Tyrel Moos: Creel surveys a vital tool for maintaining state's fisheries

Tyrel Moos
South Dakota GFP
Tyrel Moos, Fisheries Resource Biologist.

One of the many responsibilities among aquatics staff with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks (SDGFP) is to monitor area fisheries. This primarily includes assessing fish communities through netting and/or electrofishing surveys. It can also be important to gain an understanding of the human component of a fishery. When SDGFP needs to know more specifics about anglers and their impact on a fishery, a creel survey is often completed.

A creel survey gets its name from the basket or container, called a creel, that anglers use to hold the fish they harvest. Traditional creels have been largely replaced by live wells, buckets, and stringers. Some anglers we encounter are confused by the term “creel survey” since the creel is somewhat of a relic of fishing history. Therefore, we often interchange it with a more modern term, “angler use and harvest survey.”

Whether checking an angler’s creel, stringer, or live well, collecting information about how many fish are harvested is an important component of a creel survey. Harvest estimates can help fishery managers determine if a fishery is underutilized, on target, or if harvest rates are detrimental. Harvest estimates can be used as a tool when adjusting daily harvest or length limits to better manage the fishery.

Anglers measure their angling success and satisfaction in many ways. Some anglers view being able to harvest fish for a meal as important in their angling success, while others enjoy the opportunity and spending quality time with family and friends. I’m sure most people are not surprised that one of the most important measures of angling success is catching fish. Catch rates from creel surveys provide insight into whether a fishery is meeting the expectations of anglers and can provide an indication if the predator-prey relationship of a fishery is out of balance.

Insight into the economic importance of a fishery can be gained from a creel survey. A creel survey estimates the number of anglers and the amount of time anglers are present at a lake which can be used to estimate the economic value of a fishery. Creel surveys typically include questions about where an angler resides or how far they traveled to fish. This is useful information because anglers spend money on a variety of things including fuel, lodging, food, bait and other fishing supplies, fishing licenses, and park entrance permits. Generally, anglers that travel greater distances spend more money, which can increase the economic value of a fishery. The amount of tourism to a regionally or nationally renowned fishery can substantially benefit surrounding businesses and communities.

Creel surveys are often a component of more in-depth fisheries research. Currently, in northeast South Dakota, creel surveys are being conducted in conjunction with a bluegill tagging study on a few lakes in Day and Marshall Counties. In this study, angler harvest of bluegills is being measured with creel surveys and anglers reporting harvested tagged bluegills. These two methods together provide a better understanding of the harvest which will help to determine future management goals for area bluegill populations.

The other creel survey we are conducting is at the community fishing ponds located throughout northeast South Dakota. Cameras placed at the community ponds capture daily angling pressure. Information is also being collected from participating anglers about their experience. In 2021, we had survey forms at each lake for anglers to complete and drop in a box. A new angler survey type was used in 2022, where anglers could scan a QR code to link to a short online survey. Whether you enjoy these fisheries the way they are or if you would like to see changes, we encourage you to fill out the survey each trip. South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks is highly invested in the community fishing ponds because they provide opportunities for the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of anglers. The information you provide on the survey is important to the current and future management of these fisheries.

Tyrel Moos is a Fisheries Resource Biologist with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.