SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Fishing tournament directors in West Virginia will soon have to follow a new set of regulations. Starting January 1st all fishing tournaments in the state, regardless of size or structure, will be required to have a permit issued by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
The present regulations, which were implemented in the early 1990’s, required a permit only for any “open” tournament in West Virginia. The “open” tournament in general referred to tournaments which awarded cash prizes. The new regulations expand the requirement to any organized fishing event.
“Tournaments that give out money or prizes, they were the ones that had to have a permit before. Starting January 1st, any tournament must have a permit, an open tournament, club tournament, kayak tournament, doesn’t matter. They must have a permit,” said DNR Assistant Chief of Fisheries Mark Scott.
The regulation change reflects the increased popularity of fishing tournaments. Originally a few bass tournaments were happening on West Virginia waters, but in the last decade the number of bass tournaments have exploded. Their popularity has increased along side and in direct proportion to the number of catfish tournaments, kayak fishing events, and a spattering of club fishing tournaments across the state. The agency recognized the growing trend of more tournaments along with limited waters and boat ramp access was going to create problems.
“Folks talk about tournaments in Tennessee, Texas, Florida, or places like that. One of their lakes would encompass every bit of water we have in West Virginia. You get two or thee tournaments which accidentally show up on the same water on the same day, which in the past could happen since only the open tournaments needed a permit, then you could have a massive crowd of boats, and a mess of trying to launch boats and park trailers. It could be an issue.”
Beyond permits however, Scott and the agency decided to take a closer look at the requirements for fish handling during these events and proper care of the resource. The old regulations largely didn’t address the fish handling or the proper care of fish to insure a safe release. Creating the rules, Scott said he consulted and worked with the leading fishing organizations in the state.
“I spoke with several bass tournament folks, several catfish tournament folks, kayak tournament folks. I tried to hit a little bit of everything. They all care very deeply for the resource. Nobody wants to go out and kill the fish they are targeting. A lot of these things they’ve already been doing anyway, but this sort of ties them to it. Those few who were not doing it, now we can hold their feet to the fire,” Scott said.
The new rules set regulations on the size of the weigh-in-holding tank, parameters on water temperature and the numbers of fish which can be held at any one time. There are requirements for protective chemicals in the holding tank, proper oxygenation, and deep cleaning of the equipment after each use to hold down the spread of disease or invasive species from one body of water to another.
The applications for the 2021 tournament permits will be accepted starting December 1st.
“We’ve changed it a little bit. You can only request five tournaments per application and you have to wait two weeks before you can apply for five more. That prevents one tournament holder from booking Stonewall Jackson every weekend through the summer or something like that,” Scott said.
Finally, tournament directors will also be responsible for collecting data on fish caught in their tournament. Length, weight, species, and the number of fish which died along with the number retuned to the water must all be collected.
“We’re going to be a little more of a stickler on this now. We’ve always asked for the data, but in the past we’ve let them slide on getting it into us. Now we’ve given them 30 days to submit the data, which should be plenty of time. If they don’t all permits are on hold until they do,” he said.
The agency requires no permit fees, but the data is required is put to use to determine the quality of fish health in each body of water. Tournament data is now available for more than three decades on most West Virginia waters and is part of the knowledge base used to make management decisions for fishing in those waters in the future.