The Use of Recreational Fishers’ Ecological Knowledge to Assess the Conservation Status of Marine Ecosystems
There is a reluctance to incorporate Fishers’ Ecological Knowledge (FEK) into the evidence base used to underpin marine management decisions. FEK has proved to be useful as an alternative reference of biological changes in data-poor scenarios. Yet, recreational fisher knowledge has rarely been included in scientific studies despite being a source of FEK. Here, the use of recreational FEK to assess the conservation status of marine ecosystems in Galicia (NW Spain) was evaluated. Galicia has a highly complex marine socioecological system that includes both a large global commercial fleet and a powerful recreational sector, alongside other important stakeholders (e.g., tourism, aquaculture). Anglers and spear fishers were asked to provide their perceptions of the conservation status of fish stocks and the impacts on marine ecosystems. Face-to-face interviews were transcribed into text and analyzed using text mining tools. Key concepts were used to quantify fishers’ perceptions of changes in their target fish stocks and quantify the main impacts on marine ecosystems. Overfishing and habitat loss, followed by reduction in biodiversity, pollution, and warming temperatures were considered to be the main drivers of the poor status of cephalopods and finfish stocks. Perceived temporal declines in fish stocks were consistent with available biological data, highlighting the potential for recreational FEK to be used to assess long-term ecological changes. It was important to seek opinions from different users, including fishers from traditional commercial and recreational fisheries, as these groups had good knowledge of the impacts on natural and cultural community heritage. The poor status of ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta) and kelp beds was identified, which was of concern due to it being a key species in coastal ecosystems. Use of FEK is a good approach to develop knowledge of these systems, but broader monitoring programs are needed to protect the future of these ecosystems.