F1 bass: Beware Frankenstein bass

A couple weeks ago a potential new customer told me that another lake management company had told him, when he asked about the potential genetic issues with the offspring of F1 bass, that his company specifically selected the bass to avoid that. There are small lies, and then there are big ones. This is a very big one. Allow me to elaborate.

Gregor Mendel founded genetic science as we know it. He did experiments with pea plants, and through his findings gave us many laws of genetics that are still accepted today. One of Mendel’s laws is the Law of Independent Assortment. Here’s a definition from bio.libretexts.org: “Mendel’s law of independent assortment states that genes do not influence each other with regard to the sorting of alleles into gametes; every possible combination of alleles for every gene is equally likely to occur.”

One of the talking points of the sales pitch for F1 bass is that you get the growth rate of Florida bass with the aggressiveness and catchability of northern largemouth. This sounds great; but it’s fundamentally dishonest.

Some of the hybrids created from any cross-breeding of Florida and northern largemouth, by virtue of random assortment, will have this combination of traits. However, some will also have the growth rate and the catchability, i.e. both traits, of the Florida parent, while some will have the growth rate and catchability of the northern parent. So far so good, you may say; you’ve got some fast-growing bass you can catch, some fast-growing bass that are difficult to catch, and some slower-growing bass you can catch.

But what about those bass that get the slower growth rate of the northern parent and the reduced aggressiveness of the Florida bass? Small bass that won’t bite: Frankenstein bass, with none of the traits you want them to have. By Mendel’s law, some percentage of every breeding between a northern largemouth and a Florida largemouth will have these fish, unless you genetically engineer them out.

That must be what that other pond company is doing, right? No fish hatchery in America does that, either with food fish or fish for pond stocking. Each fish would cost $100 or more if they did because tissue from each fish would have to be examined at the molecular level with a high-powered, extremely expensive microscope by a geneticist. No bass is being modified genetically in this country, because it would be a federal crime to do so: there’s only one genetically-modified fish that is legal for trade anywhere in the U.S., and that’s a genetically-engineered salmon made by a Canadian company that spent thirty years getting FDA approval for it. The FDA is currently being sued by the Center for Food Safety to block the sale of this fish. So no, that hatchery that claims to have the perfect bass is not genetically arranging each bass for the most desirable traits.