Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
August 2005

Creel Surveys Help Manage Sport Fish
A Clipboard and a Smile: Talking with Anglers

By Tammy Davis
caption follows
Fish and Game technicians interview fishermen in Sitka, collecting valuable information for the Division of Sport Fish. ADF&G photo.

Aside from the misty rain, it has been a wonderful day on the water. You caught a couple coho salmon and your friend hauled in a king salmon. Someone else on the boat reeled in a legal lingcod. The captain of the boat has motored into the harbor and as she is tying off the boat, a young woman approaches. She’s dressed in rain gear, a blue ball cap with the seal of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) and carrying a weather proof clipboard. With a smile, she introduces herself as a creel survey technician for the Division of Sport Fish. She jumps right into questions about your day. “What fish were you targeting?” “How long did you fish?” “How many did you catch?” Then she asks if she can check for missing adipose fins on the cohos and king salmon.

Your friendly technician had questions about your fishing trip, but now you have questions about the purpose and value of the interview. For starters, what is a creel? Traditionally, anglers kept their catch in a wicker basket known as a creel. Nowadays, fish are more commonly kept in a cooler. Creels tend to be used only by steadfast river anglers, but the word creel continues to refer to the catch. Thus, a creel survey is an accurate and reliable technique, usually an interview, to obtain information on a fishery.

Whenever anglers head to the water for a sport fishing adventure, there is a chance that they will be approached by a creel survey technician. Creel survey crews can be found throughout Alaska wherever the sport fishing is hot; in harbors or at favorite beachside fishing holes. The Division of Sport Fish is interested in sustainable management of fish that are targeted by recreational anglers. Creel survey technicians become a liaison between the division and the public. They are interested in what anglers are trying to catch, what they are successfully catching, what they catch and release, or heaven forbid, what they are targeting without success. Collecting information on sport fishers’ harvests provides a tool for better management of our natural resources.

Since creel surveys focus on fish that are of interest to sport fishers, the interview is directed toward key species that anglers may target. The primary objectives of creel surveys in Alaska are to estimate

1) total sport harvest of target species by sport anglers
2) the contribution of wild and hatchery chinook (king salmon) and coho salmon and the sport harvest of non-Alaska origin chinook
3) sport angler effort for salmon, halibut and groundfish
4) angler effort, catch and harvest of steelhead trout, cutthroat and rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden
5) average weight and total poundage of sport-harvested halibut
6) average weight of sport-harvested lingcod
7) effort and harvest of dungeness crab, shrimp, and king crab

caption follows
A technician measures and takes samples from a beach-caught salmon on Douglas Island near Juneau. ADF&G photo.

When a creel survey technician approaches, you can be prepared to answer questions that provide data to assist biologists in determining those estimates. An ADF&G technician is interested in how many days were fished and how many hours were fished, in addition to how many anglers were fishing and how many lines were wet to assist in determining the amount of effort that is undertaken to catch that lunker. Equally informative is whether you caught the species of fish that was targeted or you just happened to lure rockfish while trolling for king salmon. As Alaska continues to be a destination for sport angling, learning about the number of fish caught, whether targeted or not, and accounting for the number of fish caught and then released - for whatever reason - provides valuable data. Keeping track of harvest information on sport caught fish allows the division to make educated decisions for caretaking our world class sport fisheries.

In addition to collecting basic information concerning your fishing adventure, a creel survey technician may ask for specific information about your catch. Your fish may be measured, weighed and have scales and genetic material sampled. If your king or coho salmon is missing the adipose fin, the head will be taken. Ask the technician if the adipose fin is missing from your prized king or coho salmon so that you can get a photo before the sampler takes the head. In Southeast Alaska there is an emergency order in place during creel survey season (April 25 through September 25, 2005) that prohibits anglers from filleting and de-heading their lingcod, king or coho salmon before they arrive in port so that creel samplers can see the whole fish.

If the head is taken, it will be shipped to ADF&G Mark, Tag and Age Lab in Juneau. There a coded wire tag, placed in the snout of coho and king salmon when they are juveniles, will be read identifying the specific release group of that fish. The otolith or “ear bones” may also be removed. The information associated with the tag and the otolith provides more valuable information about the fish that thrive in Alaska waters. If the head of your fish is taken, ADF&G will mail you information about your fish, provided you supply the technician with your mailing address. A creel survey interview takes just a few minutes - although your salmon may now be headless, it will still be good eating.

The information creel technicians collect is an important part of Fish and Game’s management of our sport fisheries. That young man or woman walking toward you with a clipboard, tape measure and a smile is there to help ensure that everyone can continue to dip their line in the water and - with any luck - keep fish on the table.

Subscribe to be notified about new issues

Receive a monthly notice about new issues and articles.