Livewell conditions during competitive angling events are thought to affect fish mortality. We examined the effects of livewell additives on initial and delayed mortality of largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides. We applied three treatments (salt, ice, or salt and ice) to livewells during tournaments conducted on lakes in Illinois, United States, as well as in laboratory and pond experiments designed to examine the effects of fish size and ambient water temperature on mortality. Fish were collected after tournament weigh-in procedures were completed and monitored for delayed mortality every 24 h for 5 d. Initial mortality did not differ among livewell additives during these field experiments. Although delayed mortality was high (35%), it was not significantly different among livewells that contained salt (56%), ice (48%), ice and salt (40%), and controls (30%). Additives administered during the laboratory experiments, at cool water temperatures, resulted in significantly lower delayed mortalities than those observed during the field experiments when ambient water temperatures were warmer. Initial and delayed mortality did not differ among livewell additives during the laboratory experiments. Larger fish in field experiments had significantly greater delayed mortality than smaller fish in the pond experiments even though initial and delayed mortality did not differ among livewell additives. Our results suggest that fish size and ambient water temperature have a greater influence on delayed mortality observed during competitive angling events than the specific livewell additives studied here.

Black bass Micropterus spp. are commonly targeted by anglers during competitive angling events in the United States (Schramm et al. 1991; Paukert et al. 2007). Because the rate of competitive angling events continues to increase (Kerr and Kamke 2003; Schramm and Hunt 2007), interest in minimizing mortality is an issue of concern among anglers and fisheries biologists alike (Schramm and Hunt 2007; Siepker et al. 2007). Acting on these interests, researchers have examined the effects that fish size (Meals and Miranda 1994; Weathers and Newman 1997; Neal and Lopez-Clayton 2001), water temperatures (Schramm et al. 1987; Meals and Miranda 1994; Neal and Lopez-Clayton 2001), various tournament procedures (Weathers and Newman 1997; Suski et al. 2004), and livewell conditions (Carmichael et al. 1984; Plumb et al. 1988; Cooke et al. 2002; Gilliland 2002; Suski et al. 2004) have on black bass survival rates after competitive angling events. Indeed, black bass mortality associated with these events can be relatively low (0–28%), whereas other events result in mortality rates as high as 98% (Champeau and Denson 1988; Lee et al. 1993; Wilde 1998; Neal and Lopez-Clayton 2001; Gilliland 2002; Wilde et al. 2002; Edwards et al. 2004; Siepker et al. 2007). Even with continued research and literature on improving survival of their catches available to anglers (see Gilliland and Schramm 2002; Tufts and Morlock 2004), mortality rates have not been substantially reduced since the 1980s (Wilde 1998).

Water quality in livewells during these events has been considered a contributing factor to black bass mortality (Plumb et al. 1998; Gilliland 2002). As a result, tournament anglers have been encouraged to use livewell additives such as ice, commercially available water conditioners, and antibacterial treatments (including salt) as a means to reduce mortality rates (Gilliland 2002; Gilliland and Schramm 2002). However, current research provides equivocal support regarding the benefits to fish of using livewell additives. Plumb et al. (1988) examined livewells with or without water conditioners and found that water conditioners enhanced survival. Gilliland (2002) reported that diffused pure oxygen added to livewells reduced mortality compared to combinations of salt and ice or control groups with continuous or intermittent water flow through. Conversely, Cooke et al. (2002) found delayed physiological recovery of fish held in livewells containing chemical conditioners compared to fish held in livewells containing only lake water, suggesting conditioners were detrimental to fish recovery. Still others have shown that physiological recovery is delayed when fishes are placed in water cooler than that from which they were captured (Suski et al. 2006). How sublethal physiological responses affect mortality of fish held in livewells is still unknown. At present, there is disparate information available to anglers regarding whether or not to use chemical additives or chill livewell water. Additionally, many studies examining livewell additives combine several treatments, including fungicides, anesthetics, ice, and salt, which makes it difficult to assess the merits of each independently (Cooke et al. 2002).

We conducted field experiments to compare initial and delayed mortality of competitively angled largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides that had been confined for up to 8 h in livewells that contained ice, salt, salt and ice (treatments), or recirculated lake water (control). Given the evidence that water temperature (Schramm et al. 1987; Meals and Miranda 1994; Neal and Lopez-Clayton 2001) and fish size (Meals and Miranda 1994) are positively related to tournament mortality, we also conducted laboratory and pond experiments using the same treatments to compare initial and delayed mortality of largemouth bass at different sizes and in different water temperatures.

Field experiments

We contacted largemouth bass tournament organizers and received permission to randomly place additives within boat livewells during competitive angling events (N  =  3). The three separate field experiments occurred on 28 June (surface-water temperature at weigh-in  =  25.1°C), 21 July (surface-water temperature at weigh-in  =  34.5°C), and 04 August (surface-water temperature at weigh-in  =  30.8°C) at Lake Shelbyville, Illinois, United States (latitude: 39°40′84.0″N, longitude: 88°77′78.0″W). We chose tournaments that had manageable numbers of participants (<50 boats) and that launched from locations near cooperating marinas where holding net pens could be secured for 5 d.

Boats were randomly given both appropriate livewell additives and instructions on their use. We instructed anglers assigned the salt treatment to add 109 g of noniodized salt, hereafter referred to as salt, per 18 L of water to make approximately a 5% solution (Gilliland and Schramm 2002) at the onset and then again at the midpoint (i.e., 4 h from tournament onset) of the tournament if they flushed their livewell. We instructed those assigned the ice treatment to fill livewells and add a 3.8-L block of ice to cool the water by approximately 5°C (Gilliland and Schramm 2002), adding additional ice approximately every 2 h in order to maintain temperature. Anglers that were assigned a combination treatment added both salt (5% solution) and ice (quantity to cool the water by approximately 5°C) to their livewells as outlined above. Lastly, we instructed individuals that were assigned the control treatment to operate livewells without the addition of any livewell additives. We also asked all participants to restrict the use of any commercially available livewell treatments that they might normally use during competitive events.

At the weigh-in, we asked anglers if they had deviated from instructions. We excluded from analysis anglers that deviated from the instructions or those unable to capture fish. Following the weigh-in, live fish were given a unique fin clip designating their respective livewell and treatment, weighed (g) and measured (total length, TL), and placed in holding tanks on boats before being transported to the holding net pens. We measured, weighed, and recorded the livewell number of dead fish at the weigh-in. We determined delayed mortality by visually inspecting net pens for expired fish every 24 h for 5 d following each competitive angling event.

Laboratory experiments

We conducted additional experiments in the laboratory to determine whether livewell additives affect competitively angled largemouth bass mortality at cool ambient water temperatures. Largemouth bass (mean  =  360 ± 7.78 mm TL) were acclimated in 445-L indoor tanks at the Homer Buck Laboratory, Sam Parr Biological Station at water temperatures significantly (t-value  =  15.8; P < 0.01) cooler (mean  =  22.7 ± 0.41°C) than ambient water temperatures observed during the field experiments (mean  =  30 ± 0.24°C).

To simulate angling exhaustion, we manually chased fish for 60 s (Cooke et al. 2002), exposed them to air for 60 s, introduced them to livewells, and held them at a density of three fish per livewell for 8 h. Livewells were circular tanks (0.91-m diameter) that contained 100 L of water and one of four treatments: salt (5% solution; Gilliland and Schramm 2002), ice (to reduce water temperature by approximately 5°C; Gilliland and Schramm 2002), salt and ice (5% solution and ice to reduce water temperature by 5°C), or control. We replicated all treatments four times. We monitored dissolved oxygen (mg/L) and temperature (°C) every hour in a subset of livewells throughout the experiments. Once every hour we shook livewells for 60 s to simulate wave action and culling. Fish were then removed from the livewell, exposed to air for 10 s, and placed in a plastic weigh-in bag (0.66 m × 0.86 m) containing about 7 L of water for 120 s. Following removal from the weigh-in bag, we took fish lengths and weights (subjecting individuals to air for 120 s). These methods simulated a typical tournament weigh-in and fish transport back to the lake; afterward, we released fish into their respective tanks.

We recorded mortality throughout the experiments. We recorded initial mortality when a fish exhibited a lack of blood flow through the gills, stopped respiration, and–or was unable to volitionally maintain equilibrium and swim after release. We visually inspected tanks for delayed mortality daily beginning 24 h after the event and continuing for 5 d.

Pond experiments

We also conducted experiments to determine whether fish size influenced mortality rates of competitively angled largemouth bass. We subjected fish to livewell treatments in two simulated tournaments in 0.14-ha clay-lined experimental ponds at the Sam Parr Biological Station, Kinmundy, Illinois in late June and early July. We stocked largemouth bass in ponds 12 mo prior to the simulated tournaments. The ponds supported sparse aquatic vegetation and had populations of small (≤120-mm TL) bluegill Lepomis macrochirus, naturally colonized invertebrates, and fathead minnows Pimephales promelas that were stocked monthly (3,750 minnows/ha). We angled largemouth bass when ambient water temperatures (mean  =  28.9 ± 0.49°C) were similar (t-value  =  2.04; P  =  0.07) to those observed during the field experiments (mean  =  30 ± 0.24°C).

Anglers fished from shore with standard angling gear typified by medium-action rods, 10-lb (4.5-kg) test line, and commercially available “J”-style aberdeen hooks. We constructed livewells from coolers modified with small pumps to allow for intermittent pond-water flow-through during the confinement period. Once angled, three fish were placed in each livewell for 8 h. Livewells contained one of four water treatments: salt (109 g salt/18 L water, 5% solution; Gilliland and Schramm 2002), ice (3.8 L blocks added to reduce water temperature by approximately 5°C; Gilliland and Schramm 2002), salt and ice combination (5% solution and quantity to reduce water temperature by 5°C), or control. We replicated all livewell treatments five times during each of the two simulated tournaments. We monitored dissolved oxygen (mg/L) and temperature (°C) every hour in a subset of livewells throughout the simulated tournaments. In addition, we disturbed all livewells every hour to simulate wave action and culling as described in the laboratory experiments. We then removed fish from the livewell and subjected them to a weigh-in as described in the laboratory experiments before we released them into net pens within the experimental ponds. After release, we monitored all angled largemouth bass for mortality and every 24 h postrelease. We used the same criteria to determine initial and delayed mortality as that described above for field experiments.

We used a completely randomized experimental design and 2-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) to test for differences (P < 0.05) in initial and delayed mortality and dissolved oxygen and temperature among tournaments and among livewell additive treatments. To meet assumptions of the ANOVA, the percentages of initial and delayed mortalities were arcsine-square-root–transformed. Fisher's LSD mean separation tests for pair-wise comparisons followed significant ANOVAs.

Field experiments

Livewell additives did not affect initial and delayed mortality during competitive angling events. Of the 65 boats that collectively participated during the three tournaments, 48 captured largemouth bass. Largemouth bass captured during the tournaments were similarly sized (mean  =  402 ± 3.4 mm TL; F  =  0.26, P  =  0.77). The number of fish caught did not significantly differ (F  =  1.49; P  =  0.24) among the June (N  =  23 boats, mean  =  2.6 ± 0.48 fish/livewell), July (N  =  21 boats, mean  =  2.5 ± 0.42 fish/livewell), and August (N  =  21 boats, 1.7 ± 0.33 fish/livewell) tournaments or among treatments added to livewells (F  =  1.63; P  =  0.19).

Across all tournaments, self-reported and observed initial mortality at the weigh-in was low (mean  =  1.9 ± 1.2%) and did not differ among tournaments (F  =  1.16; P  =  0.33) or livewell treatments (F  =  0.65; P  =  0.59). Delayed mortalities varied among the tournaments (F  =  6.22, P < 0.01; Table S1, http://dx.doi.org/10.3996/092010-JFWM-037.S1), with the event conducted in July (55.8 ± 8.36%) having the highest delayed mortality as compared to the August (29.9 ± 9.75%) and June (12.4 ± 5.22%) tournaments, which did not differ. Delayed mortality for fish held in livewells containing salt (52.4 ± 11.6%), ice (32.4 ± 14.7%), salt and ice (31.6 ± 10.7%), and controls (25.5 ± 7.5%) were not significantly different (F  =  0.99; P  =  0.41).

Laboratory experiments

Additives administered to livewells during the laboratory experiments resulted in no initial or delayed mortalities. As a result, the initial mortality of largemouth bass did not differ (F  =  0.54; P  =  0.65) among livewell additive treatments or from the field experiments (F  =  0.9; P  =  0.35). Delayed mortality also did not differ among the treatments during the laboratory experiments (F  =  1.13; P  =  0.35). Conversely, delayed mortality in the laboratory experiments were significantly lower than those observed in the field experiments (F  =  15.1; P < 0.01).

Pond experiments

Size of largemouth bass appeared to have a greater influence on mortality than livewell additives. Fish lengths (mean  =  207.17 ± 1.72 mm, TL) were significantly (Ps < 0.01) smaller than fish in the field (mean  =  402 ± 3.4 mm, TL) and laboratory experiments (mean  =  360 ± 7.78 mm TL; Table S2, http://dx.doi.org/10.3996/092010-JFWM-037.S1). There were no significant differences in initial mortality between the pond experiments and the field or the laboratory experiments (F  =  1.6; P  =  0.21). Likewise, initial mortality in pond experiments did not differ among livewell treatments when compared to the field or laboratory experiments (F  =  0.52; P  =  0.67). Although we observed some delayed mortalities (salt  =  12.5%, ice and ice and salt  =  4.2%, and controls  =  0%) in the pond experiments, they were significantly lower when compared to the field experiments (F  =  20.9; P < 0.01). Conversely delayed mortality in the pond experiments was similar to the laboratory experiments that were subjected to livewell additives at cooler laboratory water temperatures (F  =  1.57; P  =  0.20; Table S3, http://dx.doi.org/10.3996/092010-JFWM-037.S1).

Dissolved oxygen and temperature within livewells varied throughout the duration of the pond experiments and among livewell treatments (Table S3, http://dx.doi.org/10.3996/092010-JFWM-037.S1). Dissolved oxygen levels (mean  =  6.17 ± 0.05 mg/L) in the livewells did not approach anoxic levels and did not significantly differ among treatments (F  =  1.34; P  =  0.26; Figure 1a). Water temperatures in the livewells gradually increased throughout the day reaching the highest level at weigh-in (Figure 1b). Water temperatures within the livewells containing ice (mean  =  24.3 ± 0.34°C) and salt and ice (mean  =  25.2 ± 0.34°C) were significantly (F  =  20; P < 0.01) cooler than control (mean  =  27.3 ± 0.28°C) or salt (mean  =  27.0 ± 0.29°C) treatments, which did not differ. Water temperatures were also significantly cooler within livewells containing the ice than those with the salt and ice treatment (F  =  20; P < 0.01).

Figure 1

Dissolved oxygen and temperatures measured in livewells at Sam Parr Biological Station in 2004. (a) Dissolved oxygen (mean ± 1 SE; mg/L) within livewells that contained lake water (controls) and either noniodized salt (salt), ice, or salt and ice. Dissolved oxygen levels were not significantly different among livewell treatments. (b) Water temperature (mean ± 1 SE; °C) within livewells that contained lake water (controls) with either salt, ice, or salt and ice. Water temperatures within the livewells containing ice and salt and ice were significantly (P < 0.05) cooler than control or salt treatments that did not differ. Livewells containing ice had significantly (P < 0.05) cooler water temperatures than the salt and ice treatment.

Figure 1

Dissolved oxygen and temperatures measured in livewells at Sam Parr Biological Station in 2004. (a) Dissolved oxygen (mean ± 1 SE; mg/L) within livewells that contained lake water (controls) and either noniodized salt (salt), ice, or salt and ice. Dissolved oxygen levels were not significantly different among livewell treatments. (b) Water temperature (mean ± 1 SE; °C) within livewells that contained lake water (controls) with either salt, ice, or salt and ice. Water temperatures within the livewells containing ice and salt and ice were significantly (P < 0.05) cooler than control or salt treatments that did not differ. Livewells containing ice had significantly (P < 0.05) cooler water temperatures than the salt and ice treatment.

Our results suggest that the use of livewell water additives, such as salt and ice or their combination, does not significantly reduce tournament-related mortality. Largemouth bass may recover from capture, handling, and livewell confinement stress if water quality is good (Furimsky et al. 2003; Suski et al. 2004), regardless of livewell additives. Although we did not find significant differences in delayed mortality among the livewell treatments, the consistent trend of higher mortality with livewell treatments during the field experiments suggests that additives may impart additional negative stressors that increase mortality. Our results also suggest that fish size and ambient water temperature may have a greater influence on delayed mortality observed during competitive angling events than specific livewell additives. Fish appear to have greater long-term survival following tournaments that were conducted when ambient water temperatures were cooler. Further, smaller sized fish appear to be more resilient to tournament-related stressors that result in mortality as compared to larger fishes, regardless of ambient water temperature or livewell additive; they experience less physiological disturbance because they are often played for shorter periods of time and endure shorter periods of air exposure during weigh-in procedures (Kieffer et al. 1996; Ostrand et al. 1999; Cooke et al. 2002). Collectively, these results suggest that the addition of livewell additives does not enhance fish survival following competitive angling events. As a result, we encourage anglers to practice proper fish handling practices as well as maintain good water quality within livewells, as opposed to altering water quality with additives.

Initial mortality observed during all tournaments was low (mean  =  1.9%); however, delayed mortality was relatively high (mean  =  35%) and concurred with previously reported levels (Wilde 1998). Although we surmise that tournament-related mortality was positively correlated with fish size and ambient water temperature, observers were not present with every angling team during the actual tournaments. As a result, we are unable to examine alternative mechanisms that may be correlated with the observed mortality such as angling, handling, and culling practices. During our laboratory and pond experiments, each practice (i.e., angling, handling, disturbance, air exposure, weigh-in procedures) was timed and carefully monitored. Because these experiments afford individual attention to fish, sublethal stress may have been minimized, leading to lower mortality rates. Nevertheless, subtleties in these practices do not appear to be dramatic enough to be overcome by the addition of livewell additives during fish confinement.

In contrast to Gilliland and Schramm (2002), our results suggest the use of salt and ice are not warranted. The use of salt during periods of acute stress may result in better osmoregulatory balance (Carmichael et al. 1984; Harrell 1992) and lower the risk of fungal infections in fish (Plumb 1991), but our results do not support this general paradigm for fish subjected to tournament angling. More specifically, our results suggest that additives may not reduce mortality for larger fish that have been angled from high-temperature waters, confined to livewells, and subjected to weigh-in procedures prior to release. Fish angled from waters that have significantly different water temperatures than livewells that contain ice may be subjected to temperature changes that potentially can cause rapid physiological changes, prolonging recovery (Cooke et al. 2002; Suski et al. 2006). Although the stress caused by these temperature and salinity changes within livewells may not cause initial mortality, these effects coupled with the weigh-in process may result in higher rates of delayed mortality than simply aerating and flushing livewells as much as possible. Thus, we hypothesize that both initial and delayed mortality is the result of a linear, additive sequence of acute stressors throughout the duration of the tournament, which may not be substantially lowered by the manipulation of a single factor such as livewell water temperature or salinity.

Many organizations continue to sponsor black bass tournaments during late spring and summer months when ambient water temperatures are at the highest. Although a variety of practices have been adopted to reduce initial and delayed tournament mortality, our results suggest the benefits of livewell additives on postrelease survival of competitively angled largemouth bass are minimal; water temperature when tournaments are held and the size of fish angled appear to be more important. Our results suggest that tournament organizers should consider conducting events when ambient water temperatures are cooler. In addition, tournament organizers should consider alternative rules and formats that may result in less physiological stress on fish, such as reduced creels or paper tournaments, where captured fish are immediately measured and released at their capture location (Ostrand et al. 1999).

Please note: The Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management is not responsible for the content or functionality of any supplemental material. Queries should be directed to the corresponding author for the article.

Table S1. Delayed mortality measured in field, laboratory, and pond experiments. Delayed mortality was recorded daily beginning 24 h after the experiment for 5 d, where Date/Tourn/Exp (date, tournament, experiment) represents the three field experiments labeled 1, 2, and 3, the laboratory experiment is labeled 4, and the two pond experiments are labeled 5 and 6. The number of fish caught and held in the livewell and the number of fish that died are represented by the number (#) caught and delayed mortality. Delayed mortality is also given as a percentage.

Table S2. Temporal trends in abiotic data (temperature [°C] and dissolved oxygen [DO; mg/L]) for hobo data loggers placed within livewells to monitor changes associated with the ice, ice and salt, salt, and control groups. Ambient water temperatures and dissolved oxygen are provided for experiments by date.

Table S3. Largemouth bass total length for the field, laboratory, and pond experiments are provided. The three field experiments are labeled 1, 2, and 3, the fish used for the laboratory and pond experiments are denoted as laboratory length and pond length.

All found at DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3996/092010-JFWM-037.S1 (44 KB XLSX).

This project benefited from the technical assistance of all tournament sponsors and anglers, as well as Sam Parr and Kaskaskia Biological Station staff. The Aquatic Ecology Discussion Group of the Kaskaskia Biological Station provided helpful reviews on earlier drafts. This research was supported by Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration Project F-135-R, administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). S. Pallo, L. Dunham, and J. Ferencak coordinated activities with the IDNR. R. Wagner (INHS) provided valuable administrative support. Three anonymous reviewers and the Subject Editor provided comments that improved an earlier version of this manuscript.

Any use of trade, product, website, or firm names in this publication is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Author notes

Ostrand KG, Siepker MJ, Wahl DH. 2011. Effectiveness of livewell additives on largemouth bass survival. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 2(1):22–28; e1944-687X. doi: 10.3996/092010-JFWM-037

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