Recreational spearfishing: an historical, ecological and sociological perspective

Young, Matthew Alan (2015) Recreational spearfishing: an historical, ecological and sociological perspective. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Overfishing is a mounting threat to marine ecosystems and food security across the globe. Many of the world's fisheries are now overexploited or in decline and demand for marine resources is rising. Recreational fishing is a growing component of wild harvest fisheries and is increasingly linked to declines in fish populations. However, due to an absence of past monitoring and traditional fisheries data recreational fisheries are poorly understood, difficult to assess and pose governance challenges.

The first data chapter in this thesis (Chapter 2) aimed to establish historical evidence of fishery declines in recreational spearfishing literature and to examine spearfisher perceptions on the status of fisheries. The impact of recreational spearfishing on eastern blue groper (Achoerodus viridis) and grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus) in Australia was analysed by assessing a chronology of spearfishing magazines (published between 1952 and 2009) for historical, ecological and social data. Reported captures of blue groper were found to decline by 90% from 1952–1967. Grey nurse shark captures also declined. Interestingly, early warnings of declines for both species emerged from the spearfishing community 17 and 19 years, respectively, before protection. While recreational fishers may have serious impacts on vulnerable fish species, they could also play a vital role in conservation and advocacy. This highlights the importance of reciprocal communication between fishers, scientists and governments for managing and detecting declines in vulnerable species.

The sustained decline in marine fisheries across the globe underscores the need to understand and monitor fisheries trends and fisher behaviour. The goal of the second data chapter (Chapter 3) was to explore broader historical trends in recreational spearfishing as documented in the chronology of spearfishing magazines. Data were extracted from reported fish captures, advertising, and spearfisher commentary and regression models and ordination analyses were employed to assess historical change. The proportion of coastal fish captures reported declined by approximately 80%, whereas the proportion of coral reef and pelagic fish reports increased 1750% and 560%, respectively. Catch composition shifted markedly from coastal temperate or subtropical fishes during the 1950s to 1970s to coral reef and pelagic species in the 1990s to 2000s. Advertising data and commentary by spearfishers indicated that pelagic fish species became desired targets. The mean weight of trophy coral reef fishes also declined significantly over the study period (from approximately 30–8 kg). Recreational fishing presents a highly dynamic social–ecological interface and a challenge for management. The results emphasize the need for regulatory agencies to work closely with recreational fishing bodies to observe fisher behaviour, detect shifts in target species or fishing intensity, and adapt regulatory measures.

Isolation can provide marine ecosystems with a refuge from human impacts. However, information on the biodiversity, ecology and fisheries of remote regions is often sparse. The proposed Coral Sea Marine Reserve (CSMR) could create one of the world's largest and most remote marine parks, yet little information is available to inform discussions. The third data chapter in this thesis (Chapter 4) investigated the history of recreational spearfishing in the Coral Sea and the adjacent Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in light of the proposed CSMR. Fish captures from the Coral Sea and adjacent GBR were assessed from reports contained in the chronology of spearfishing publications from 1953 to 2009, and revealed, for the first time, the history of recreational spearfishing in the Coral Sea. Although the area is perceived as relatively untouched, the data indicated that spearfishers have frequented Coral Sea reefs for at least 43 years and reported captures have increased exponentially. Post-1993 trophy captures in the Coral Sea (mean 23 kg) were larger than the adjacent GBR (9 kg). Reef species characterize the GBR catch, while large pelagic species characterize the Coral Sea catch. Provided that functionally important fishes are not targeted, the relatively small scale of recreational spearfishing and the focus on pelagic species suggests that spearfishing currently exerts limited pressure on the ecology of Coral Sea reefs.

Human population, wealth, longevity and demand for resources are rapidly increasing. Therefore, it is important to understand the drivers that influence human behaviour. The fourth data chapter (Chapter 5) utilised data sets of reported captures and print advertising in the 58-year chronology of spearfishing magazines and interviews with experienced fishers to examine the history and development of recreational spearfishing in Australia. The goal was to evaluate the role of technological, social and economic factors as potential drivers of change in this fishery. Advertising data and spearfisher accounts revealed that the basic equipment for spearfishing was established early and has undergone incremental refinements. The capacity for spearfishers to travel further increased significantly through time potentially reflecting increasing population, wealth, and boat ownership as positive drivers. However, multiple regression analysis identified satellite navigation technology as the most influential driver since the early 1990s. Recreational fishers corroborated this observation with 96% of interviewees identifying navigation technology as the most important driver of change in fishing behaviour. Navigation technology markedly improved the ability of fishers to locate fishing grounds and provided confidence to venture further afield. It probably underpinned a rise in fishing pressure at offshore locations. Through a combination of historical data and oral histories this chapter revealed the influence of satellite navigation technology on recreational fishing efficiency and highlighted the potential loss of 'hard to find' locations that acted as natural refuges. These findings emphasise the necessity for compensatory regulatory measures (including marine protected areas) to provide refuges for vulnerable target species.

In a world where pressure on marine resources is growing and fish populations are collapsing, it is important to understand the motivations that influence fisher behaviour to enable effective management. The fifth data chapter (Chapter 6) employed an ethnographic approach to interview and observe experienced fishers in Australia (recreational) and the Solomon Islands (subsistence/artisanal) and to provide cross-cultural insight into their behaviour, perceptions and motivations to fish. Although food and income were the most identified motivations by fishers in the Solomon Islands (100% and 93% of fishers, respectively), 75% of motivation categories paralleled those of recreational fishers. Fishers in the Solomon Islands also expressed an eagerness to actively pursue fishing despite the potential for alternative incomes, possibly reflecting the presence of a recreational mindset. The willingness to continue fishing in the absence of necessity illustrates the potential for growth of recreational fisheries where economic conditions improve. In Australia, connection to the environment was the most common motivation for recreational fishers (96% of fishers). Recreational fishers also perceived that fishing enhanced social capital, promoted respect for nature and provided health and economic benefits. Senior fishers identified young males to be most likely to engage in excessive fishing through displays of machismo, but emphasised the role of fishing in providing a safe environment for youth to vent angst and frustration. These results suggest that fishing activities may deliver fundamental benefits to individuals and societies and that in some regions fishers may be valuable advocates for conservation and social cohesion if their motivations and values are appreciated and channelled appropriately.

Recreational fishing is one of the highest participation activities across the globe and is likely to expand in regions with improved economic conditions. The potential impacts of recreational fishing may also grow through increased participation and enhanced efficiencies, mediated by advances in technology. Recreational fisheries can affect vulnerable species and have detrimental impacts on habitats and ecosystems. However, recreational fishers can also exhibit strong environmental values and advocate for regulatory measures. This thesis highlights the importance of insight into the history and dynamics of recreational fishing and the behaviour, knowledge, values and motivations of fishers. Recreational fishing presents a dynamic social-ecological interface that requires a measured approach to engage and harness support and compliance from the recreational fishing community. Consideration and appreciation of these factors will help to secure the future of marine populations.

Item ID: 46886
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: blue groper, coral reef fisheries, coral reef fishing, Coral Sea, fisheries management, fisheries trends, fishery declines, fishing motivations, food security, Great Barrier Reef, grey nurse shark, historical ecology, historical marine ecology, marine reserves, masculinity, nurse sharks, pelagic fisheries, recreational fishing, recreational fishing, self-regulation, shifting baselines, spearfishing, subsistence fishing, wrasses
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 2: Young, Matthew A.L., Foale, Simon, and Bellwood, David R. (2014) Impacts of recreational fishing in Australia: historical declines, self-regulation and evidence of an early warning system. Environmental Conservation, 41 (4). pp. 350-356.

Chapter 3: Young, Matthew A.L., Foale, Simon, and Bellwood, David R. (2015) Dynamic catch trends in the history of recreational spearfishing in Australia. Conservation Biology, 29 (3). pp. 784-794.

Chapter 4: Young, Matthew A.L., Foale, Simon, and Bellwood, David (2016) The last marine wilderness: spearfishing for trophy fishes in the Coral Sea. Environmental Conservation, 43 (1). pp. 90-95.

Chapter 6: Young, Matthew A.L., Foale, Simon, and Bellwood, David R. (2016) Why do fishers fish? A cross-cultural examination of the motivations for fishing. Marine Policy, 66. pp. 114-123.

Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2017 05:47
FoR Codes: 07 AGRICULTURAL AND VETERINARY SCIENCES > 0704 Fisheries Sciences > 070403 Fisheries Management @ 80%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 20%
SEO Codes: 83 ANIMAL PRODUCTION AND ANIMAL PRIMARY PRODUCTS > 8302 Fisheries - Wild Caught > 830201 Fisheries Recreational @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960507 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Marine Environments @ 50%
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