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Shore-based marine fishing is the most popular recreational angling facet in South Africa with approximately 500 000 participants (Potts et al in prep.). This fishery is regulated with traditional regulations such as size limits, bag limits and closed seasons, which mandate the release of a high proportion of the fish captured in the fishery. Besides mandatory catch and release an increasing proportion of marine shore-based anglers are voluntarily releasing their fish. While many assume that released fish will go on to survive and reproduce, many studies have identified high mortality rates of released fish. This is particularly prevalent in environments that are rich in predators.


To attempt to improve the survival of fishes subject to catch and release (C&R), the SAFER lab has been collaborating with the Rock and Surf Super Pro League, which is the only shore-based marine competitive catch and release league in Africa. The aim of the collaborative program is to reduce the environmental impact of this league by improving the behaviour of the anglers and the health and survival of released fishes. The SAFER team also administers the scoring systems of this league and in so doing is developing a long-term length and catch and effort dataset, which will be incorporated into stock assessment models. 

We have taken an evidence-based approach to inform us of how the health and survival of fish can be improved and implemented a pro-environmental behavioural strategy, which includes a combination of knowledge dissemination, behavioural modelling, rewards, penalties and feedback to improve C&R behaviour.  We have found significant improvements in angler behaviour (such as reduced air exposure of fishes) since our first interventions in 2015 and these have resulted in increased fish health and survival. Besides continued work on improving C&R practices, the next phase of our research will examine the efficacy of the various interventions (eg. Knowledge dissemination / rewards) to improve the interventions used when trying to modify recreational angler behaviour around the world.

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