Online fishing forums can help managers track fishing effort

By on July 31, 2014
Angler pressure at Lake Wanahoo in Nebraska (Credit: Chris Chizinski)

For fishery managers, understanding the habits of anglers can be as important as knowing about the fish they seek.

Fishing effort — that is, the amount of fishing taking place in a given area — is a vital factor when determining stocking and seasonal regulations. Normally, measuring fishing effort means hanging around the lake and interviewing anglers, but a new study suggests that acquiring that information could be as simple as browsing online fishing forums

Lead author Dustin Martin, a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Nebraska, said that the study grew naturally out of an earlier project.

“As I was doing my PhD work studying angler behavior… I started noticing some trends where someone would report a large catch of a really big fish on this online social network,” Martin said. Whenever someone boasted of a great catch, he explained, fishing activity in the specified region seemed to increase for about a month, then die down to normal levels.

Martin quantified his hunch by comparing activity on the Nebraska Game and Fish Association forums with angler behavior information obtained from creel surveys at 19 reservoirs in southeastern Nebraska.

From 2009 to 2010, Martin and a team of researchers and creel volunteers cased the reservoirs in groups, counting and talking to fishermen about their catches and performance. The groups surveyed the reservoirs 12 times each month, randomly selecting from eight-hour shifts to ensure that morning, midday and evening anglers were fairly represented. Sure enough, the data revealed the correlation that Martin had suspected.

“The results show pretty clearly that as lakes are mentioned more within a month, and as there are more posts about lakes in the region, there’s more effort in lakes in that time period,” Martin said.

Fisheries managers generally learn about angler effort from time-consuming interviews. (Credit:  Tony Barada)

Fisheries managers generally learn about angler effort from time-consuming interviews. (Credit: Tony Barada)

The discovery should be exciting for fishery managers, Martin said. Using forums and social networks could save fisheries and natural resource departments tens of thousands of dollars in information gathering costs. Furthermore, the proposed method can be done remotely, a benefit that won’t go unappreciated by anyone who’s conducted a creel survey in the Nebraska winter, Martin said.

But perhaps the most exciting aspect of Martin’s proposed method is the amount of time it can save fishery managers.

“It has the potential to get real-time information about fishing efforts at lakes,” Martin said. “You can watch, you can see a post, you can see what’s actually happening, and then you have a much quicker opportunity to respond to it.”

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