Reforms to US recreational fishing management could generate up to $1 billion in benefits

fishing boat sailing out during sunset

Recreational fishing is a culturally and economically important practice around the world. In the United States alone, more than 9.5 million anglers take 63 million fishing trips per year, providing food, leisure and connection to nature while creating opportunities for employment in coastal communities. These leisure trips also contribute to costly overfishing.

Worldwide reforms to fishery management practices could create valuable benefits to anglers and related sectors — benefits that could total one billion dollars in value annually in the U.S., according to a new paper out today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The study uses survey data from anglers who fish in the Gulf of Mexico to estimate the potential benefits of management reforms. The results showed that anglers preferred to choose when they could fish; longstanding frustrations over inflexible and shrinking seasons for recreational red snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico have fueled political debate and sparked contentious proposals in the region as well as in Congress.

Existing regulations that are intended to prevent overfishing include license fees, seasonal closures, and limits on the size and number of fish an angler can take in a given period, explains the paper’s lead author Joshua Abbott, associate professor in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

According to Abbott, these regulations promote congested fisheries, short and inflexible seasons during which anglers can enjoy recreational fishing excursions, and wasteful discards of catch. Such regulations decrease the income potential of for-hire fleets, and they are not effective in curtailing overfishing.

In their paper, Status-quo management of marine recreational fisheries undermines angler welfare, Abbott and his co-authors suggest a “rights-based” management approach that would allocate to for-hire fleets secure rights to a portion of the allowable annual catch, in exchange for careful monitoring of their catch, and offer a limited number of harvest tags to private anglers.

The authors say this approach could increase flexibility for anglers to target their desired catch year-round while establishing greater accountability for the number of fish harvested.