CHARACTERIZING A HIDDEN FISHERY: SETLINE FISHING IN THE NEW RIVER, VIRGINIA
Dickinson, Benjamin David
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Catfishes Ictaluridae are important food fish that are harvested from the New River, Virginia by multiple methods, yet standard creel survey approaches do not accurately sample setline effort, a popular fishing gear for catfish. I characterized the New River setline fishery by estimating setline effort and catch rates of catfish and by-catch in 2011, and by investigating the attitudes and opinions of setline users during 2012. Setline effort was highest during June-August, and declined significantly by mid-September. Several dedicated setline users accounted for a significant portion of total setline effort. Experimental setlines baited with live minnows Cyprinidae proved to be an effective method for catching catfish but caught few walleye Sander vitreus, smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu, and muskellunge Esox masquinongy. Estimated by-catch of these species by setline fishers is small compared to catch by hook-and-line anglers, though walleye experienced high setline hooking mortality, and catch rates increased in autumn months. Setlines appear to be part of a larger "way of life" for some rural individuals, who may also hunt, trap, and garden as part of activities to supplement their diet or income. New River setline fishers strongly believe that setline fishing has declined significantly in the New River Valley due to improving socioeconomic status of the region, changing recreational values (such as focus on catch-and-release fishing and paddle sports), increasing recreational traffic and law enforcement presence, and decreasing participation in setline fishing by younger generation.