Thursday, April 7, 2016

Why we fish? It’s more complicated than you think. By Don Orth

Humans have fished for sustenance and subsistence for a long time.  One study suggests that freshwater fish were a part of the diet of early humans in Eurasia 40,000 years ago (Hu et al. 2009).   Probably many of these fishes were the same Asian carp we know today as Cyprinus carpio, and Ctenopharyngodon.   Eating fish is the oldest motivation for why we fish.   Over time, methods of capture diversified so more types of fishes were captured from many different places.  Fish hooks have been used for over 10,000 years and continued to be used today.  Early fish hooks were carved from wood, animal bone and antlers, thorns, and shells since the late Pleistocene.

But our human motivations to fish, to angle with hook and line, gradually changed from pure subsistence to a more complicated web of motivations. When did it go beyond fresh fish to eat?   Probably the moment when individuals have just enough protein to eat, fishing continues in order to be outdoors, relax, and experience the thrill of catching fish.  These are the big three motivators: Outdoors, Relaxation, and Thrill of the Catch. 
The thrill of the catch.  Photo by Bryan Hanson.
Izaak Walton, in The Compleat Angler, first published in 1653, wrote “God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling.”  Scientists have since explored the motivations of sport anglers in many studies in many situations. The take-home message from all these studies is that there is no such thing as an average angler.   Rather, for any region or any type of fishing pursuit, there exists a spectrum of sport anglers that range from the occasional angler to the specialist angler.   The other surprising finding is the relatively low importance placed on catching and keeping fish in many studies.

Anthony Fedler and Robert Ditton examined seventeen separate studies that explored what an angler seeks in an angling experience.   Anglers were so highly variable that Fedler and Ditton (1994) categorized the most important factors into five types of motivations:  (1) psychological and physiological; (2) natural environment; (3) social; (4) fisheries resource; and (5) skill and equipment.  The most important motivation varied depending on the type of fishing.  For example, drum anglers rated eating fish high, while tournament billfish anglers rated catching fish to eat lower.  Other motivations were common across angler groups. Most studies reported on motivations related to the high importance of natural environment. Motivations for fishing are far more complex than providing for daily protein.

The motivations to fish are different among regions, cultures, and social and economic levels.   In a nationwide study of members of US fishing clubs, investigators found that some motivating factors changed between 1987 and 1997 (Schramm and Gerard 2004).    Being with friends or family was less important, and “escape” became more important.   Further, for those with higher income, catching fish to eat was less important, even as they spent more time and money in pursuit of fishing.  Recreational fishing is a very affordable activity to provide fresh fish to eat. Young et al. (2016) compared motivation of subsistence fishermen with recreational anglers.  Surprisingly, 75% of motivation categories of subsistence fishermen were similar to recreational anglers.  But as the world changes, people will find other motivations to either fish or choose alternative activities. 
 
A cynical view of the effects of teaching a man to fish.
Why we need to know?  Fedler and Ditton (1994) emphasized the importance of examining motivation to aid in decision-making.  They wrote “By ignoring angler motivations, managers might not be providing an appropriate balance of angling opportunities to meet public needs fully.”    This is a fundamental principle of fisheries management.  With the many types of anglers, the fisheries manager has many opportunities to improve fishing opportunities.  Angler behavior is tied to their motivations. In one recent example, restrictive angling regulations, while allowing bull trout numbers and catch rates to increase dramatically, resulted in dramatic declines in traditional anglers who did not favor the new regulation (Johnston et al. 2011).   In addition to considering motivations of anglers, I would add that managers must also examine motivations and interests of the non-participating anglers and consider lost opportunities, or what economists call opportunity costs. Only 16% of US population fishes in any given year.  What can be done to engage the other 84%?

Why we don’t fish?  This is a critical question that influences the future of sport fishing.  Sport fish management depends on license sales and taxes on boating fuels and fishing equipment for revenues.  Fewer anglers translate to fewer dollars for fish conservation and management.  The “lapsed angler” is a mystery to be solved.  Anglers may quit fishing due to one of three factors: (1) shifting priorities in work, family, or choice of recreation; (2) health or age; and (3) altered fishing access or opportunities.  Only fishing access and opportunities can be actively managed by fisheries agencies.  The future of fishing requires a holistic view of managing aquatic environments to provide both traditional and novel recreational activities that depend on fish.  

“As no man is born an artist, so no man is born an angler.” – Izaak Walton

 Her first fish was a bluegill.  Source Iowa DNR.
Future fish enthusiasts will not emerge without mentors who introduce youth to these varied and healthy outdoor opportunities.  We need programs, such as Take Me Fishing, to actively combat the nature deficit disorder, All it takes is one experience -- the experience of catching that first fish -- to create a new lifelong angler.  Just watch this (click here) awesome reaction to catching a first fish. Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other agencies have programs to recognize a new angler’s first fish

Attracting new “users” (I detest the term) may mean changing the definitions of what it means to “fish” or rethinking archaic definitions of “game” and “non-game” fish.  New fishy-related activities that are growing in popularity in North America include bowfishing, microfishing, “rough”fish, eating invasive fish, native fish aquaria, seine fishing, snorkeling, fish watching, and Japanese Tenkara. Other fishy related activities haven't been imagined yet.  Consider the notion of aquarium therapywhich eases mental health issues via aquarium viewing.  Each of these and more novel activities will compete for priority in our finite leisure time.   Finally, some segments of US population are under-represented in the 16% that fish.  In particular, Hispanic and  African American communities are less likely to fish and also have different motivations.   Consequently, the Take Me Fishing program has a Spanish language program, Vamos A Pescar., in order to encourage participation.

There are many reasons to go fishing.  Here are ten reasons (if you need an excuse to fish): 

1.     Contribute to conservation.
2.     Stress relief.
3.     Social bonding.
4.     Support wildlife and fisheries management.
5.     Improve health.
6.     Fun recreation.
7.     Self fulfillment.
8.     Boost the local economy.
9.     Fish for food.
10.  Thrill of the catch.

The question for you to ponder is how you will best enjoy your fishing. Don’t become a lapsed angler.  Get your fishing license today!  

References
Fedler, A.J., and R.B. Ditton, 1994.  Understanding angler motivations in fisheries management.  Fisheries 19(4):6-13. 
Hu, Y.  et al. 2009. Stable isotope dietary analysis of the Tianyuan 1 early modern human. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106:10971-10974. 
Johnston, F.D., R.Arlinghaus, J. Stelfox, and J.R. Post. 2011. Decline in angler use despite increased catch rates: Anglers’ response to the implementation of a total catch-and-release regulation.  Fisheries Research 110:189-197. 
Responsive Management and Southwick Associates.  2012.  Understanding the factors that compete with recreational fishing.  American Sportfishing Association, Alexandria, Virginia. 59 pp.
Schramm, H. L., and P.D. Gerard, P. D. 2004. Temporal changes in fishing motivation among fishing club anglers in the United States.  Fisheries Management and Ecology 11:313.
Walton, I. 1653. The Compleat Angler.  Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, PA (1953) 
Young, M.A.L, S. Foale, and D.R. Bellwood. 2016. Why do fishers fish? Across-cultural examination of the motivations for fishing. Marine Policy 66:114-123.

 

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