West Virginia biologists and fishers are growing alarmed by the Alabama bass — an invasive fish that is perceived as a threat to native species like the largemouth and smallmouth bass. Assistant Chief of Fish Management for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Mark Scott only recently learned of the incursion from other biologists, but he wants to do something about it.
Scott said, “They were talking about how they pretty much wiped out the largemouth in Lake Norman. It took them a few years, but anglers now tell me maybe one out of ten fish you catch there will be a largemouth.”
Alabama bass are from the Mobile Bay drainage area of Alabama, and are easily mistaken for Kentucky spotted bass — which are already common in West Virginia. The invader grows to be bigger and stronger, and they’re an aggressive species to boot. That means finding food before other fish populations that eat the same thing is an easy chore for them. They thrive, while other fish fight to survive.
Scott said, “Look at Lake Norman. If you want to catch largemouth bass and you put a fish in there to out-compete them, that’s not a real smart thing to do.”
If Alabama fish weren’t so dominant, they might be impressive. They even overran a fishery to destroy the competitors. But once they succeed, they harm their own populations as well. The reproduce too quickly, which results in a regional fish population dominated by small, malnourished Alabama bass.
Scott explained, “Soon all you have is a lake full of small fish. They breed out the smallmouth. They hybridize and eventually take over that way. Their genetics eventually take over and you lose your smallmouth. Lord forbid we ever lose our smallmouth in the New River, that’s one of the top smallmouth bass fisheries around, so that’s scary.”