As sport-fishing pressures increase in coastal marine waters, management agencies are expected to lose direct control over fishing effort, total harvest, and fishery-based information for stock assessment. Harvest control will be difficult because most sport fisheries remain open to
unlimited public use without direct license or effort limitation. Without effort control, management tactics such as bag limits aimed at controlling total harvest typically fail because they regulate individual anglers. We develop a simple model of recreational fishery dynamics to show that
current harvest-control methods should not be expected to control or reduce exploitation rates in open-access sport fisheries. The model predictions are (1) linear effort response to changes in fish abundance, (2) fish abundance limit below which effort is not attracted, and (3) rapidly increasing
exploitation at low effort. Also, exploitation is expected to be insensitive to effort over a relatively wide range. Empirical data show that harvest restrictions tend to reduce participation by consumptive anglers, and we incorporate this effect into the effort-response model. We conclude
that typical regulations such as bag limits and seasonal closures are not drastic enough to affect total exploitation. Although bag limits are usually ineffective for their intended purpose (direct harvest reduction), they probably act as an indirect means of effort control, but only temporarily.
We suggest that managers of sport fisheries should consider direct license limitation or harvest permits where control of exploitation is needed.
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