WWF wants your fishing stories

19 December 2013

If you are one of South Africa’s estimated 800 000 recreational fishers or anglers, then the Worldwide Wildlife Fund South Africa wants to hear from you.

The WWF’s new “citizen science” FishforLife programme aims to collect information from South Africa’s anglers about their catches – even the “one that got away” – to help them build database that will be used to study the state of South Africa’s marine life.

The programme is also interested in any photographs of great catches dating back to the 1970s or before, as this will help establish how marine environments have changed over the decades, Dr Eleanor Yeld Hutchings, the marine biologist who is heading up the WWF project, said in a statement earlier this month.

FishforLife is the first leg of a WWF Nedbank Green Trust project called “People and the Coast”.

“Citizen science has become a real buzz word and with good reason: if you don’t get citizens and civil society involved in conservation, you are fighting a losing battle,” Yeld Hutchings said.

Recreational linefishers are constantly gathering invaluable data, such as how many fish are caught per hour or per day, how big they are and where they are caught. “This can be used as a strong indicator of the size or health of fish populations. What we have to ensure is that the data is accurate and that it is then inputted in a way that can be used by scientists. This is one of the focus areas of the programme,” Yeld Hutchings said.

The WWF says the FishforLife programme has three main elements:

  • i-Catch: an online, web-based catch monitoring system.
  • i-Spot: submissions of digital marine fish records for an existing programme, which is already being used for plants, birds and other species. The South African National Biodiversity Institute owns the South African rights to this.
  • FisHistory: this asks people to send in their pre-1970 photographs so that a historical baseline for recreational fisheries can be established. The WWF will digitise and return pictures to their owners.

The programme will help educate people on how to fish in the most environmentally and fish-friendly manner, a key gap identified by WWF’s marine programme, Yeld Hutchings said.

“We’ll share techniques on how best to tag and release properly and how best to handle fish, and we will share knowledge on why recreational permit limits are important to observe and why Marine Protected Areas are essential to species sustainability.”

FishforLife will also work with other leading organisations already involved in the citizen scientist and recreational fishing field, such as Catch and Release Angling (CARA) and the Oceanographic Research Institute’s (ORI) Fish Tagging Project.

CARA is a tag-and-release programme where data is sent via SMS to 082 TAG FISH. ORI has been monitoring the movement and growth rate of South Africa’s linefish species over the past 20 years.

Recreational linefishers sign up for the ORI programme on a voluntary basis. They tag the fish with ORI-supplied tags and then return the fish to the ocean, recording the data on a data sheet that is sent back to the ORI.

Say you’re fishing for Galjoen, and catch one that is undersized, that’s a “great opportunity” to tag it, record its size and location, return it to the water and send the data to ORI, Yeld Hutchings said. That same fish might be caught again at some stage, and if the data is recorded it provides an excellent indication of how much the fish has grown in a specific period and how far it has moved.

“Many linefishers are not aware of the regulations and there is a lot of ignorance around the permit system, as well as illegal harvesting. All this needs to be addressed by this and other marine programmes,” Yeld Hutchings said.

“The recreational linefishing community can mobilise their considerable marine knowledge and skills, participate in online forums and actively participate in marine conservation through FishforLife. It is only when people care about something that they claim ownership of it and put effort into conserving it. We apply this philosophy to the conservation of our ocean,” she said.

SAinfo reporter, WWF SA