Angler Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation: The Future of Fisheries and Aquatic Conservation

Chapter 6. Beyond the Catch: Fostering Stewardship through Development of a Water Ethic

Carena J. van Riper, Elizabeth Golebie, Cory D. Suski, Adam Landon, Richard Stedman, and Marc Gaden


In his seminal essay, “The Land Ethic,” Aldo Leopold (1970) laid groundwork for an ethical paradigm that recasts the relationship between humans and nature. This ethic “enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… [and] changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it.” Leopold’s vision of a society that encourages its members to act as stewards of the land has permeated the environmental sciences over the past 60 years (Mathevet et al. 2018). Although the spirit of his thesis applies to multiple ecosystems, aquatic resources warrant explicit attention because they are intrinsically valuable and generate flows of ecosystem services that enhance human well-being. Moreover, these environments face specific challenges due to connectivity among waterways, difficulties surrounding effective governance of common pool resources, and competing stakeholder interests that can impede the process of achieving environmental sustainability (Lebel et al. 2006; Armitage et al. 2009; Cooke et al. 2013a; Lechner et al. 2015; Flint et al. 2017). Consequently, there is a strong need to better understand the factors that motivate people to act as environmental stewards, particularly within recreational angling communities that play a direct role in shaping aquatic ecosystems.

Previous research has provided insight into the factors that drive stewardship behaviors, defined as actions that are voluntarily performed with the intention of benefiting the long-term interests of ecosystems (Chapin et al. 2009; Colwell et al. 2012). On one hand, internal factors ranging from self-interest to altruism are fundamentally important for energizing behavior, particularly the sense of duty that people feel to go beyond formal regulations and do what is morally right regardless of personal costs or benefits (Stern 2000). On the other hand, a host of external factors such as historical contexts and environmental governance structures are instrumental in establishing codes of conduct that sustain human and biological communities. The entities deemed responsible for overseeing environments and identifying the collective interests of a group require careful consideration given their role in determining how and why standards for action are established. Although the range of factors that influence stewardship behavior can be understood through multiple paradigms that explain different ethical points of view concerning nature conservation (van Riper et al. 2018), many converge on the notion that stewardship emerges from reciprocal relationships between people and the environments they experience (Naeem et al. 2016; Rochester et al. 2016; Manfredo et al. 2017).