Angling for sustainable fisheries

surveying fish Camp Lake
Colin Dassow (Notre Dame) and Alex Ross (Cary Institute) survey fish on Camp Lake.

We all know what a landscape is, but have you ever heard of a FishScape? This is the name given to a new four-year project, co-led by Cary's Christopher Solomon, looking at dozens of lakes in Wisconsin's Northern Highland Lake District.

What are Fishscapes?

'Fishscapes' are lake-rich regions where recreational fishing opportunities are plentiful and interactions among anglers, regulatory institutions, and local economies influence fishery health. Researchers from nine institutions and conservation agencies have joined forces to study fishscapes in the Wisconsin study region.

"We want to understand how natural and social processes shape recreational fisheries at the landscape scale," says Solomon. "This insight is crucial to maintaining good fishing conditions for the citizens of lake regions – today and in the future."

Exploring the social side of fishery management is a top goal. Navigating property rights, governmental regulations, and lake users makes shared resources like fisheries notoriously difficult to manage.

Guiding best management practices with local stakeholders

To identify recipes for management success, FishScapes researchers are investigating the strategies lake associations use to keep their lakes healthy.

This past summer, researchers conducted dockside surveys to ask anglers about catch expectations and realities, how they learn about hot fishing spots, and what determines where they decide to cast. Researchers have also engaged local stakeholders to learn about communication pathways between anglers and lake managers.

Solomon explains, "We want to find out how people learn about fish population status in different lakes and whether anglers use this information to decide where to fish. Ultimately, we want to know: Can managers make fish populations more sustainable by improving information flows to anglers?”

Using methods like electrofishing and snorkeling, researchers surveyed fish populations – taking in factors like fish abundance, species composition, and age – in 15 lakes in the study region.

Solomon says, “There was a clear shared interest in improving lake and fishery health, and it was encouraging to see anglers’ enthusiasm for preserving their resource and supporting science-based efforts to guide lake management.”

“Fisheries are influenced by human and ecological factors, so it’s important to study both,” Solomon concludes. “By pairing insights from anglers and lake management plans with data on fish populations and indicators of lake health, we’re hoping to pinpoint strategies that support fishery resilience.”

This research is supported by funding from the National Science Foundation. Individual gifts are being sought to help with equipment needs.

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