Turning the Tide for Coastal Fisheries

Entry Overview

Abstract: 
The Catch and Release Program
Organization: 
Key Marine Consulting, Inc.
Location: 
195 Sunrise Drive Apartment 6
33149 Key Biscayne, Florida
United States
25° 41' 25.1988" N, 80° 9' 43.596" W
Describe the problem: 
The Catch and Release Program achieves angler compliance with fishing regulations by offering a first-of-its-kind fisheries education class. Like driving school, the class is offered to anglers who have been cited with a fishing violation, in exchange for a reduced or waived fine. The class is also open to the public for free as a service to the community and a means of preventing future violations. The class is offered in both English and Spanish in order to meet the needs of South Florida’s culturally diverse community. The course is taught by a biologist and local fishing guide and this cost effective initiative is adaptable to other coastal communities around the world. This is the first time that an educational course has been used directly as a fisheries management tool.
Biodiversity Impact: 
The fishing class is approximately 3.5 hours and is designed to improve angler understanding of the local fishing regulations, fish identification, and how their actions impact the marine environment. Emphasis is placed on helping anglers understand the regulations, know where they can be found (as opposed to encouraging memorization), and understand biologically why they are in place using terminology to which the public can relate. Participating anglers will also learn ethical fishing techniques from a local fishing guide to improve their angling ethic, skill and enjoyment while on the water. Individuals attending the course as mitigation for a citation must pass (80 percent or better) a short exam in order to receive the mitigation that was arranged. Egregious violators and repeat offenders are not offered the course as a mitigation option. The course is partitioned into four different sections: an introduction, fish identification, regulations and their purpose, and ethical angling. The following concepts are instructed throughout the course: 1) the purpose behind regulating fishing 2) how to identify fish commonly caught in Biscayne and Everglades 3) how to look up and correctly interpret the fishing regulations 4) the biological significance behind the different types of regulations 5) ethical angling including catch and release etiquette and how to use de-hooking devices, venting tools, and circle hooks. The class is offered in both English and Spanish in order to serve the needs of South Florida’s diverse community.
Human Well Being and Livelihood Impact: 
The Catch and Release Program improves not only ecological, but also economic connectivity within the communities that boarder Biscayne and Everglades National Parks. In addition, many of the fish species that call the park home also support an economically important recreational fishery, which in addition to providing aesthetic value to divers and snorkelers, contributes to the multimillion dollar tourist industry on which much of South Florida depends. When fisheries are properly managed and regulated, regional economies benefit through growth in tourism include recreational fishing, diving, and other aquatic activities. Indirect benefits include increased income, sales and jobs in fishing associated businesses, such as bait and tackle, fuel, boat building and maintenance, as well as growth in the tourism and hospitality sectors. These benefits help improve the quality of life of residents in the coastal communities that neighbor these Parks. Visitors to Biscayne and Everglades National Parks represent a diverse user group, most of which are local residents of South Florida. Many South Florida residents have moved to the area from out of state, including many from other countries where fishing was not regulated or well enforced, and thus are simply ignorant about our local fishing regulations. Furthermore, South Florida’s waters are partitioned into multiple jurisdictions, which can make following the fishing regulations challenging. As a result, the fishing class has proven to be an effective training tool for the 781 individuals who have attended the program. // In fisheries science, there is increasing awareness that managing fish is about managing and educating people. Producing change in human behavior from regulatory misunderstanding to compliance takes time. Once compliance is in place, obtaining the expected fish population recovery response is also a slow process and one that is dependent on many other exogenous factors. As a result, it is difficult to measure the success of the fisheries class in the short term by looking at things such as population response or ecosystem function. Despite this however there are various indicators to show that the fisheries education program has and will continue to be a success. From its inception, various metrics indicate that the implementation of the Catch and Release Program in South Florida’s National Parks has been successful. Since the first class (2007), we have had 781 individuals attend the program, 543 individuals with a citation, and 238 members of the public. Participants score an average of 88.5% on the class exam and average class sizes are around 20 participants each month. Most (90%) of the defendants who are offered the option choose to attend the class. Thus far, there have been very few (3 individuals) repeat offenders after taking the class. On the contrary, many of the class graduates who are encountered on the water by park law enforcement are often enthusiastically willing to allow park rangers to measure their catch. Due to community outreach, the number of people who take the class without a citation continues to increase.
Replicability: 
How many years has your solution been applied? 4 years // Have others reproduced your solution elsewhere? No //
Solution: 
Biscayne National Park protects many miles of tropical marine ecosystem located at the southeastern tip of the Florida mainland, south of the city of Miami. This thriving, underwater environment consists of living coral reefs, sea grass meadows, and tropical lagoons, which synergistically provide habitat to over 500 species of fish. The role ecologically balanced fish populations play in maintaining the health of coral and the sustainability of coral reef system function is well documented. Due to the proximity of Biscayne and Everglades National Parks to the city of Miami, recreational fishing is a popular past time for visitors. Rapid growth and development in South Florida has caused the number of anglers who visit the coral reef marine habitats in Biscayne and Everglades National Parks, and the neighboring coastal waters of Miami and the Florida Keys to dramatically increase in recent years. Over the past ten years, on average, fishing violations have made up over one fifth of the total law enforcement infractions that occur inside Biscayne National Park. This, coupled with Floridaƒ??s increasing population, has resulted in documented declines in fish abundance and reproductive potential in Biscayne and Everglades National Parks. The Catch and Release Program seeks to reverse the decline in fisheries inside these National Parks and in adjacent waters through comprehensive education. // Biscayne and Everglades National Parks together protect 717,100 hectares of tropical marine ecosystem located at the southeastern tip of the Florida mainland (69,600 by Biscayne and 647,500 by Everglades). These thriving, underwater environments consist of living coral reefs, sea grass meadows, and tropical lagoons, which synergistically provide habitat to over 500 species of fish. Neighboring Miami-Dade and Broward Counties encompasses almost a million hectares, of which a third is protected by Biscayne and Everglades. Different from our nationƒ??s other national parks, the majority of Biscayne and Everglades National Park is covered with water making park boundaries easily penetrable, difficult to discern, and thus visitor use harder to assess and law enforcement more of a challenge. Furthermore, due to our proximity to the seventh-largest metropolitan area in the United States, Park Service law enforcement personnel, public officials, and the court system have historically been distracted with the responsibility of enforcing public safety issues. This has precluded law enforcement rangers from having much time to educate park visitors about natural resource regulations. In addition, local magistrates have historically been incongruously lenient toward natural resource violators due to the fact that such infractions appear inconsequential when presented side by side with other urban law enforcement contraventions. Thus, the Catch and Release Program was established to inform park visitors about fishing regulations and their importance, and increase compliance.

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