How fishing can have a sustainable future

How fishing can have a sustainable future

It was 1984, and the hot tropical sun was beating down the blue depths of Huon Bay, a large inlet of the Solomon Sea off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Suddenly, the peace was broken by the scream of a four-metre-long blue marlin fishing reel (Makira Mazaraburst) burst out of the water.

For the next hour, the giant fish rose, jumped, and swung its tail, while my best friend and fishing buddy mostly held on. Then, suddenly, he disappeared.

The effect has faded. No angler likes to lose a fish, but for me, there was also a sense of relief that it escaped. That fish was the most amazing creature I had ever seen, and that moment helped inspire my career in marine biology.

Recreational fishing for the largest species and individual fish in the sea such as this is often called trophy fishing. Anglers strive to set new size records, either overall or using specific strengths. These can be amazing specimens – the largest marlin ever caught weighs more than 700kg and looks like a small car.

What interest?

In new research, we analyze 80 years of world fishing records, using data recorded by the International Fishing Association (IGFA) to reveal some interesting trends. It is worth noting that in the 1950s, the average weight of recorded fish was 168 kg, but this number dropped dramatically to only 8 kg in the 2000s.

The fish are not shrinking, instead anglers are now targeting a wide range of smaller species. However, this may indicate a worrying decline in the numbers of large fish species.

There has also been a marked expansion of fishing around the world. While the United States has historically dominated the scene, recent decades have seen an uptick in records from regions such as Japan and New Zealand.

This global spread provides potential social and economic benefits to these new areas, but also raises concerns about increased fishing pressure on local fish populations that were previously less targeted.

Perhaps our most important observation was the sharp decline in new records for fish species listed as threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Comparing the last decade (2010-2018) to the 2000s, there has been an approximately 66% decline in records for this vulnerable species.

This trend could indicate a growing awareness of conservation issues in trophy fishing or it could reflect the alarming reality of declining populations of this species. The precise implications of this trend are still not fully understood.

Trophy hunting is controversial. Some people will never be fans. The largest fish in the ocean are often the most productive, so catching and killing them, especially threatened species, makes no sense. However, while IGFA-certified world record fish highlight the spotlight, they represent a very small number of fish in total.

Even more disturbing are fishing tournaments that offer highly lucrative prizes for catching the biggest and most fish and sharks in a given period of time.

Addressing sustainability

Trophy fishing, and sport fishing in general, is changing to become more sustainable, and even a force for good. In 2011, the IGFA introduced the “Full Intervention Length” category. This method records the length of the fish but not its weight, allowing it to be released without having to kill it.

The Shark Angling Club of Great Britain has been releasing all sharks for decades, and the British Fish Recording Commission recently decided to allow only length-based records of large sharks, with fish having to be measured while in the water. Although releasing fish does not guarantee survival, this can be maximized with the proper equipment and careful handling. Such methods should become mandatory for all trophy hunters.

Fishermen devote a lot of time to their passion, developing a wealth of knowledge about the fish they catch. Harnessing this experience is crucial to better estimate the extent of fish catches and increase knowledge of fish stocks in general.

In the UK, fishermen and scientists are working together through initiatives such as Shark Hub UK and Project Pollack to collect catch data, collect samples and tag fish.

This approach not only helps conservation efforts, but is also consistent with fishermen’s interest in maintaining healthy fish populations into the future. Ultimately, recreational fisheries are not only a source of livelihood but also contribute to the mental and physical well-being of those who engage with them.

Nearly forty years after that experience in Papua New Guinea, I was astonished by huge schools of giant fish off the coast of southern England last summer. These are Atlantic bluefin tuna (aunt tant) has seen a notable recovery around the coast, likely due to a combination of improved management and changing environmental conditions.

As of this year, the UK government has only allowed these fish to be caught and released in recreational fisheries. With continued careful management, this should bring exciting social and economic benefits for years to come.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *