2 - Introduction

Both black crappiei (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) and white crappie (P. annularis) are found throughout Arkansas (Robison and Buchanan 1988). Both species prefer quiet waters, and are almost always found near cover such as brush piles, tree tops, standing timber, and aquatic vegetation. Black crappie prefer cooler, deeper waters and seem to dominate in clear, vegetated, acidic waters, while white crappie tend to dominate in eutrophic (richer), more turbid, alkaline waters.

Crappie collectively are the most sought after sport fish among senior resident anglers∗ (44%), and second to bass (largemouth and spotted) among resident (34%)and non-resident (25%) anglers in Arkansas (Duda et al. 2000). Questionnaire results also indicated that a large percentage of anglers (62% of senior residents, 48% of residents, and 43% of non-residents) choose to consume the different species of fish they catch (Duda et al. 2000).

In 1996, resident anglers spent $191.3 million and non-resident anglers spent $110.4 million fishing in Arkansas waters (Maharaj and Carpenter 1997). Combined, resident and non-resident anglers spend an estimated $92.6 million annually fishing for crappie in Arkansas. Because of high angler interest and the significant contribution to the State’s economy, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has intensified its efforts towards developing a species plan to optimize sampling and management strategies towards improving the quality of recreational crappie fishingi.

For years, biologists believed lakes with large numbers of undersized crappie were the result of overpopulation and stunting (Goodson 1966; Ming 1971). As biologists began to look more closely at crappie age-and-growth, they often found over-harvest instead of over-population (Webb and Ott 1991). Colvin (1991) reported over-harvest of crappie in a large Missouri reservoir. However, this is not always the case as Reed and Davies (1991) recommended against size restrictions to protect the crappie fishery from over-harvest, because high natural mortality would have nullified the benefits of a delayed harvest.

Past crappie management in Arkansas was seldom based on well-defined objectives developed from the three rate functions of recruitment, growth, and mortality, which reflect crappie abundance and size structure. Often, crappie received little or no direct management. A standardized approach to characterizing the state’s crappie 6
populations was needed to provide reliable information. A research team was formed in 1994 to develop criteria to best characterize crappie population structure and optimize
management efforts. Fifteen lakes were sampled with trap nets between 1989 and 1993 to gather data to develop this plan (Table 1). Lakes varied from oxbows to large Corps
of Engineer impoundments and from relatively clear and infertile waters to very productive lakes with dense algae or plant growth.

Successfully managing crappie populations requires understanding and manipulating processes controlling recruitment. Recruitment is the number of crappie surviving their first year of life, and is influenced by spawning success, environmental conditions (temperature, food availability, water level fluctuation, turbidity, etc.) and
predation on young-of-the-year (YOY) crappie. Arkansas’ lakes undergo fluctuations in water levels, temperature, turbidity and organic inputs. These factors greatly affect the success of crappie spawns and produce natural variations in fry production. Under proper circumstances these variations are evident later in recruitment and eventually in
age structure.

Cyclic and highly variable recruitment is a principal management problem in crappie fisheries, which generally produce strong year-classes every 3-5 years (Swingle and
Swingle 1967). Results from Allen and Miranda’s (1997) crappie age-structure population model suggested that a specific combination of stock abundance and environmental conditions produced cyclic recruitment in crappie populations. These factors may act in combination resulting in high recruitment when stock abundance is low and environmental conditions are favorable, and low recruitment when stock abundance is high and environmental conditions are unfavorable. In addition, modeling suggested that even with favorable environmental conditions, production of a strong year class might lead to reduced or only average recruitment in subsequent (1-5) years.

The predator population also affects fry/juvenile mortality and subsequent recruitment. We speculate that a high-density bass population results in low crappie recruitment due to intense predation (high natural mortality), in which surviving crappie are fast growing and reach large size. Many fishermen would prefer this situation to catching numerous smaller crappies (AMRA 1988). An example is Bear Creek Lake, which holds a dense population of 250mm-325mm (10-13”) largemouth bass, and shows low crappie recruitment and rapid growth with average size of 320-mm (12.5”) at age 2+. In contrast, Lake Greenlee has low bass density and shows crappie to be

(∗ denotes anglers who have purchased an Arkansas Senior Citizen (65+) fishing license)

overpopulated, slow growing, and seldom reaching more than 150-mm (6”) in length as adults.

Dense predator populations have been shown to be inefficient in controlling YOY crappie when turbidity levels are high or thick vegetation is present. Channel scar lakes or shallow lowland lakes are perhaps Arkansas’ most fertile lake type and often have dense vegetation and/or turbid water used as cover by many YOY fishes. These lakes show good to high recruitment values and low mortality of YOY crappie, which results in low growth rates. Recruitment must be controlled to properly manage these lakes. Added fishing pressure and relaxed limits may not be sufficient to control overpopulation. Control of vegetation and turbidity may provide an answer.

In lakes containing moderate densities of largemouth bass and low crappie density, natural fluctuations in crappie production show up as inconsistent recruitment and missing year classes. Lakes Beaver, Bob Kidd, Nimrod, and Horseshoe show large variations in age structure due to inconsistent recruitment. The most appropriate management strategy in these situations may be to manage the habitat (water level,
cover, fertilization) to enhance spawning success and recruitment.

Harvest regulation is one possible way to influence crappie populations when exploitation (angler harvest) is high. However, only under conditions of rapid crappie growth and low natural mortality will minimum length limits improve yield (average weight of fish harvested) in crappie populations. Prior to the implementation of minimum length
limits, population-modeling programs should be used to predict long-term effects on the crappie population. Modeling results can be evaluated by subsequent field data
collections. Knowledge of angler preference when minimum length limits are being investigated should also be an important consideration for fishery managers in the
decision-making process.

Information Provided by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

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Artificially created place where water is collected and stored; also called an impoundment.

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