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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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Tapping Fishers’ memories reveals long lost fishing trends

22
Jun 2016

Scientists have reconstructed long-term data on fish catches using fishers’ memories to reveal how their rewards have declined over the past 50 years.

More than 100 fishers from the commercial and recreational fishing sectors were asked to recall what they remembered about fishing on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

“The historic data revealed that catch rates (the number of coral trout caught per fisher per hour) have declined since the 1970s, despite the rapid advances in fish finding technology we have today,” says Dr. Ruth Thurstan who conducted the research with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at the University of Queensland.

“In the past, recreational fishers have blamed the commercial live reef fish trade for a decline in catches, while commercial fishers claim expanding no-take zones on the Great Barrier Reef in 2004 is behind the problem. However, we found catch rates actually began falling way before either of those factors were introduced.

The scientists travelled 1400 kilometres up and down the coastline interviewing fishers about the type of gear they used in the past, the number of fish caught, and how far offshore people fished. The historical information was then translated into data to map long-term fishery trends dating from the 1950’s to now.

The commercial fishery trade began in Australia after WWII but no official records of individual catches were kept until the late 1980s.

“We found that some people were able to recall their earliest memories of fishing on the Great Barrier Reef, up to 60 years ago.

“The oldest person we spoke to was 92-years old. He had fished around Green Island, near Cairns, his entire life. Not only was he able to tell us about catch rates but he also provided valuable information about how the wider environment had changed as the region became more populated.”

“Fishing rewards have clearly changed through time, but fishers have a huge contribution to make – they understand the value of knowing where we’ve come from to help manage trout fisheries for the future,” says Prof. John Pandolfi, a member of the research team from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at the University of Queensland.

Note: Ruth Thurstan is presenting her findings at the ICRS in Hawaiiin R305 A/B, 14:45 ,Thursday 23 June, 2016. To arrange an interview please see details below.

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Contacts

Dr. Ruth Thurstan
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
The University of Queensland
Phone: +61 (0) 450 586 263,
Email: r.thurstan@uq.edu.au

Professor John Pandolfi
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
The University of Queensland
Phone: +1 (808) 729-6951
Email: j.pandolfi@uq.edu.au

Kylie Simmonds
Communications Manager
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University, Townsville
Phone: +61 (0) 428 785 895
Email: kylie.simmonds1@jcu.edu.au

 

Handling the fish. Credit: Ruth Thurstan.
Handling the fish. Credit: Ruth Thurstan.

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au