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Reeling them in; letting them go

At last count, there were 468 million fish caught nationwide in 2007, down only slightly from the 475 million historic high in 2006, according to a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The total still represents the second highest in the last 10 years. The number of fish caught and kept also declined slightly, from 214 million to 196 million fish, which signifies a dramatic turn toward “catch-and-release” practice. Studies from the NOAA Fisheries Service show while anglers are catching about 27 percent more fish than they did a decade ago, they also are releasing about 58 percent of the total alive. That percentage has increased from 51 percent in 1993, according to the report.

“We rely on data from both the recreational and commercial fishing communities to ensure we’re making informed conservation decisions,” said Jim Balsiger, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, in the report. “As we move towards an ecosystem approach to managing fisheries, the need for timely and accurate data on recreational fishing has never been greater.”

Fishing continues to be one of the most popular outdoor sports, with a reported 86.7 million saltwater trips in 2007. Spotted seatrout was the overall top fish caught, along with the lane snapper in the Caribbean, striped bass in the North Atlantic, Atlantic croaker in the Mid-Atlantic, chub mackerel in the Pacific, black rockfish in the Pacific Northwest, and bigeye scad in the Western Pacific, according to the report.

NOAA collects this data from in-person and telephone interviews with anglers. The NOAA is accepting public comments until Aug. 11 on its rule to create a National Saltwater Angler Registry, which will list anglers who fish in federal ocean waters for species that spawn in fresh water and spend part of their lives in the ocean, such as the striped bass, to improve surveys. The list also will help to demonstrate the economic benefits of recreational fishing on national and local levels. Comments can be submitted electronically to or mailed to John Boreman, Director, Office of Science and Technology, NMFS 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD20910 Attn: Gordon Colvin

— Elizabeth Ellis