Recreational fisheries can be prone to severe declines, yet these fisheries, particularly catch-and-release, are often data-limited, constraining our ability to conduct stock assessments. A combination of catch and effort indices derived from fisheries-dependent data (FDD) gathered from fishing logbooks could be a powerful approach to inform these data gaps. This study demonstrates the utility of using different catch metrics such as indices of abundance, species richness associated with reported catch, and the success rate of targeted trips, to assess historical shifts in the trajectory of the data-limited bonefish (Albula vulpes) fishery in Florida Bay, an economically-important recreational fishery within the Caribbean Basin. We used FDD from fishing guide reports submitted to Everglades National Park to determine temporal patterns in the bonefish population over the past 35 years. These reports indicated a decline in recreational catches in Florida Bay since the late 1980s, with an accelerated decline starting in the late 1990s-early 2000s. Analyses showed an overall 42% reduction in bonefish catches. Trends in the proportion of positive trips (i.e., the probability of catching success) followed the declining catch patterns, suggesting major population changes starting in 1999–2000. As bonefish catches declined, species richness in bonefish trips increased by 34%, suggesting a decrease in bonefish abundance and/or shift in fishing effort (e.g., giving-up time, changes in preferred species). Results provide additional resolution to a pattern of decline for bonefish in South Florida and highlight the value of reconstructing time-series for the development of hypotheses about the potential driving mechanisms of species decline. Further, the data-limited nature of most recreational fisheries, and the increase in a use of catch-and-release as a fisheries management strategy point to the need to develop further data integration tools to assess population trends and the sustainability of these fishery resources.
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Santos RO, Rehage JS, Adams AJ, Black BD, Osborne J, Kroloff EKN (2017) Quantitative assessment of a data-limited recreational bonefish fishery using a time-series of fishing guides reports. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0184776. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184776
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