Better Recreational Fishing Data Leads to Brighter Fishing Future
“Open season” for snook — for what it is with a very strict slot and bag limit — is a bittersweet day for me. So many anglers mark their calendars, hoping for a shot at a keeper. Understandably so: Centropomis undecimalis is undeniably a fantastic dinner. I know this first-hand.
At the same time, I, like many others over the years, have come to value this fish far beyond a fine dining experience. Snook, more than any other fish in Florida, touches anglers from just about all walks of life and spends time in just about every kind of watery habitat, from the freshest reaches of Florida’s coastal rivers to reefs over 100 feet below the sargassum floating off Florida’s coast.
The dichotomy in the snook fishery — the lust for harvest by some, the passionate protection by others — is interesting, in that it is a microcosm of what it might take to find a balance between the harvest and the protection of all of our fisheries, coastal and marine. Snook, as it turns out, were the inspiration for the first (and only) database of recreational angler effort — logged and maintained by recreational anglers — that is being used by state-level fishery managers in stock assessments.
A rare Florida cold snap in 2010 led to the development of the Angler Action Program, where recreational anglers can voluntarily log their fishing data. The data is stored and maintained by the Snook & Gamefish Foundation, and the portions that are relevant to stock assessments are made available to biologists and statisticians upon verified request.
Interestingly, the data that was intended to help protect snook actually allowed biologists to feel secure enough in the population to open the fishery for harvest after a year of emergency closure.
This coming winter, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s 2015 snook stock assessment will be completed, and Angler Action Program data will be used for the third consecutive assessment. Now that the Angler Action Program is open to other species, data is being used for red drum assessment, and you can expect the number of species to expand, even including reef fish, as the program continues to grow.
The two big takeaways from the success of the Angler Action Program are these: Recreational angler data does not need to “take over” current models, just help refine them and work jointly towards a better understanding of the fishery; and the data can lead to more recreational angler opportunities, which will help protect our fisheries by providing new information.
Back in 2010, the driving force behind the snook data was fear. But for once, it was not fear of the government, fear of commercial fishermen, fear of developers — it was simply fear for the sake of the fish’s health. So recreational anglers did what we do. We rallied behind a good idea and made it work. And today, those who strictly catch and release benefit, as do those who don’t sleep during snook season.
Moving forward, a key element to the success of any program or plan that aims to help protect our fisheries — and by definition, “fisheries” include recreational anglers — is letting go of the fear of NOAA, MRIP, MSA, or any other acronym that we’ve demonized and allowed ourselves to become functionally paralyzed by that fear, or mistrust, or whatever the excuse du jour happens to be.
That is not who recreational anglers are. That is not who I am.
Through voluntary recreational angler data, anglers can pick up the baton and advance better management for all facets of fishing—coastal and marine. Angler Action Program data won’t solve every issue; the Angler Action Program won’t replace current data programs; and the Angler Action Program won’t “be used against us;” but the Angler Action Program will help refine current data assessment models. The Angler Action Program can also work as a partnership bridge between anglers and managers and the data they both desire.
What angler-reported data will do is show that recreational anglers are ready to lead the way towards a brighter fishing future. iAngler is simple; iAngler is free; and if you are a recreational angler who truly is ready to take a simple yet powerful step towards improving fishing in America, it is the next app you are going to download to your mobile smart device.
*Note: there are three recommended mobile device applications that feed directly into the AAP. iAngler-lite, iGhoFish (by Guy Harvey Outpost), and Chesapeake Catch for the inshore gang in the northeast. All three apps use the same username/password as www.angleraction.org, where you can manage your personal trips as a powerful fishing logbook.