DIVING FOR DATA, FISHING FOR FACTS: STAKEHOLDER COLLABORATIONS AND COOPERATIVE FISHERIES RESEARCH IN THE GULF OF MEXICO
A.B. Collins, Florida Sea Grant, UF/IFAS Extension, Manatee County, Palmetto, FL
Situation: Cooperative research between fisheries scientists and stakeholders gaining traction through emerging citizen science initiatives and formalized policy by fishery agencies. In addition to building overall trust in the management process, the inclusion of stakeholders in data collection and experimental design has the capacity to leverage limited funds and produce information that surpasses independent academic efforts. Stakeholders contribute an innate and historical knowledge of resource distribution and environmental patterns, and provide established infrastructure and a “boots on the ground” capacity to mobilize research programs. Methods: Data were collected through cooperative research with the dive and angling communities in southwest Florida. In some cases, participation was strictly at a volunteer level; in others, stakeholders were compensated for their efforts (e.g., time and boat use.) Results: Cooperative research with the dive community has provided detailed information on the life history and habitat associations of Goliath grouper across the state of Florida. Data collected from recreational anglers is realistically addressing catch and release mortality estimates for gag grouper on the West Florida Shelf. Conclusion: Involvement of a few key groups has facilitated the exchange of information and increased the level of participation from many who were inherently distrustful of the scientific process. This has cascaded and allowed for research progress and opportunity in other areas. These collaborative efforts with stakeholders continue to inform policy for multiple species of reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
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