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Saltwater fishing reels in a surprise

Populations of concern from the southeastern United States; snapper, grouper, and greater amberjack. Image Diane Rome Peebles.
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

In contrast to the common belief that recreational fishing is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to commercial fishing, people who go saltwater fishing for fun take a surprisingly large number of threatened fish from waters all around the United States, according to a new study.

Lingcod, Ophiodon elongatus. Photo Credit: Victoria O'Connell, Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
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The scientists don't say that recreational saltwater fishing is bad. They do say, however, that we need to manage recreational fishing to help ensure that fish populations and entire saltwater ecosystems survive well into the future. In their report published online on 26 August, 2004 by the journal Science at the Science Express website, the scientists compared commercial and recreational saltwater fishing in the United States over the last 22 years. They did not look at freshwater fishing.

Charter boat unloads a catch of yellowfin tuna and dolphinfish. Photo Credit: William B. Folsom, NMFS / NOAA.
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In 2002, recreational fishing made up four percent of the total weight of salt water fish caught in U.S, waters. That number jumps to ten percent when the scientists exclude well managed fish that are caught by commercial fishermen to be turned into fish sticks and fish meal for farm animals.

The fishing pier at Kitty Hawk (North Carolina) Photo Credit: NOAA/ Department of Commerce.
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For populations of fish that are in trouble due to current or past overfishing, recreational fishing represents 23 percent of the catch nationwide. In the Atlantic Ocean off the southern part of the East Coast of the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico, the impact of recreational fishing on vulnerable fish populations is even greater.

For some kinds of fish, recreational fishing removes more fish (by weight) than commercial fishing.

Some examples of these fish are a rockfish named bocaccio, red snapper, and a popular sport fish with lots of names including red drum and redfish.

While there are already many recreational fishing regulations, including rules about the number of fish you can bring home and the minimum size a fish has to be, the authors say we need additional kinds of regulations.


Additional information and images available at: http://www.bio.fsu.edu/us_landings/

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