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NCBS Intern Report: Improving Recreational Fishing Catch and Release Methods

NCBS Intern Report written by Brian Whalen, with hosts Andrew Gude from the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and Dr. Mike Allen. 


Brian working in the field.My Summer in Cedar Key

There’s no typical day on the water near Cedar Key. I launch my boat at the public boat launch, ready to spend the day fishing with three different types of jig heads. Clouds have already begun stacking up on the horizon, threatening thunderstorms in the afternoon, as I search for sea trout in the grass flats.

During this summer, I worked for the UF Nature Coast Biological Station, in partnership with the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, to improve catch and release techniques. For those who don’t know, jig heads are fishing hooks with lead cast near the eye of the hook, and they come in different types. The purpose of my project was to test the function of shortening the front bite of the hook to decrease fish handling time and, therefore, fish stress. I caught 75 sea trout using a normal jig head, another 75 with a barbless jig, and a final 75 with a modified, front-bite jig head over a period of eight weeks.


Discard Mortality Rate

For the second part of my study, I looked specifically at discard mortality, which is the proportion of fish that survive after release. Is there any correlation between discard mortality and the hook types? I was determined to find out. I caught fish with the three different hook types, tagged them, and transported them back to the biological station to hold them in large aquaculture tanks for 48 hours, monitoring the individuals.


Hook Analysis

I have initial results for the hook types, and am continuing to crunch data on the aquaculture tanks as well as completing a statistical analysis. So far, the numeric results show that of the 91% of the fish caught with a modified jig head that reached the boat, almost 87% of them self-released, reducing handling time and ensuring I did not have to touch them, which keeps their slimy coating intact. Further, over 77% released within 5 seconds. I look forward to continuing analysis and hope to write a paper with the results.

As I move into my last semester as an undergraduate at the University of Florida, I bring with me valuable experience taking an idea for a research initiative and turning it into a replicable study with specific parameters to get useful data to answer a question. Specifically, I learned how important standardizing methodology is to a study, not only the right jig head but also the same knots, the same bait, etc. In the future, I’d love to continue working in fisheries research.