Florida Fish Busters’ Bulletin – Creels; Aren’t They Old Fashioned Fish Baskets?

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A traditional creel basket, used to hold an angler's catch. - (FWC photo)You might wonder why someone in a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) boat is stopping you and asking to participate in a “creel survey.” Two questions come to mind. What is a creel? And why does it require a survey? Very good questions – one answer involves tradition; the other answer involves a healthy fishery.

A creel is a wicker basket used for holding fish that an angler has caught, or a wicker fish trap. Today, we still use the expression derived from that old-fashioned, but very stylish, basket. Somehow we haven’t adapted to asking if we can do “a live-well,” “ice-chest” or “catch-and-release” survey.

So bear with us when we ask for your participation. Your answers to our questions are important to the future health of Florida’s fisheries.

The FWC’s fisheries biologists need to know what you have been catching. Despite using old-fashioned terminology, the sophistication of these vital surveys has grown over the years, and they are now a critical source of information for determining how Florida’s fisheries are doing.

Since creel clerks who conduct these interviews cannot talk to every angler, biologists and statisticians work together to carefully determine a sampling scheme of when and where we momentarily interrupt an angler’s recreation to gather this information. Each angler asked to participate represents many other anglers that we cannot talk to, so it is very important that we get the most accurate information possible. The interviewer will want to know how long you’ve been fishing, and what you caught and harvested as well as what you released. They may also measure your fish, check them for tags and ask some questions about where you live and other information that helps to explain results, including information on your age, which, for instance, relates to license sales.

A creel clerk measures an angler's bass before returning it. - (FWC photo) This information is used to determine what anglers want to catch, what they are catching (species, size and numbers), whether they are keeping them, and other factors that allow biologists to estimate the health of a fishery. Combined with other data, such as information from electrofishing samples, biologists can determine what regulations are needed for size and creel limits, what is needed for habitat restoration, supplemental fish stocking, and where additional access, such as boat ramps, shoreline access, or fishing piers, may be needed.

For biologists to make the decisions that ultimately impact the quality of your fishing, they need honest, accurate information. False responses that over- or underestimate your catch can lead to unnecessary or unrealistic solutions. For example, an underestimate of angling success could lead to stricter creel limits (the number or size of fish anglers may legally harvest) when they aren’t necessary and stunting of the fish population because too few big fish are harvested to allow the others to grow rapidly. In case of an overestimate of angling success, the decision may be made that habitat improvements aren’t needed because the fishery is doing so well, delay a proposed fish stocking, or prevent appropriate harvest regulations from being implemented.

Of course, biologists consistently use multiple sources of data to reduce the chance these types of errors will occur. But with recurring budget cuts, creel surveys and angler-attitude surveys become increasingly cost-effective. As other options – such as electrofishing, seining or trawling – are reduced to save money, or sampling – such as block nets and gillnetting – are reduced because of adverse public perception, the need for honest, accurate answers to creel surveys becomes more and more important.

So the next time someone tells you they are conducting a creel survey, remember you are representing many anglers and helping to ensure the safe and sustainable future of quality recreational fishing in Florida when you give a few minutes of your time and accurate information to the creel clerk.

Instant licenses are available at MyFWC.com/License or by calling 1-888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). Report violators by calling *FWC or #FWC on your cell, or 1-888-404-3922. Visit MyFWC.com/Fishing/Updates for more Fish Busters’ columns.