Recreational anglers may be responsible for landing nearly 25 percent of over-fished salt water species caught off U.S. coasts, a study released on Thursday suggests. Citing federal data from the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. Pacific coast, researchers at Florida State University said the impact of 10 million U.S. recreational anglers was far more significant than previously thought. Across the country, recreational and commercial fishers have been pointing fingers for decades over which group is responsible for dwindling stocks of sports fish. In Florida, anglers successfully backed a 1994 constitutional amendment severely restricting commercial fishing in coastal waters. Overall, recreational fishers were responsible for 4 percent of the U.S. take in 2002. But when researchers removed from the statistics commercially fished species such as pollock and menhaden that have no recreational value, the percentage of catch from recreational fishers jumped to 10 percent. Further, the recreational catch of over-fished species jumped to 23 percent. In the Gulf of Mexico, it accounted for 63 percent of landings. FSU researcher Felicia Coleman said the findings showed that the increasingly popular sports fishing industry had a major impact, informs Reuters. According to National Geographic, researchers behind the study say fishing for fun now makes up almost a quarter of the total take of overfished populations. These include seafood favorites such as red snapper, red drum, and bocaccio—species already under pressure from commercial fishing. For these "large charismatic fishes that people care about most," the researchers say recreational catches often outstrip those of commercial vessels. Almost 60 percent of red snapper, 56 percent of gag in the Gulf of Mexico, and 93 percent of bocaccio on the Pacific Coast are taken by sport fishers. The figures were compiled using data provided by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, state marine fisheries commissions, and state natural resource agencies. Sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent nonprofit based in Philadelphia, the study is the first comprehensive analysis of the ecological impact of recreational saltwater fishing in the U.S., the researchers say. Catches for the past 22 years were analyzed. "The conventional wisdom is that recreational fishing is a small proportion of the total take, so it is largely overlooked," says lead author Felicia Coleman, a marine ecologist at Florida State University, Tallahassee. "But if you remove the fish caught and used for fish sticks and fishmeal [pollock and menhaden] the recreational take rises to 10 percent nationally. And if you focus in on the populations identified by the federal government as species of concern, it rises to 23 percent." There are now ten million saltwater recreational anglers in the U.S., with the sport growing as much as 20 percent in the last ten years, says co-researcher Will Figueira, a biologist at the University of Technology, in Sydney, Australia. Saltwater sport fishing appears to be a bigger threat to some economically critical fisheries than previously believed. In a study published Friday, a team of marine biologists finds that sport fishing accounts for nearly one-fourth of the total catch for the commercially valuable species the federal government most worries about conserving. For some species in some regions, sport fishing accounts for as much as 93 percent of the fish caught The report could well boost calls for tighter regulations on saltwater sport fishing as the nation struggles to restore threatened or declining stocks of commercially valuable fish. "This will land like a bombshell in come circles," says Chris Mann, who served as director of ocean and coastal policy for the Pew Oceans Commission. Indeed, the study may understate the situation, says Felicia Coleman, a marine biologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee, who led the research team. The study, which relies on state and federal data on fish "landings," doesn't reflect the fish killed as anglers throw back those that may be too small or those pulled up from deep water and then released. For deep-water fish, the change in pressure alone can be fatal, reports the Christian Science Monitor.
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