What are Alabama Bass?
Alabama Bass (Micropetrus henshallii) are one of approximately twelve species of black bass. They are an aggressive species that outcompetes Largemouth Bass and readily hybridizes with Smallmouth and Spotted Bass. Alabama Bass are nearly identical in appearance to Spotted Bass, and were formerly known as the Alabama subspecies of the Spotted Bass. The other former subspecies of Spotted Bass, the Kentucky Spotted Bass, is found throughout Virginia and is native to the southwest portion of the Commonwealth.
The jaw of Alabama Bass lines up with the middle rear of the eye, while Largemouth Bass jaws extend past the eye. Alabama Bass have a dark, blotchy lateral band from head to tail, and have spots below this band. Largemouth Bass have a more continuous lateral band. Alabama Bass also typically have a tooth patch on their tongue, which is rare in Largemouth Bass. Alabama and Spotted Bass are differentiated by differences in lateral line scale counts or genetic analysis.
Where are Alabama Bass found?
Alabama Bass are native to Georgia and Alabama, occurring primarily in large river systems and large impoundments. Alabama Bass are confirmed to be present in Lake Gaston, Claytor Lake, Philpott Lake, and Martinsville Reservoir. They are suspected to be present in Diascund Reservoir and possibly other lakes. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) is conducting genetic testing to better identify the extent of Alabama Bass throughout Virginia.
Why are Alabama Bass a concern in Virginia?
Alabama Bass represent a tremendous threat to Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass fisheries. Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass are Virginia’s most popular angling targets, with more than 60% of anglers targeting either species over the course of a fishing season. Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass fisheries in Virginia are valued in the millions of dollars. Declines in either population will result in not only the loss of sportfishing opportunities, but in economic harm to the region.
As an invasive species, Alabama Bass are capable of outcompeting Largemouth Bass, causing declines in abundance. For example, in Lake Norman, North Carolina, the relative abundance of Largemouth Bass decreased to less than 8% of their former abundance following the introduction of Alabama Bass. Declines in Largemouth abundance seem to be most pronounced in lakes that are relatively clear and which have limited vegetation. Systems in Virginia such as Smith Mountain Lake, Lake Anna, South Holston Reservoir, and Lake Moomaw are likely to see declines of Largemouth Bass populations if Alabama Bass are introduced into those waterbodies.
Alabama Bass also can hybridize with Smallmouth or Spotted Bass, often resulting in loss of the genetically pure Smallmouth Bass population. This occurred in Chatuge Reservoir, Georgia and North Carolina, and Nottely Reservoir, Georgia. Smallmouth Bass populations in lakes such as Smith Mountain and Moomaw, as well as in rivers such as the James and Shenandoah, might undergo a similar fate following introduction of Alabama Bass.
Although large Alabama Bass may appear for a few years following introduction, this situation is short lived and occurs primarily when population densities are low. Once established, Alabama Bass populations often increase to the point where stunting occurs, resulting in greater abundance of smaller bass. Fisheries are likely to shift from being dominated by 2–3 lb Largemouth or Smallmouth Bass to being dominated by 1 lb Alabama Bass.
What can you do?
Anglers are the primary vector for the spread of Alabama Bass in Virginia. Current populations are the results of angler introductions that have occurred over the last ten years.
Anglers are reminded that it is illegal to stock fish into a public body of water without an authorization from the DGIF. Anyone with knowledge of intentional stockings of Alabama or Spotted Bass should contact DGIF law enforcement at 800-237-5712 or WildCrime@dgif.virginia.gov.
Anglers who suspect they have captured an Alabama Bass should take a picture of the fish, clip off a thumbnail-sized portion of one of the pelvic fins, and store the fin clip dry in an envelope. The pelvic fins are located on the bottom of the fish, just under the head. They should then either contact the DGIF at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 804-367-1293.
What do Alabama Bass look like?
Photos courtesy of the iNaturalist Angling for Black Bass Conservation Project