Perceptions of Recreational Fishing Boat Captains: Knowledge and Effects of Fish Consumption Advisories
The impacts of fish consumption advisories on recreational and subsistence fishing, particularly in fresh waters, have been examined extensively. By contrast, little attention has focused on organized recreational fishing, such as from party and charter boats, and particularly for salt water fish. We interviewed 93 New Jersey boat captains to determine their knowledge about fish consumption advisories, and whether, in their opinion, clients knew of fish consumption advisories, and whether they thought advisories had an effect on recreational fishing and their businesses. Advisories were ranked by captains as a moderate influence on the success of their business, less so than number of fish caught, strength of the economy, overfishing by commercial boats, and management regulations. Only one boat captain had not heard warnings about eating fish, but what captains said they had heard was mixed in its accuracy and completeness. Clients expect captains to know about fish, and about half of boat captains said clients had asked about the safety of eating fish. Captains who felt advisories were affecting their businesses tended to fish for species without high levels of mercury (except for bluefish) or PCBs, the primary contaminants of concern for state advisories and federal advice. However, these captains worked closer to areas (e.g., Raritan Bay complex and New York Harbor) subject to advisories than did other captains, and were more prone to say that management regulations (e.g., fish size, creel limits, seasons) and marketing and advertising by the industry or state were strong influences on the success of their seasons. Comparing captains who thought advisories had some or great effect (60%) versus those reporting “no effect” (40%), there was no difference in the mean percentage of trips targeting high mercury species such as swordfish and shark. Many captains said they would or might post advisories, but 42% of the boat captains said they would not post consumption warnings if the state provided them. The significant portion (at least 15%) of saltwater fishing supported by these businesses suggests that these captains are an important conduit for future risk communication.