Marine recreational fisheries

What is the current state of recreational fisheries?
And what does the future hold?
The latest themed set in ICES Journal of Marine Science investigates.
Published: 9 November 2020
​​​Marine recreational fisheries (MRF) have important economic and social benefits. These fisheries are defined by the FAO as “fishing of aquatic animals (mainly fish) that do not constitute the individual's primary resource to meet basic nutritional needs and are not generally sold or otherwise traded on export, domestic or black markets". They have a significant economic impact, for example contributing around €10.5 billion supporting 99,500 jobs in Europe and $68 billion supporting 472,000 jobs in the US. As a recreational activity, it can improve participants' physical health and mental wellbeing as they enjoy time in nature and socialize with friends and family.

MRF are hugely diverse, generally data poor, and often not well represented in fisheries management. Collecting data on marine recreational fisheries is challenging, with regular surveys carried out in only a few countries. This makes recreational fisheries difficult to include in stock assessments and exclusion from this process may impact on our ability to manage fish stocks sustainably. Motivations for recreational fishing vary between participants, making their response to management difficult to predict. In some countries, the benefits are recognized and MRF are embedded in fisheries management (e.g. USA, Australia, New Zealand).

If the MRF sector is to be developed, novel interdisciplinary approaches to monitoring and management are needed to support policy and governance. These studies are becoming more common with an increasing number of researchers working on MRF.

New themed set of articles

This themed set in ICES Journal of Marine Science presents the current state of MRF, explores the latest research, and identifies future opportunities. The themed set was led by Kieran Hyder (Cefas and University of East Anglia) in collaboration with Raul Prellezo (AZTI), Marloes Kraan (Wageningen Marine Research and Wageningen University), and Christos Maravelias (Hellenic Centre for Marine Research and University of Thessaly).

Hyder, an expert on MRF and co-chair of ICES Working Group on Recreational Fisheries Surveys, said “Recently, there has been increasing recognition of the impacts of MRF and a lot of novel science has been done. Hence, it is both timely and important to bring together the latest research on MRF to take stock of the latest developments and highlight gaps in our knowledge. A themed set of articles is the perfect way to do this".

Wanting to capture the breadth of research underway, contributions were requested on the economic and ecological importance of MRF, inclusion in fisheries governance, traditional and novel monitoring approaches, incorporation in stock assessment, impact of catch and release, social and ecological trade-offs, behavioural responses to management, social and cultural benefits, and development of MRF-based tourism. “The response was amazing", states Hyder, “with 74 expressions of interest and 42 manuscript submissions, resulting in the publication of 20 articles". 

More manuscripts were received on monitoring and impacts on stocks than on economic and social benefits or management and compliance, with no submissions on governance or engagement.

The introduction summarizes the current state and future opportunities for MRF research, highlighting how the published articles added to our knowledge. This covers governance, data collection and surveys, impacts, economic and social benefits, management and compliance, engagement and communication, and funding.

Novel use of data

Robust data collection methods are vital and needed. However, Hyder notes that it is clear from the submissions to this themed set that there is a move to use existing data in novel ways and new data sources to generate additional understanding. 

Matthew Navarro presents a spatial analysis of recreational catch from the south-west of Australia. Spatial patterns in recreational catch are important indicators of fisher satisfaction but can also contribute to the sustainability objectives of fisheries. These dual benefits make the study of spatial patterns in recreational catch particularly important. Navarro shows how spatial recreational catches can be modelled using environmental, fishing operation and spatial variables to identify high and low catch areas.  Navarro notes, “Understanding spatial patterns in recreational fisheries can assist managers develop policies that account for fisher behaviour and associated implications for sustainability. While boat-based recreational fishing in Western Australia is highest in waters adjacent to the metropolitan area, fishers will move within various depths to obtain suitable catch rates for target species. When stocks in nearshore waters are abundant fishers do not have to travel far from home, but low catch rates in nearshore waters may influence fishers to travel further offshore to deeper waters. The potential for high release rates due to low bag limits and high post release mortality for demersal species in deeper waters could have implications for stock sustainability. With further validation against established methods, modelling spatial patterns in recreational catches may also prove useful for understanding spatial trends in abundance of recreationally targeted fish species."

“We are living through a digital revolution. Many aspects of human culture, knowledge, and social interactions are regularly recorded online. Recreational fishing is no exception", says Valerio Sbragaglia whose study data mined YouTube videos of recreational fishers. “Digital information of catches - if appropriately analysed - can provide an unprecedented body of information, especially for marine environments where sampling is usually constrained across time and space. This is expected to provide complementary information to traditional data collection methods and, most importantly, provide novel insights in areas where resources for monitoring are scarce. Moreover, digital data such as those published on social media platforms can advance our understanding of the human dimension. Although still at its infancy, I am convinced that the application of digital data will become more and more common in the future."

Not dependent on profit

Some manuscripts demonstrate the biological and economic impacts of MRF, others, such as Alf Ring Kleiven, recognize its self-subsidizing nature. "In commercial fisheries, harmful subsidies are considered as driving factors for over-fishing. When subsidized, commercial fisheries can continue even when not directly profitable, thereby putting the sustainability of target species in peril. We explored the driving forces in recreational fishing while keeping the consequences of subsidies in mind. While different in most respects, both types of fisheries often exploit the same resources. However, while commercial fisheries operations are dependent on profit - recreational fishers are not. Instead, recreational fishers subsidize their own fishing activities through investment in gear and time from their non-fishery-based earnings. Therefore, they might continue fishing when commercial fisheries have stopped due to low abundance and no prospect for profit. The consequence may be collapse of vulnerable fish populations if recreational fisheries are not strongly regulated."

Impact and inclusion of MRF in management was important in Nicolas Farmer's study on forecasting red snapper season length. The recreational fishing season for red snapper has declined from 365 days in 2005 to just 2 projected days in 2017. "Management of this species is politically contentious and there is enormous public demand for the resource", states Farmer, "Our projections for Gulf of Mexico red snapper will be of immediate use and interest for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and constituents in the southeastern United States...[as well as] providing a model for a novel approach to forecasting for derby fisheries that could be applied in other areas".

Novel approaches for management, including improving compliance, were identified. There has been an important increase in research around the human dimensions both in terms of economic and social impacts, but also attitudes and behaviour. Mary Mackay looked at compliance in MRF and the potential to use nudge theory to engender compliance. Mackay noted that they explored, "the use of social norms as a behaviour incentive (or a behavioural nudge) to encourage voluntary compliance which had never been experimentally tested before. We found that the presence of this nudge increased compliance behaviour by 10%. Nudges based on social norms offer a novel and appealing compliance tool to complement traditional deterrence methods (like fines) within marine recreational fisheries management".

There are research gaps: clear governance that embeds MRF in fisheries management; integration of novel approaches and traditional surveys; broader risk-based approaches to identify the impacts; understanding fish welfare to support best practice; approaches to management that balance economic, social and biological impacts and allow fair and equitable allocation between commercial and recreational sectors; and better understanding of social benefits and on management and compliance.

Read the full themed set Marine recreational fisheries - current state and future opportunities in ICES Journal of Marine Science.​

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​Click to enlarge. Image: Bas Kohler.

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Marine recreational fisheries

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