Anglers have applied for few records for threatened fish, such as this goliath grouper, fishing group says.

LASZLO ILYES/WIKIMEDIA

Anglers have applied for few records for threatened fish, such as this goliath grouper, fishing group says.

Angling group assails study calling for end to some world records

A prominent angling group is complaining that there’s something fishy about a recent study calling for an end to awarding world records for endangered fish. The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) of Dania Beach, Florida, the leading record-keeper for recreational anglers, says that the numbers don’t support a claim that record-keeping is encouraging people to kill the largest fish in threatened populations.

IGFA maintains records, which are typically based on weight, for some 1200 species. Last month, researchers reported online in Marine Policy that 85 of those species are rated as either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. They called for IGFA to stop awarding weight-based records for those species, arguing the awards were creating an incentive to kill the largest fish, particularly egg-bearing females.

IGFA disputes that claim and is rejecting the call to stop awarding records. Most (88%) of the species identified as threatened by the study were listed only within the past 20 years, according to a response written by IGFA Conservation Director Jason Schratwieser. And since those listings, he adds, IGFA reports anglers have submitted only 15 All-Tackle record applications for the threatened species. That small number of applications, Schratwieser writes, “does not support the hypothesis that IGFA All-Tackle records have a disproportionately negative impact on imperiled species as the authors suggest, but rather a disproportionately low impact.” (IGFA has submitted its response to Marine Policy for publication.)

Not surprisingly, the original study’s lead author disagrees. Anglers will still “try to catch fish with the goal of getting a record, even if they don’t always succeed,” says David Shiffman, a marine biologist studying shark biology and conservation at the University of Miami in Florida. Many more large fish are likely caught and killed than show up in the records, he says, because they weren’t large enough to trigger an application. But Schratwieser concedes that there’s no way to quantify the number of trophy fish that fall short.

IGFA also notes that their practices don’t preclude catch-and-release fishing, because fishermen are not always required to transport fish to an official land-based weigh station. IGFA applicants reported releasing alive about one-third of their candidate record fish over the past 5 years, the group notes. (IGFA’s rules do not allow anglers to weigh their catches aboard a vessel, however, posing a potential problem for anglers who catch large ocean-going fish and want to release them after weighing.)

Shiffman says he’s asked the group to engage in greater discussion of the issue and is disappointed by their response. It “suggests they are not interested in having this discussion—that they are interested in instead cherry-picking data to claim that what they do has no negative impact.”

“My feeling is that policy should be predicated on science and sound data,” Schratwieser says. “If there were data that indicated that we were a significant problem or contributing factor in the decline of these species, I can guarantee you that we would make immediate adjustments.”

Posted in Biology, Plants & Animals