Making the switch: Assessing the potential for catch-and-release in Nova Scotia’s recreational shark derbies [graduate project].
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Many shark populations are regionally and globally threatened by overfishing and bycatch, often aggravated by the practice of shark finning. While most conservation efforts have been aimed at enforcing sustainable quotas, mitigating bycatch, and banning shark finning, the impact of recreational fisheries on some shark populations is increasingly recognized. Catch-and-release angling and the use of best handling practices is also growing in many areas of the world, as one measure to mitigate negative impacts. However, Canada is one of the few nations to still have a catch-and-kill policy for recreational shark derbies, despite mandating catch-and-release in all other recreational shark fishing. Moving towards a catch-and-release policy requires an understanding of the regulatory landscape, and derby participant motivations. This thesis presents results from surveys of 26 derby boat captains and 30 derby spectators on motivations, perceptions, and attitudes towards catch-and-release. Also presented here are case studies of the barriers, benefits, and strategies used in catch-and-release initiatives in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Survey results indicated that derby boat captains were uneven in their support for catch-and-release. However, most were primarily motivated by the overall challenge of catching sharks rather than winning awards, and were interested in receiving training on handling and tagging practices, suggesting anglers may be open to engagement. Spectators likewise had conflicting perspectives on sharks, and remarked that they learned little about the animals at derbies. Both stakeholder groups were interested in expanding scientific opportunities associated with existing derby events. Case study analyses revealed that catch-and-release initiatives in other countries had multiple drivers and often involved collaborative partnerships between anglers, scientists, and government. The thesis concludes that anglers should be further engaged in catch-and-release and tagging efforts, as well as mandatory training on best handling practices. Both survey and case study results suggest that a gradual transition to catch-and-release is both possible and desirable in the Canadian context.