Pointy-headed fisheries biologists live on data. If you hang out with a bunch of us as we “talk shop” you will hear about PSD’s, RSD’s, Wr’s, CPUE’s, length at age, length frequency distributions, and much more boring “stuff”. You will probably see lots and lots of graphs, pointy-heads love graphs! Much of that data is stored in electronic form these days, but you can still look around my messy, cluttered office and find piles of outputs, microfiche, and volumes of summaries of fisheries data. In order to manage and care for a fisheries resource a person has to have ways of measuring that resource and evaluating its condition.
This past spring I blogged about a story that ran in NEBRASKAland magazine; a story that explained how Nebraska fisheries biologist sample fish populations all across the state and collect all of that data, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2011/03/survey-says/ . We have established protocols for collecting fish from Nebraska waters and by following those protocols we insure that we can adequately evaluate the health of fish populations and how our fisheries management efforts are working. Some examples of the data we commonly collect in a “standard fisheries survey” would be things like catch rates (e.g. number of fish caught per net), length distributions, weights and relative body condition, and age & growth.
All of the fish data is extremely important and that is why we have piles of that information, but it does not tell the whole story. Water quality and habitat conditions are also important in the management of any fishery as well as knowledge about the anglers who use that fishery. I am not going to talk about water quality and habitat right now except to say that we also measure those components of our fisheries and in fact have an entire Aquatic Habitat Program to improve aquatic habitat and ultimately produce more and bigger fish, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/fishing/programs/aqhabitat/aqhabitat.asp .
Here I want to tell you about another important survey that is done on many Nebraska waters–angler surveys. All of the data we collect on the actual fish populations are extremely valuable, but just as important, and maybe even more so, would be the data we collect on anglers utilizing those fish populations. We often refer to our angler surveys as “creel” surveys. An important part of those angler surveys is documentation of the species, numbers and sizes of fish the anglers are harvesting, and there was a time when many anglers placed their harvested fish inside creels–thus, “creel surveys”.
Fish populations in dozens of Nebraska waters will be sampled every year, but unfortunately we are unable to conduct angler or creel surveys on that many waters. Creel surveys take a commitment of man-power and time over an entire fishing season and we simply do not have the personnel to conduct those surveys on a lot of waters. We try to do as many creel surveys as possible each year and those surveys give us invaluable information on anglers and their use of our fisheries resources. Some of the data collected in an angler or creel survey will include things like number of anglers and the amount of time fished, where those anglers came from, species pursued, and then numbers and sizes of fish caught, released and harvested. Angler surveys are conducted face-to-face with anglers on the water or just coming off the water and also are perfect opportunities to ask questions about angler opinions and attitudes.
Persons who conduct the angler or creel surveys are often referred to as “creel clerks”, and being a creel clerk is a typical entry-level job for future pointy-headed fisheries biologists. I can tell you lots of stories from my creel clerk days years ago. My first experience as a creel clerk occurred on Sutherland Reservoir where I would conduct our sunrise-to-sunset creel surveys. Creel-clerking can be very boring if there are not many people fishing, but data collected from those slow days is just as important as data collected on days when the fish are biting and lots of folks are fishing. Creel-clerking is one of those jobs that is referred to as “good experience”, and the biggest reason I believe it is good experience is because of the interaction with fishermen and fisherwomen! Yes, as pointy-headed fisheries biologists we work with fish and the habitat in which they live, but anglers are impacted by our fisheries management. Ultimately, the fish belong to all of us, and if you are doing a creel survey you will talk to a lot of anglers who will freely tell you their opinion of the fisheries and how they are being managed–good experience!
Currently, most of our angler surveys are being done through a research contract with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, http://snr.unl.edu/undergrad/programs/fishwild.asp . That contract has allowed us to have a lot more creel surveys done than we can accomplish by ourselves and in the process there are some future fisheries biologists that are gaining some of that great experience. Many of you have probably encountered some of the creel clerks on Nebraska waters this year.
Here is an angler survey brochure that the university produced:
That brochure gives you some idea of the types of interesting data being collected in the angler surveys. Those are just a few examples, there are A LOT more, and I will try to drop some of that on you in the future.
If you are approached by someone conducting one of the angler surveys, please cooperate. Your information is extremely important in the management of our fisheries resources!