Authors: Ruth H. Thurstan, Edward Game, John M. Pandolfi
Source: PLOS ONE: 12(8): e0182345, 2017.
Brief summary of the paper: Despite threats to human wellbeing from ecological degradation, public engagement with this issue remains at low levels. However, studies have shown that crafting messages to resonate with people’s personal experiences can enhance engagement. Recreational fishing is one of the principal ways in which people interact with aquatic environments, but long-term data from this perspective are considered rare.
We uncovered 852 popular media records of recreational fishing for an Australian estuary across a 140-year period. Using information contained in these articles we analysed the species composition of recreational catches over time and constructed two distinct time series of catch and effort (n fish fisher-1 trip-1; kg fish fisher-1 trip-1) for recreational fishing trips and fishing club competitions (mean n and kg fish caught across all competitors, and n and kg fish caught by the competition winner). Reported species composition remained similar over time. Catch rates reported from recreational fishing trips (1900–1998) displayed a significant decline, averaging 32.5 fish fisher-1 trip-1 prior to 1960, and 18.8 fish fisher-1 trip-1 post-1960. Mean n fish fisher-1 competition-1 (1913–1983) also significantly declined, but best n fish fisher-1 competition-1 (1925–1980) displayed no significant change, averaging 31.2 fish fisher-1 competition-1 over the time series. Mean and best kg fish fisher-1 competition-1 trends also displayed no significant change, averaging 4.2 and 9.9 kg fisher-1 competition-1, respectively.
These variable trends suggest that while some fishers experienced diminishing returns in this region over the last few decades, the most skilled inshore fishers were able to maintain their catch rates, highlighting the difficulties inherent in crafting conservation messages that will resonate with all sections of a community. Despite these challenges, this research demonstrates that popular media sources can provide multiple long-term trends at spatial scales, in units and via a recreational experience that many people can relate to.