Methods to Quantify Recreational Angling Effort on Artificial Reefs off Florida’s Gulf of Mexico Coast
Tiffanie A. Cross, Beverly Sauls, Rachel Germeroth, and Keith Mille
Abstract.—Florida boasts an abundance of natural and artificial reefs that support a large and diverse recreational fishery off the Gulf of Mexico coast. Recent efforts to mitigate the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have increased the number of artificial reefs deployed off Florida’s Gulf Coast. Fisheries-dependent data are needed to assess whether artificial reef programs are meeting intended objectives and to understand changes in recreational angler behavior, which may influence catch per unit effort and biomass of landed fish. The objective of this study was to quantify the use of artificial reefs by recreational anglers targeting reef fishes in the Gulf of Mexico off the west coast of Florida. We utilized an existing survey designed to monitor recreational fishing effort by anglers that target reef fishes from private boats. Over a 20-month period, an estimated total of 776,026 (SD ±27,540) angler trips targeted reef fishes off the Gulf Coast of Florida, of which 46% utilized artificial reefs. Approximately two-thirds of all reef angling trips took place nearshore in state-managed waters, and 70% of trips that utilized artificial reefs occurred in this area. Regionally, the highest proportion of angler trips targeting reef-associated species on artificial reefs took place in the panhandle of Florida, where Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus are most abundant. Seasonally, state and federal fishing regulations also had an apparent influence on fishing effort and artificial reef use by recreational anglers. The method of assessment we present here could be useful for monitoring future trends in recreational fishing effort with respect to artificial reefs.