Science calls for anglers to cut line


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Posted by on August 27, 2004 at 14:21:32:

In Reply to: Sportfishing Blamed in Depletion posted by on August 27, 2004 at 02:44:14:

Rising numbers in recreational fishinghas many fishin danger, online analysis says

All those recreational anglers who dangle bait off U.S. coasts are catching a much bigger share of fish -- especially some threatened species -- than commonly thought, researchers report in a new study.

In fact, sport fishermen are catching the majority of some large species whose stocks are being depleted, according to the analysis published online today by the journal Science. They include bocaccio on the Pacific coast, red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico and red drum in the Atlantic off the Southeast seaboard.

"The conventional wisdom is that recreational fishing is a small proportion of the total take, so it is largely overlooked," said Felicia Coleman, a Florida State University biologist who led the effort to study saltwater catches going back 22 years using federal and state data.

"But if you remove pollock and menhaden -- strictly commercially caught species that account for over half of all landings -- the recreational take rises to 10 percent nationally. If you focus on fish identified by the federal government as species of concern, it rises to 23 percent."

The Pew Charitable Trusts sponsored the project.

Among fish that the National Marine Fisheries Service considers "overfished" or are "experiencing overfishing," recreational catches made up 64 percent of the landings in the Gulf, 59 percent along the Pacific coast and 38 percent in the South Atlantic.

The findings run counter to arguments by groups that recreational anglers are small fries who shouldn't be included in conservation efforts such as offshore marine preserves or catch limits for certain species.

"This is bogus," said United Anglers of California president Bob Strickland. "It's a slam against recreational fishing."

The American Sportfishing Association of Alexandria, Va., a leading proponent of "freedom to fish" legislation in Congress and state legislatures, contends that the nation's 12 million saltwater anglers land only 3 percent of ocean fish in U.S. waters.

"There is a fundamental difference between a family fishing on the weekend and a factory trawler sweeping the ocean floor for months at a time," the group said in a statement.

But with recreational fishing increasing by as much as 20 percent over the past decade and recreational fishing fleets often matching the technology and range of commercial boats, the aggregate impact is far from benign, experts say.

"They think they make up a small proportion, but there's so many of them out there," said California Department of Fish and Game biologist Carrie Wilson. "Even though each individual may not take a lot in themselves, in the big picture, there's a tremendous amount of harvest on the recreational side."

Many sport fishermen also go after large, predatory fish that are at the top of the food chain, causing dramatic changes to entire food webs, Coleman said.

Most states have limits on the size and number of fish that a single angler can land. But such restrictions have a questionable overall effect due to the swelling numbers of anglers out there, the researchers said. They also noted that such limits are also thwarted when dead or dying fish already in the creel get discarded once better specimens are hauled in.

Limiting fishing to "catch and release" may not help much, either, Coleman said. At least 20 percent of released fish end up dying shortly after being let go.

Coleman said she and her colleagues appreciate that "recreational fishing is important to many people. But if folks want to continue recreational fishing, we all need to support management of both commercial and recreational fisheries that will allow fish populations to recover and protect the structure and function of marine systems."

Staff writer Douglas Fischer and the Associated Press contributed to this story.



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