How are recreational fisheries monitored?


Photo courtesy of Tyson Khan

How do governments manage our national/state/provincial fish populations? The answer is different depending on what type of fishery we’re talking about, and what it is being managed for.

Type of Fishery

In the simplest situation we have two kinds of fisheries: 1) commercial – fish are caught in bulk and sold for profit, and 2) recreational – anglers catch (and often release) fish for sport.

How Are Recreational Fisheries Managed?

If you live in Ontario, Canada, you may be familiar with our fishing regulations for recreational anglers. In Ontario, the province is broken into Fisheries Management Zones (FMZ’s). Within these zones many of the lakes, rivers, and streams have similar guidelines for fishing. For each FMZ, the guidelines let you know what kind of fish you can catch; when during the year you can fish for them; and, how many fish you can keep (harvest).

This sounds like a great process, right? It is,  except, it is really hard to monitor recreational fisheries! In order to manage a recreational fishery, the fishery has to be monitored. That is, there has to be data from which to set fishing guidelines. There are so many lakes, rivers, etc., that there is simply not enough money, staff, or time to monitor each one.

A Creel Survey

Anglers fishing on popular lakes may be asked about their fishing effort and catch during a creel survey. A creel survey occurs when fisheries technicians either, 1) approach anglers, or 2) wait for anglers to come off the lake, and ask them about how many fish they caught, and how much time they spent fishing. These questions provide monitoring data about how much fishing effort occurs on a lake, and the catch and harvest of specific fish species. The data can help us answer some basic questions:

Fishing Effort

 1) how many people are fishing in a lake,

2) how long are people fishing for,


3) what type of fish are being caught,

4) of the fish caught, how many are kept (harvested)

With this information fisheries managers can track the number of fish being removed from a population over time, which can be compared to reference values for sustainable fishing.

What about YOUR favourite lake, stream, or river? How are THEY managed?

You might be wondering about the lake at your cottage, or a lake you visited last summer. No one has ever come out to your lake to talk to you about what you’re catching, or how long you’ve been fishing – 5 record setting smallmouth bass in an hour. Thank you very much! Ok; not really. But still, how do fisheries managers get data for all those lakes, including YOUR lake?


Photo courtesy of Bryce Zimny

Sometimes aerial creels are used. An aerial creel is a survey by air. Fisheries technicians fly around a lake in a small plane and count of the number of people (or boats / ice huts) fishing. Yes, it is as fun as it sounds! One draw-back of an aerial creel is not being able to ask anglers about their fishing effort, or their catch. Also, it is expensive!

Another option to collect angler information is through a voluntary, self-completed creel survey. And this is where you and all your fishing friends come in!

How you can participate

Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, is trying to tackle the issue of managing many remote lakes through the Algonquin Park Backcountry Trout Survey. Algonquin Park offers world class Lake Trout and Brook Trout fishing on remote lakes. Often, if you are backcountry camping in Algonquin, you may not see another camper for days. It is important that fisheries managers understand how many people are fishing these lakes, and how many fish are being caught, to ensure that all the lakes can continue to provide excellent fishing opportunities. But, how??

Launched in 2006, as a partnership between the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario Parks, and the Friends of Algonquin Park, anglers were able to participate in fisheries monitoring through a voluntary self-completed creel survey. New for 2013, the Park is expanding the survey. At each access point (where campers register and acquire permits to camp in Algonquin), campers will be asked if they plan to fish for trout on their camping trip. If you say yes – voilà! – you are provided with a voluntary creel survey. You take the package, consisting of the creel survey, measuring tape, pencil, and pre-addressed envelope, on your camping trip with you and fill it out every day.


Courtesy of Glenn Forward (OMNR)

Once you’re done camping, you simply send back your creel survey in the pre-addressed envelope. By recording how much time you spent fishing, on what lakes, what fish you caught, and how many fish you kept, you are contributing to fisheries monitoring and adaptive management. And, your information will help ensure that the lakes are managed so that fishing will always be good.

With iphones and other super mobile devices the possibility to capture real-time information from anglers is endless. Fisheries managers all over the world are trying to keep pace and create apps with ability collect, store, and report on this data. Here are a few examples of new and old applications,

Florida iAngler App

– Angler Action

Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters Invasive Species Watch

New Zealand recreational fisheries monitoring (creel survey)


So, this summer while you’re strapping the canoe to the car and packing the camping gear – throw in a fishing pole and ask your Park Access Point staff for a creel survey!

Click here to watch a great video on the impact of recreational fishing on fish, and fishings socio-economic benefits by Dr. Steven Cooke at Carleton University in Canada.


Photo courtesy of Bryce Zimny

Would you be willing to help in a creel survey on your local lake or ocean? Let us know in the comments below.

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