
  • Sold a surplus boat and trailer to Columbia County Rural Development Authority at fair market value to be used in the control of giant salvinia and other fisheries management concerns in Lake Columbia.
  • Granted three surplus vehicles to the University of Georgia to be used in research contracted with the AGFC on chronic wasting disease.
  • Revised a section to the AGFC’s vehicle policy to require any employee determined at fault of a vehicle accident in a Commission-owned vehicle to take a mandatory defensive driving class, regardless of the value of the damage caused in the accident.

A video of the meeting is available at

Game and Fish stock more than 9.3 million fish in 2019 in Arkansas waters

January 14, 2020


Blue Catfish Spawning

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Game and Fish Commission hatcheries produced and stocked more than 9.3 million fish during 2019 to improve fishing conditions for Arkansas anglers in 2019.

Tommy Laird, AGFC Assistant Chief of Fisheries who coordinates the efforts of four warmwater hatcheries and one coldwater hatchery operated by the agency, says last year was a typical production year despite some setbacks caused by flooding in spring.

“The flooding we saw in some parts of the state eliminated the contribution from some of the nursery ponds on some lakes,” Laird said. “But in high-water years, boosts to natural reproduction from the thousands of acres of additional spawning habitat can often outweigh the shot-in-the-arm our nursery ponds may give, so that’s not entirely a bad thing. In a lake with abundant habitat and stable water levels, Mother Nature can produce many more fish than our hatchery system.”

Fluctuating temperatures also played havoc on the hatcheries’ abilities to get certain species to spawn.

“Our Florida bass broodstock did not get good spawns last year, and we were worried about meeting our production goal,” Laird said. “We did get some younger bass to spawn late and stocked our growing ponds at lower densities than usual. To our surprise, we saw much higher than normal survival rates of those fish as they grew in the ponds.”

Walleye eggs-Threadfin shad

Laird explained that only 40 to 50 percent of Florida largemouth fry that go into a hatchery pond actually make it to fingerling size. The rest are typically eaten by larger fry from the same spawn. However, with the lower stocking rate, the hatcheries saw survival rates of 60 percent and higher, which allowed them to surpass their stocking goal of 1.4 million Florida largemouth bass stocked in the state.

“It was a good learning experience and may play into future hatchery management as we move forward with our Florida bass program,” Laird said. “We are increasing production of this species, and this lesson may pay off in the long run.”

Strictly looking at the numbers, threadfin shad made up the largest amount of fish stocked in Arkansas last year, and stockings of forage species have been well received by anglers throughout the state. However, there’s more to the stockings than overall numbers. The sizes at which the fish are stocked play a key role in the survival and contribution that stocking may play in a lake or river.

Laird says channel catfish and rainbow trout likely represent the best survival rate, as most of them are near 10- to 12 inches when they are released for fishing derbies and seasonal fisheries to get anglers hooked.

“These two species can be fed commercial feed and raised to larger sizes,” Laird said. “They’re also good choices for introducing a new angler to the sport with inexpensive gear.”

Stocking is only part of fisheries management, but it often is the first solution that comes to mind for anglers.

“We have to use our resources wisely and concentrate our efforts where they have the best chances of success,” said AGFC Fisheries Chief Ben Batten. “Simply throwing more fish into a lake with a habitat problem won’t create a great fishery, but stocking can play a key role in some waters that have issues with inconsistent reproduction.”

Batten points to one study in 2004 where 17 percent of fish found in the backwater areas of the Pine Bluff pool of the Arkansas River were identified as having previously been stocked. This is probably a best-case scenario on a year when natural reproduction was not very successful due to high river flows.

“Those results are not typical,” Batten said. “But they do show that stocking can be beneficial on the Arkansas River in years when prolonged high flows through spring and summer reduce the spawning success and survival of native spawned fish.”

Smallmouth bass fingerlings

Number of fish stocked per species in Arkansas during 2019:

Florida Largemouth Bass1,526,869
Northern Largemouth Bass648,834
Smallmouth Bass24,338
Striped Bass660,415
Hybrid Striped Bass84,200
Redear Sunfish126,715
Channel Catfish567,526
Flathead Catfish13,431
Threadfin Shad2,936,206
White Crappie7,150
Black Crappie197,097
Golden Shiners205,340
Grass Carp28,619
Fathead Minnows185,000
Brook Trout32,695
Cutthroat Trout98,786
Brown Trout95,951
Rainbow Trout1,497,992