**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>

Due to a long history of perceived competing interests, recreational fishermen, academics, scientists and charter boat captains aren’t necessarily known for working well together. So how do you get such a diverse – and at times contentious – group to collaborate on a fisheries research project?

Take them fishing.

That’s the premise behind a new collaborative fisheries research project in California’s North Coast region. Enlisting recreational anglers and charter boat captains to conduct hook-and-line surveys – to basically go fishing – researchers plan to collect enough data to establish a quantitative baseline characterization of nearshore rocky reef fish communities.

“People like to fish,” explains Tim Mulligan, professor of fisheries biology at Humboldt State University. “So it’s not hard to convince people to go fish for you. This project is getting the public involved in a positive, management-oriented way.”

Eight-man teams – consisting of a charter boat captain, a deck hand, two scientists/researchers and four local volunteer anglers – will troll the North Coast trying to land various nearshore species such as rockfishes and lingcod. Volunteers will identify, tag and release fish caught at sites inside and outside four marine protected areas (MPAs). Tags will track where fish move, not only within the MPAs but also across the region, providing researchers with information on fish movement patterns.

Tagging data is only useful when it’s collected, however. As a result, project coordinators are planning extensive outreach efforts to harbors, bait/tackle shops and within the community to encourage fishermen to return the tags in exchange for prizes. Fortunately, project coordinators do not anticipate a dearth of volunteers.

“Getting the stakeholders involved is a great way to maximize our resources,” says Mulligan. “We’ve had a very positive response from the involved communities and hope to have dozens of volunteers through this project.”

Project leaders will begin retaining charter boat captains and training volunteers on standardized sampling protocol, efficient data collection and proper handling/tagging methods in early February. Actual fieldwork and data collection for the three-year project will occur between May and August 2014 and 2015. Mulligan expects that data will be analyzed and made publicly available on OceanSpaces.org in 2016.


This project is part of a broad monitoring program that is collecting ecological and socioeconomic information on nearshore ecosystems inside and outside North Coast MPAs.  Results will be shared broadly, including on OceanSpaces.org, and used to inform the management review of the North Coast regional MPA network.