To spread the word about the new Angler Action data collection program for recreational fishers, Rick Roberts hosted Ed Liccione and several friends on a daylong charter fishing trip off Miami aboard the Miss Britt recently.
The fishing was slow, but Liccione, of Queenstown, Md., caught and released a large barracuda on a wreck south of Miami Beach.
Roberts, executive director of the Sanford-based, non-profit Snook and Gamefish Foundation, decided to enter the 'cuda into the Angler Action database using an application on his smartphone.
Angler Action, which Roberts helped develop, enlists recreational fishers in collecting information on more than 100 species of salt and freshwater fish found in Florida waters. Data on what they catch, where they catch it, whether they get shut out, and whether or not they keep or release a fish is intended to assist state and federal fisheries managers in assessing the health of stocks. And Roberts says the program also empowers anglers by giving them a strong voice in fisheries management.
"We want to create a partnership between us and people who do governance," Roberts said. "We're trying to make their job easier. More information is better than not enough. Data speaks louder than words."
Sitting on the deck of the Miss Britt, Roberts found that angleraction.org had neglected to include barracuda -- probably because it's not a managed species and not considered great table fare. But as one of the top predators of the reef, the 'cuda occupies an important role in the marine ecosystem.
So Roberts called his web manager and had the long, toothy silver and black fish entered in the database that same day.
The Angler Action program is gaining users and boosters by the day. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission used its snook data in the most recent stock assessment. NOAA Fisheries, which manages commercial and recreational fisheries throughout the U.S., is considering it.
With nearly 2,000 fishing trips logged so far, Angler Action is becoming a useful data-collection program and providing the FWC with information it couldn't obtain otherwise, according to Luiz Barbieri, director of marine fisheries research at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) in St. Petersburg.
Barbieri explained that the agency's current marine recreational fisheries data-collection system relies on conducting about 50,000 dockside angler interviews per year. But with an estimated 25 million saltwater fishing trips annually in Florida, "that's a minuscule fraction of what's really going on," Barbieri said.
The scientist said another weakness is that the system focuses on fish that are being kept -- not on fish that are released -- "missing a huge part of the story."
The research institute recently obtained a federal grant to conduct a pilot study using the Angler Action program as a data-collection method for other species besides snook to be used in stock assessments. The grant money may be used to fund improvements that may be needed to the Angler Action system.
FWRI fisheries scientist Richard Cody says there are other online surveys and smart phone applications available for anglers, but each collects data in different ways.
Cody would like to see some standardization among these programs.
"Here we have these apps. Everyone's doing their own," Cody said. "One may collect numbers of fish caught in a week, or per trip or certain species. If they aren't compatible with each other, you have a real problem. These applications are here. We can live with them or fight with them. The best approach is to use them and assess the possibilities for data collection. Once we establish a program with new standards in place, it'll take care of itself."
Kai Lorenzen, professor of fisheries at the University of Florida, says collecting information from anglers is valuable to fisheries managers and has to be a two-way street.
Lorenzen is beginning a pilot study in southwest Florida looking at ways to sustain angler participation in gathering data.
"We're trying to generate more momentum for data collection. Some stakeholders like the idea of regional management regulations, localized initiatives," Lorenzen said. "Management input is the major motivator for anglers to participate."
In a more immediate and less abstract boost to participation, the Snook and Gamefish Foundation will conduct a contest at the Miami International Boat Show from Feb. 16-20 giving away a fully tricked-out, 17-foot flats skiff.
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