Involving Recreational Anglers in Developing Best Handling Practices for Catch-and-Release Fishing of Bonefish: Using Citizen Science to Further Stewardship
Andy J. Danylchuk, Steven J. Cooke, Cori D. Suski, Tony L. Goldberg, David Petersen, and Sascha E. Danylchuk
Abstract .—Recreational fishing is popular worldwide. However, the potential negative impacts of this leisure activity can influence the sustainability of targeted fish stocks. Although management strategies are frequently used to control the actions of anglers, participants themselves must ultimately be confident that changes in their behavior will lead to the conservation of recreational fish stocks before regulations are followed and best practices adopted. Directly involving recreational anglers in research used to quantify the value of best practices, such as in the case of catch and release, can help reinforce the notion among anglers that best practice behaviors facilitate conservation and sustainable exploitation. Using the framework of citizen science and the principles of experiential education (immersion, involvement, ownership, and legacy), we present a case study whereby recreational anglers were directly involved in research that tested how attributes of catch-and-release fishing for bonefish Albula spp. can influence the postrelease survival. By accompanying anglers to the shallow flats and actively involving them in hands-on research aimed at addressing relevant behaviors in the context of catch and release, such programs can promote an increased awareness and sense of personal ownership over the research question and the conservation benefits that it intends to facilitate. With data generated through direct involvement, the participation of recreational anglers in our research culminated in the development of a best practices brochure about catch and release for bonefish. It is our experience that research programs involving recreational anglers need to be well conceived and structured so as to adequately balance the quality of the experience for the participants with the need for generating quality data. Welldesigned “research angler” programs as a form of tourism or even ecotourism could help scientists not only to enhance their ability to conduct fisheries research, but also to broaden the impacts of their research program and the speed at which best practices are adopted.