Efficacy of angler catch data as a population and conservation monitoring tool for the flagship Mahseer fishes (Tor spp.) of Southern India
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Authors: Pinder, A.C., Raghavan, R. and Britton, J.R.
Journal: Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Mahseer (Tor spp.) are flagship fishes in South Asian rivers. Their populations are threatened through poaching and habitat disturbance, yet they are highly prized game fishes due to their large size, appearance and sporting qualities. The international recreational angling community has frequently been cited as playing a vital role in conserving these fishes while also providing economic benefit to poor rural communities. Owing to a lack of scientific data and the considerable challenges associated with monitoring fish populations in large monsoonal rivers, efforts to determine the long-term trends in their populations has focused on sport-fishing catch records. Here, catch data collected between 1998 and 2012 from Galibore, a former fishing camp on the River Cauvery, Karnataka, India, were analysed to determine the catch per unit effort (CPUE - by number and weight) as an indicator of relative fish abundance, along with the size structure of catches. This fishery operated a mandatory catch-and-release (C&R) policy, and provided the fish community with protection from illegal fishing. Between 1998 and 2012, 23 620hours fishing effort were applied to catch and release 6161 mahseer, ranging in size from 1 to 104 lbs (0.45-46.8kg) in weight. Across the period, CPUE in number increased significantly over time with a concomitant decrease in CPUE by weight, revealing strong recruitment in the population and a shift in population size structure. This suggests a strong response to the C&R policy and the reduction in illegal fishing, indicating that conservation strategies focusing on the beneficial and negative aspects of exploitation can be successful in achieving positive outcomes. These outputs from angler catch data provide insights into the mahseer population that were impossible to collect by any alternative method. They provide the most comprehensive analysis of a long-term dataset specific to any of the mahseer species across their entire geographical range and demonstrate the value of organised angling as a conservation monitoring tool to enhance biological data, and inform conservation and fishery management actions.