Ensuring sustainable recreational fishing in the face of social change — ScienceDaily


The observation that “the peach isn’t what it used to be” ranks up there with “the one that got away” as a story that has passed from folk wisdom to folklore. But what if there’s any truth to it? New research published in Fish and fisheries suggests that a slow but steady decline in recreational fishing may be common, and highlights actions that anglers and fisheries managers can take to help stabilize and improve fishing today and for generations future.

Fisheries biologist Dr Chelsey Nieman led the study when they were postdoctoral researchers at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. They explain: “For too long, recreational fishing has been seen as self-regulating. We now know that its durability depends on both natural and human characteristics. When these conditions change, it can have big implications for fish populations and the quality of fishing. experience.”

Nieman and co-author Dr. Chris Solomon, an ecologist at the Cary Institute, focused on the human side of fishing. Their study is one of the first to explore the role played by slow social change in the resilience of recreational fishing. “When change occurs over many years or generations, it can be difficult for people to perceive it or find the will to act on it,” Solomon notes. “Yet our work shows that slow social changes that can degrade fisheries can be quite common and widespread.”

Using an open access mathematical model of recreational fishing and data from Wisconsin, the Western Pacific and British Columbia, they examined the impacts of three types of social change on fish abundance: cost of fishing, the efficiency of fishing technology and the importance of the catch to the satisfaction of the fishermen. “These are three key determinants of fish abundance,” says Nieman, “and there is reason to believe that each of them could change in ways that gradually reduce fish abundance.”

Travel tends to be a major “cost” of going fishing. Road infrastructure improvements that accumulate over many years can reduce travel time and further encourage fishing. The authors highlight evidence that fishing destinations are becoming easier to reach. A Ecological applications A study in an area of ​​northern Wisconsin where lake access is a primary road use found that road density more than doubled between 1937 and 1999.

Likewise, incremental advances in fishing technology – from improved fishing gear to wider use of electronics and faster dissemination of fishing knowledge through apps and social media – mean that every hour spent fishing can bring more fish caught. “This ‘technology creep’ has been well documented in commercial fishing,” says Nieman, “and it’s happening in recreational fishing as well.”

The importance of the catch to the angler’s satisfaction may also change over time. Anglers enjoy many aspects of the fishing experience beyond just catching fish, such as spending time in nature, socializing, and mastering the challenges of angling. “Because catching fish is just one of the many reasons people go fishing,” Solomon says, “they can continue to love going fishing even though catch rates go down.”

For example, a study of motivations to fish in British Columbia found that between 1990 and 2005, harvest motivations declined while non-harvest motivations changed very little. “It’s like the old story of boiling a frog,” Solomon says. “If anglers gradually get used to lower catch rates, they may not notice the signal that it’s time to jump out of the water. Ultimately, that can be bad for fishing, as fishing pressure continues even as fish populations drop to dangerously low levels.”

Despite these concerns, the authors emphasize a positive message: “There are concrete actions fishers and managers can take to help ensure sustainable fisheries, even in the face of slow social change,” says Nieman. They and Solomon highlight five actions – three for fishers and two for fisheries managers – as particularly important.

First, anglers can take up the challenge of fishing, to combat technology creep. “Limitations on fishing methods are generally accepted or even embraced by anglers out of a sense of fair play and a desire for challenge,” says Solomon. “Extending these limitations – for example, by deliberately avoiding the use of technologies such as fish finders – could go a long way.” Voluntary behavior change can be essential to counteract the negative effects that incremental technological improvement can have on fish populations.

Second, anglers can take steps to reduce fishing mortality by using best practices to release caught fish whenever possible. “Limiting fish kills helps maintain good fishing opportunities,” says Nieman. Third, anglers can support and advocate for adequate funding for fisheries monitoring by state management agencies, which play a critical role in understanding and conserving fish populations in the face of social and environmental changes. Improvements in monitoring lead to more effective responses from managers – and better outcomes for fish populations.

For managers, the authors recommend actions that are already used in some places. First, some fishing opportunities should be managed for high catch rates. “Many water bodies are managed to support high fishing effort,” Nieman explains. “It’s important to make sure people have the opportunity to fish, but because it’s difficult to have a lot of people fishing and high catch rates at the same time, it can help reduce the importance of catch to the satisfaction of anglers If certain water bodies are managed for high catch rates instead of high effort, this should help counteract slow but insidious changes in the importance of catches,” advises Nieman.

Second, the authors urge careful consideration of the long-term impacts of investments in infrastructure such as boat launches; once access is improved, fishing pressure increases. “Everyone wants good and fair access to fishing opportunities,” says Solomon, “providing that access while ensuring the long-term sustainability of the fishery will require careful thought.”

“If fishers and managers can work together to meet the challenges posed by progressive social and environmental change,” Nieman concludes, “we can hope to sustain good fishing opportunities and healthy fish populations for many generations to come. to come”.


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