conservation citizen science stewardship fish

Catch-and-release anglers catalyze conservation for the prized golden dorado fish

Fishing Towards Conservation

Anglers are vital advocates for their beloved waters; some decide to leave fish in the rivers and off the dinner table.

Two days of flights and overland travel and we find ourselves peering into the murky Rio Juramento accompanied by a handful of local catch and release (C&R) anglers. The town of El Tunal is a miniscule blip on the map in the region of Salta Argentina, but remains a prized destination for anglers seeking the allure of the golden dorado. Given increasing regional development and heightened demand for the species, the dorado and the regional river system are facing a number of impending threats – dams, hydropower, intensive agriculture, and nutrient runoff to name a few. The fish find themselves in this fight accompanied by emerging conservation anglers, avid C&R practitioners banning together to protect regional fish species and river systems.

There are diverse reasons to practice C&R; it is either implemented in compliance with harvest regulations or practiced voluntarily by anglers, motivated by their personal conservation ethics. Examining the latter, we often find regional C&R angler groups engaging in stewardship activities and advocating for the increased management efforts of a specific fishery. Anglers’ shared interest to protect local fisheries against external environmental threats often creates a unified conservation force. These localized conservation initiatives may be small in scale, but their stability, communication, and concern for the resources’ future can often bridge otherwise inaccessible gaps across stakeholder groups, scientists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and management agencies.

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Fig. 1 A golden dorado to be released after inserting a radio transmitter for tracking. Photo by Kim Ovitz

The golden dorado (Salminus brasiliensis) case study in the Province of Salta, Argentina demonstrates angler stewardship and collaboration between conservation groups. This C&R dorado fishery has gained substantial attention and momentum within domestic and international angler communities. This aggressive species is highly sought-after by anglers because of its remote location, explosive strikes, fighting stamina, and aerial acrobatics. While dorado have been historically harvested throughout Argentina, the adoption of C&R practices have increased in recent decades. This change in angler motivation has created a growing advocacy for dorado and watershed conservation.

River habitat destruction, the largest environmental threat to Salta’s rivers, has potentially devastating effects on healthy dorado populations. Many Argentinian rivers have been altered for hydroelectric power, irrigation, and agriculture. Additionally, they face threats from pollution and mining operations. Harvest, in the form of poaching and by-catch, also severely affects the health of the fishery.

In 2015, Salta’s regional C&R anglers addressed these threats to the fishery and local watersheds by organizing a coalition comprised of regional stakeholders and international anglers. This coalition included: anglers, non governmental agencies, guide outfitters, fisheries researchers, government officials, and fly fishing tackle companies (Patagonia, Temple Fork Outfitters Fly Rods, Rio Products, and Costa). The goal of the coalition was to promote dorado and watershed conservation by determining best-handling practices and promoting tourism for the fishery.

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Fig. 2 Fly fishing on El Rio Juramento. Photo by Kim Ovitz

In kind, support from regional angler groups and outfitters facilitated much of the field research, including lodging, rafts, sample collection, and local ecological knowledge. Collaboration between anglers and the Ministry of the Environment has resulted in future plans for permanent conservation officers on Salta’s main river, El Rio Juramento. These officers will work with anglers to enforce strict anti-poaching laws and license regulations. Social media, driven by prestigious international anglers and fly-fishing companies, continues to generate advocacy for dorado conservation. Together, international anglers and fly fishing companies’ provided a platform for crowd-source funding to support dorado research.

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Fig. 3 Fishing with local guide Leonel Rojas

The positive effects from these collective efforts are leading to expanded dorado conservation throughout South America. Securing further political support is critical to addressing increasing habitat and watershed degradation, specifically in relation to increasing hydroelectric generation, agriculture, and mining initiatives. It’s important for C&R anglers to cross socio-economic boundaries and unify with indigenous stakeholder groups that have an equal, if not greater, claim to these resources at hand. To achieve conservation success, the coalition will need to address both of these concerns.

Within the dorado fishery, the recreational C&R anglers are some of the most effective actors for ensuring conservation and effective management. These regional C&R anglers of the Salta Province are familiar with logistical and governmental resources; they are vocal and active in their communities, and engaged in ecological research. This angler knowledge and stewardship coupled with persisting social media campaigns serve to promote dorado and watershed conservation in Argentina. The coalition’s achievements and momentum should serve as a promising example to other fisheries with concerned C&R anglers.

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