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2007-08 SURVEY OF RECREATIONAL FISHING IN TASMANIA

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This represents the second comprehensive assessment of recreational fishing undertaken in Tasmania and builds on the National Recreational Fishing Survey (NRFS) conducted in 2000-01. The same methodology developed for the NRFS was applied in the current survey but with several improvements, particularly in relation to data analysis. However, in the absence of a repeat of the national survey, the current survey was limited to fishing in Tasmania by Tasmanian residents. Although not measured, fishing by interstate visitors in Tasmania was not likely to have been significant given that non-resident fishers accounted for just 3% of the total effort (fisher days) for Tasmania during 2000-01. Information about participation rates and the demographic profile of recreational fishers was derived from a general population telephone survey involving over 3400 Tasmanian households. This was followed by a telephone-diary survey involving over 1000 households (almost 3000 persons) for which fishing activity was monitored over a 12 month period. Response rates across all facets of the study were exceptionally high, giving considerable confidence to the data quality. In the 12 months prior to November 2007 it was estimated that over 118,000 Tasmanian residents aged five years or older fished at least once, representing an overall participation rate of 26%. By region, residents of the Southern statistical division had the highest participation rate at 33%, which compared with 24-27% for the other Tasmanian regions. Recreational fishing was more popular among males, with a state-wide participation rate of 35%, compared with about 18% for females. Participation rates varied with age, 5-14 year olds having the highest rate of participation (38%) although the greatest numbers of fishers were in the 30-44 years age group. Participation rates generally declined with increasing age, but especially in the 45 years and older age groups. As this survey was designed to provide a big-picture perspective of the recreational fishery, it is important to recognise that comparatively rare or highly specialised activities, which within the context of the overall recreational fishery are minor components, may not be well represented. In such instances estimates of catch and effort tend to be imprecise and alternative, targeted surveys would be required to provide a more reliable assessment of such activities. For the above reasons, aggregation of some regions and species has been necessary when reporting findings. Information about recreational fishing catch and effort was monitored between December 2007 and November 2008, inclusive. Almost 128,000 Tasmanian residents were estimated to have actually fished in Tasmania during this period, slightly more than during the previous 12 months. These fishers accounted for about 0.64 million fisher days of effort. The median number of days fished in Tasmania by Tasmanians was five days per fisher, though the distribution of effort was highly skewed, with just 20% of fishers contributing 56% of the total effort. Overall, one in four fishers fished at least once in freshwater while the vast majority (88%) fished at least once in saltwater. About one quarter of the total effort occurred in freshwater, saltwater fishing (including estuaries) accounted for the remainder. Freshwater fishing in lakes and dams accounted for about three times the level of effort in rivers while the majority of the saltwater fishing occurred in inshore coastal waters, with estuarine fishing of secondary importance. Fishing in offshore waters (>5 km off the coast) was a comparatively minor activity. Line fishing was the dominant activity undertaken, pursued on 87% of all days fished: that is almost 0.56 million fisher days, representing 1.8 million hours of effort. This was followed by pot fishing (8%), dive harvesting (5%) and the use of gillnets (3%). A range of other fishing methods were also reported, including the use of spears, seine or bait nets, and hand collection, but these activities were of minor significance by comparison. A wide variety of fish species was caught by recreational fishers during 2007-08, with a total of 1.62 million finfish (excluding small baitfish) retained and 1.24 million finfish released or discarded. Flathead (mainly sand flathead) represented almost two-thirds of the total finfish catch numbers, with an estimated 1.07 million kept and 0.74 million released. Other finfish species or species groups of significance included trout (157,000 kept and 105,000 released), Australian salmon (110,000 kept and 78,000 released), gurnard (13,000 kept and 67,000 released), and black bream (13,000 kept and 35,000 released). Overall, 43% of all finfish captured were released or discarded; with low rates of release (<10%) for species such as blue warehou and flounder; intermediate rates (10-30%) for garfish, trumpeters, Atlantic salmon and jack mackerel; moderate rates (31-50%) for flathead, trout, Australian salmon, tuna, mullet, barracouta, silver trevally, jackass morwong, eels, river blackfish and redfin; and high rates (>50%) for black bream, wrasse, gurnard, sharks and rays, whiting, cod, pike and leatherjackets. Reasons for release were varied, with size (under legal size or too small) being an important factor for species such as flathead, Australian salmon, silver trevally, mullet and jackass morwong; poor eating qualities were identified as an important factor for release of barracouta, redfin, cod, wrasse, leatherjackets and gurnard; while catch and release (sport) fishing was an important factor for the release of black bream, trout and tuna. Sharks and rays tended to be released or discarded because of poor eating qualities (e.g. dogfish, draughtboard shark) and/or due to regulation (prohibition on retaining sharks from shark refuge areas). Recreational fishers also caught a variety of shellfish and other invertebrate species. Comparatively high catches of squid, namely Gould’s squid (73,000 kept) and southern calamari (40,000 kept), were taken along with rock lobster (72,000 kept), abalone (64,000 kept) and scallops (397,000 kept). Amongst these taxa, rates of release were low for the squids, scallops and abalone, and moderate for rock lobster. There was a high level of fishery specialisation for species such as tuna, trout, flounder, rock lobster and scallops; these species were taken almost exclusively by targeted effort rather than incidental capture. Other species that tended to be caught primarily as a result of targeted effort included black bream, flathead, garfish and abalone, also implying a level of fishery specialisation for these species. By contrast, jackass morwong, jack mackerel, leatherjackets, wrasse, gurnard, cod and eels were virtually never targeted, which for several of these species is consistent with the fact that they were held in low esteem by fishers. By applying average weights it was possible to approximate harvest weights and compare recreational and commercial fisheries production. The annual recreational harvest of flathead was estimated at 292 tonnes, four times greater than the commercial catch of flathead taken from state fishing waters. By weight, other species of importance included tuna (145 tonnes), Australian salmon (48 tonnes), southern calamari (45 tonnes), Gould’s squid (37 tonnes) and the trumpeters (19 tonnes). As a contributor to total harvest, the share taken by the recreational sector was similar or larger than that taken by the Tasmanian commercial scalefish fishery for flathead, flounder, mullet, cod, barracouta, silver trevally, jackass morwong, and Gould’s squid. Conversely, the recreational harvest represented a minor component (<15%) of the total catch for species such as Australian salmon, whiting, garfish, wrasse and jack mackerel. Catch composition was influenced by many factors, including the water body fished and the fishing method. Trout dominated finfish catches (kept and released numbers) in freshwater (>80%), with redfin, Atlantic salmon and blackfish of secondary importance in the lake and dam fisheries, and redfin and blackfish in the river fisheries. Flathead and Australian salmon dominated estuarine and inshore coastal catches (collectively >75%), with black bream and flounder of secondary importance in the estuarine fishery, and gurnard and wrasse in the inshore coastal fishery. Tuna, flathead and gurnard (mostly ocean perch) were the main species taken in the offshore fishery. The finfish catch taken by line fishing was dominated by flathead (66% of total numbers), followed by trout (10%), Australian salmon (7%), gurnard (3%) and bream (2%). By contrast, trumpeter (mainly bastard trumpeter) (27%), blue warehou (10%), sharks and rays (9%), mullet (9%) and Atlantic salmon (7%) were the main species caught by gillnets, and flounder were mainly taken by spear. Gould’s squid and southern calamari were mostly taken by line methods whereas rock lobster were caught using pots, dive collection and rings, with abalone and scallops more or less exclusively harvested by dive collection. The east and south-east coasts of Tasmania were a particularly significant for flathead, black bream, tuna, Gould’s squid, southern calamari, rock lobster and abalone, with the south east especially important for flounder. By contrast, Australian salmon and mullet catches were concentrated off northern Tasmania. The inland trout fishery was focused largely in the Central Plateau lakes, especially Arthurs Lake and Great Lake, with catches from rivers of secondary importance. Trout catches from the other inland regions were similar in magnitude. Seasonally, catches of flathead, trout, Australian salmon, black bream, Gould’s squid, southern calamari, rock lobster and abalone peaked during summer and autumn. Tuna were restricted to summer-autumn, with a strong peak in February-March. Flounder catches were highest in late autumn. Catches of each of the major species tended to be low during winter and early spring, reflecting the generally lower levels of fishing activity during that period. The saltwater fisheries off western and northern Tasmania involved a significant shore-based component whereas shore-based fishing was less important compared with boat-based fishing off eastern and south-eastern Tasmania. Comparison with 2000-01 To facilitate valid comparisons between 2000-01 and 2007-08, NRFS data were re-analysed using the analytical approach developed for the current study. In terms of participation, the number of recreational fishers in Tasmania has remained relatively constant since 2000. However, when population growth is taken into account, the actual participation rate experienced a significant decline, from just over 29% in 2000 to 26% in 2007. This decline was experienced in all regions of the state and was more pronounced amongst males than females. Participation rates were also lower across all age groups, with the exception of the 60 years-plus age group. When broader demographic trends are taken into account, specifically dominance of the ‘baby-boomer’ generation (mostly 45-59 year olds in 2007) and the sharp decline in participation rates amongst the 45 years-plus age groups, our results suggest that overall participation in recreational fishing will continue to decline unless there is growth, or at least maintenance, of involvement in fishing amongst the younger age groups. Overall effort (fisher days) was 14% lower in 2007-08 compared with 2000-01. This decline was exclusively linked to a reduction in shore-based fishing effort during 2007-08. The most marked declines were experienced in the Eastern inland, West North coast and Derwent regions, mainly due to lower levels of shore-based fishing activity in 2007-08. Reflecting the decline in effort there was also a reduction in overall catch (kept and released) numbers for finfish in 2007-08, to about 81% of the equivalent estimate for 2000-01. While the catch composition and relative importance of the key species was generally consistent between surveys, there was variability in catch levels for many species; linked in part to differences in effort, changes in fishing practices and species availability. Flathead catches were very stable (within 5%) between the two surveys while there was a moderate increase (17%) in the estimated number of trout caught in 2007-08. By contrast, the 2007-08 catch of Australian salmon was less than half that estimated for 2000-01. Catch increases were experienced for tuna and Gould’s squid, both linked to greater availability during 2007-08. Minor increases were also evident for southern calamari and whiting, the former apparently linked to increased popularity of the species amongst recreational fishers. Release rates were generally higher in 2007-08, which for species such as trout, black bream and tuna was consistent with a trend towards increased catch and release (sport rather than consumptive) fishing. For other species, this change may reflect improved adherence to size limits and/or the impact of decreased bag limits that have been implemented since 2001, as well as response to education programs aimed at encouraging fishers to take only what they need for a feed. In summary, this study has highlighted the complex and dynamic nature of the recreational fishery and emphasises the need for managers, stakeholders and fisheries scientists to consider management, research and planning issues at appropriate regional and temporal scales. This survey represents a significant step towards achieving this goal, providing an important baseline against which future developments and trends in the fishery can be evaluated.
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Davies, P.E. (1995) Mail surveys of Tasmanian inland water recreational fisheries: preliminary results and sources of error. Pp120-130. In Hancock, DA (ed.) Recreational fishing: what's the catch? Australian Society for Fish Biology Workshop Proceedings, Canberra 30-31 August 1994. Australian Society for Fish Biology, Canberra.
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