Chapter 19: Recreational Angler Survey Methods: Estimation of Effort, Harvest, and Released Catch
Cynthia M. Jones and Kenneth H. Pollock
Recreational angling has existed for hundreds of years and has grown more popular as leisure time has increased (Pitcher and Hollingworth 2002). Many reasons exist for its popularity. Some anglers just like to be outdoors on the water, others love the thrill of catching fish, and yet others enjoy consuming their catch. Recreational angling is now an important source of fishing pressure and fishing mortality in many freshwater and marine fisheries. In fact, it has become the major source of fishing mortality of species such as bluefish and striped bass in some marine and estuarine fisheries in the USA. For example, recreational harvest was 94% of total catch of spotted seatrout and 76% of total catch of striped bass in 1999 (NRC 2006). Recreational fishing mortality has become a cause for concern in fisheries such as that for the Pacific rockfish bocaccio, which were subjected to excessive commercial fishing mortality and are now greatly diminished in abundance (Coleman et al. 2004; Cooke and Cowx 2004; NRC 2006).
Estimation of recreational fishing effort, harvest, and released catch is of crucial importance in general and is especially important in specific situations. In fisheries where commercial harvest is banned, data to estimate stock recovery often come from the remaining recreational fishery. The estimates are important for providing sound information on which to base fisheries management decisions such as those involving bag limits, size limits, season closures, and the relative allocation of harvest between recreational and commercial interests. Another popular management tool is catch-and-release fishing, which is based on the assumption that released fish survive at a high rate. Catch-and-release mortality needs to be estimated to test this assumption (Lucy and Studholme 2002; Pollock and Pine 2007). Catch and release poses special challenges for angler surveys because released catch typically has to be self-reported unless special observers are used.
Estimation of recreational harvest, released catch, and effort differs markedly from that for commercial fisheries because it involves probability-based sample surveys commonly called angler or creel surveys. This is in contrast to commercial fisheries, which typically use mandatory catch reports (Chapter 20). Validation of these catch reports by means of commercial fish house receipts ensures a high level of compliance in reporting catch. Except possibly for recreational charter boats, mandatory reporting of recreational effort, harvest, and released catch is not possible. Moreover, the millions of anglers involved (NRC 2006) make well-designed sample surveys costly but essential for sound management.