Our study is underway in the Florida Panhandle, designed to test if modifications to fishing techniques and gear can reduce adverse interactions between dolphins and recreational anglers. Anglers report that dolphins frequently remove bait and catch from their fishing gear, which can result in injury due to line entanglement and gear ingestion. In our past study, many dolphins were resighted frequently around fishing vessels over a two year period, and routinely scavenged on fish that sport anglers are required to release. This problem is common on offshore “deep-sea” fishing reefs near Destin, Pensacola, and Orange Beach, AL and it causes anglers to develop deep dislike of dolphins. Surveys we conducted in 2010-11 showed that the more experienced the fisherman, the more interest they have in finding ways to discourage dolphins from depredating (stealing bait and catch from lines) and scavenging their released fish. Our goal is to find promising and easily applied mitigation techniques, and then promote them for everyday use by the sport fishing community.
Studies in other locations have shown that stiff wires and streamers attached to fishing tackle may decrease dolphins’ interest to depredate hooked fish, and various fish release tools now available commercially may allow anglers to return discarded fish back to the reef with sufficient vigor to avoid being scavenged by dolphins. Starting in October 2014, we began testing the applicability and effectiveness of using tackle modifications and fish descender devices aboard charter fishing vessels on deep-sea reefs. We have spent the majority of our effort to date developing data collection protocols and easy-to-deploy remote camera setups for observing dolphins underneath the fishing vessels. By summer 2015, we took six charter fishing trips to collect data on fish release devices such as the Seaqualizer recompression tool. Our preliminary findings indicate that commonly caught reef fish that were discarded during the trips visibly regained vigor and appeared to have good survival odds once recompressed and released at a depth of 50 feet (15 m). We did not observe any dolphins approaching or scavenging discarded fish during those fishing trips but we will increase our observations through 2015 and the coming year.
In addition to offshore reef trips, we are working with students from the Navarre Marine Science Station on a survey project to solicit feedback from anglers on the Gulf fishing pier at Navarre Beach, billed as the longest on the Gulf coast, located between Destin and Pensacola. This new pier opened to anglers in summer of 2010 after a five year period of reconstruction with no fishing at this site, making it an ideal location to monitor changes in dolphin activity over time. By comparison, the piers at Destin and Pensacola Beach have well known dolphin interaction problems. We ask anglers about their experience level, if they have encountered dolphins, and if they are familiar with “Dolphin Friendly Fishing Tips” that are widely available to the local fishing community. The survey results may help determine if “Fishing Tips” can be more effectively applied in a Gulf pier fishing scenario.
A third component to the project will be to implement our approach at inshore fishing spots in Sarasota Bay. Dolphin interactions with sport fishing are well documented in this area and we will explore fishing tackle modifications to evaluate mitigation potential in the shallow inshore waters and inlets. The results of our project will benefit outreach efforts encouraging use of mitigation techniques that reduce dolphin interactions, and ultimately will enhance conservation of both dolphins and sport fish stocks.
We appreciate the assistance of Hannah Roth, Christina Toms, and Savannah Koontz, and Chris Verlinde of Florida SeaGrant/IFAS. Funding for this project is being provided by Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium.
This article appeared on page 7-8 in the December 2015 issue of Nicks n Notches.