Fishing practices and representations of shark conservation issues among users of a land-based shark angling online forum
Recreational fisheries can play a significant role in the population dynamics of threatened fish species, but have received much less research and management attention than commercial fisheries. Land-based anglers are a group of recreational fishers that fish from beaches or piers; however, comparatively little is known about the practices and perceptions of this stakeholder group. In order to gather data for an initial assessment of the fishing practices of land-based anglers and their perspectives on shark conservation issues, we performed a content and discourse analysis of an online discussion forum used by the largest land-based shark fishing club in Florida. Discussion board content analysis can identify evidence that certain perceptions or practices exist within a studied sample, but cannot be used to estimate how common those perceptions and practices are among the wider population. We found evidence that forum users are demographically distinct from other recreational anglers in Florida, and are mostly young males. Some forum users perceive themselves as relatively low-income compared with other fishing stakeholder groups. There was no evidence in forum discussions that patterns of reported landing and release of hammerhead and tiger sharks changed following the introduction of new legal protections for these species in 2012. This study identified a minimum of dozens of cases of illegal shark fishing practices among forum users, and found evidence that some users are aware that these practices are illegal. There was evidence that some users believe that their own practices have no effect on shark populations and should not be regulated. Additionally, this study found the existence of mixed attitudes and levels of trust towards scientific researchers and environmentalists.