Experience counts: Integrating spearfishers’ skills and knowledge in the evaluation of biological and ecological impacts
Fishing experience and skills are not commonly considered in recreational fishery studies. To analyse potential different biological/ecological impacts of three experience levels of spearfishers (novice, intermediate and experienced), access point surveys were conducted over a period of 10 months in São Miguel Island (Azores archipelago). Groups differed in terms of catch rate and composition, species size and vulnerability (i.e. intrinsic vulnerability index of fishes to fishing). Experienced spearfishers explored different areas along the island coast, fished deeper and farther off shore, were more selective regarding fish size and target species, reached higher catch weights and had catches with a higher mean index of vulnerability. Results suggest that catch composition and rate not only depend on fish community and ecosystem health, but also on the expertise of the fishers who operate in a given area. Consequently, scientific studies should consider fishers’ experience in the survey design and data analysis to not over- or underestimate their potential impact.