A recent shift of attention towards recreational fisheries by NOAA Fisheries and other organizations has highlighted an important and long-standing issue: the counting and regulation of recreational catch.
Like commercial fisheries, recreational fish removals have significant impacts on the ecosystem and stock assessments, and subsequently management measures. However, because recreational catch is most often kept for personal consumption and not sold, regulators are unable to track fish removals at the same level as within commercial fisheries. Instead, NOAA Fisheries relies primarily on catch estimates derived from angler interviews, many of which happen days, even weeks, after the fishing trip in question. While many disagree on whether recreational catch is over- or under- estimated, most agree that the methods determining catch are inaccurate, and need improvement.
In an attempt to solve this problem, numerous projects are in progress throughout the country offering various solutions. Here are a few:
Florida Snook and Gamefish Foundation (SGF) ‘Angler Action’
The need for more detailed and timely catch data in the Florida snook and gamefish fishery became apparent in 2010 when two weeks of cold, rainy weather led to historic fish kills. In response, the SGF partnered with software developers to create a user-friendly application, called Angler Action, to encourage self-reporting among anglers. Data generated from Angler Action is used by Florida Fish and Wildlife to supplement Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) data, and has proven valuable for generating mortality estimates, researching spatial dynamics, and identifying critical fish habitats.
Gulf of Mexico Headboat Cooperative Pilot Program (HBC)
In the Gulf of Mexico, the inability of regulators to accurately monitor red snapper removals in the recreational fishery has led to continuous quota overages, and the subsequent tightening of regulations and decreased economic viability of fishing businesses. In response, a group of fishermen, scientists, and regulators formed the HBC, which attempts to deter the overages by assigning headboats a shared quota separate from private anglers. Allotted an exempted fishing permit (EFP), the 17 vessels in the HBC are allowed to fish outside the regulated fishing season but are subject to stricter catch monitoring and enforcement via vessel monitoring system installation and use, trip-level landing reports, and dock-side and at-sea monitoring.
Preliminary results from the pilot year of the HBC show that the use of the EFP has kept vessels from fishing beyond their quotas and has reduced discards by between 43 and 59%. Participation in the EFP has also allowed vessels to spread out their allocation through the season and provides more anglers with fishing opportunities. Impacts on local economies and headboat businesses have yet to be determined.
A Grain Of Salt…
As we continue to see an increased focus on recreational fisheries it is important to determine and understand the pros and cons of each approach. Self reported data, like that generated by Angler Action to estimate catch, is often controversial due to angler concern that the detailed data they provide could actually be used to restrict fishing activity and habitat access, among other things. Similarly, there is much dispute over the HBC approach of dividing the recreational fishery quota and creating a for-hire catch share sector. Many fear that separation will privatize a public resource, unfairly favor for-hire operations over private anglers, and push small charter boat operations out of the fishery.
Facing these challenges in the Northeast is inevitable. It is important to look towards the lessons of other regions, but also determine what course of action is most relevant to the issues facing our region. Working closely with stakeholders, considering every view point, and testing new systems prior to implementation will be paramount to our success.