Coldwater Fish in Warming Streams

How do trout anglers perceive the risk of climate change?

Trout are considered highly vulnerable to climate change. Hundreds of thousands of people enjoy trout fishing, and a majority of them are concerned about how climate change could affect trout. Photo by USFWS.
Trout are considered highly vulnerable to climate change. Hundreds of thousands of people enjoy trout fishing, and a majority of them are concerned about how climate change could affect trout. Photo by USFWS.

Scientists and managers are concerned about the future of trout in the southern Appalachian Mountains, but what about anglers?

Over 100,000 people enjoy trout fishing in north Georgia. U.S. Forest Service scientist J. Michael Bowker recently coauthored a study about how trout anglers perceive climate change risks to trout. The study was led by Ramesh Paudyal, a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida, and published in the Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism.

Brook trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout live in Georgia. Only brook trout are native to the region. “Trout are very sensitive to increases in temperature,” says Bowker, who is a research social scientist at the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS). “They are considered highly vulnerable to climate change.”

Currently, most streams in Georgia are cold enough for trout through the winter, but only certain mountain streams are cold enough during the summer. Due to stream chemistry, trout are unable to reproduce in great swathes of the 4,000 miles of streams in north Georgia, and only 142 miles of Georgia streams are good habitat for brook trout. Brook trout are the most sensitive of the three species to stream temperature, requiring water that is colder than 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bowker and his colleagues, including Stanley Zarnoch, a mathematical statistician at the SRS Forest Inventory and Analysis unit, surveyed trout anglers in Georgia to determine whether they thought climate change threatened trout. Scientists mailed surveys to people who had a Georgia trout fishing permit. The questions were designed to show how anglers perceived climate change and its effects on trout, as well as their demographics, attitudes towards sport fishing, and whether they would be willing to take fewer fishing trips if climate change caused trout populations to decline.

Bowker and his colleagues found that people’s answers fell into four categories that reflected their views on conservation and the benefits humans gain by using natural resources. Two of the categories – Protectionists and Pluralists – were similar, and together included 65 percent of respondents. People in these categories were concerned about the effects of climate change on trout populations, and were willing to take fewer fishing trips to affected sites. The main differences between the two groups were those of degree – the Protectionists, who represented 18 percent of all respondents, were more concerned than the Pluralists and more likely to favor strict conservation. The Pluralists were by far the largest group, representing 47 percent of all respondents.

A third category, the Dominionistic, who represented 18 percent of all respondents, tended to strongly agree that since trout provide food, jobs, and recreation opportunities, they are valuable to humans. However, they disagreed with the statement that fish had as much of a right to exist as humans, and were less likely to change their fishing habits, even under hypothetical reductions in trout populations. The fourth category, the Distanced, represented 17 percent of all respondents, and their answers to conservation questions were similar to answers of those in the Dominionistic group. However, the Distanced also saw minimal economic and personal value in trout fishing.

The demographics of the four groups were consistent with findings from other studies. For example, people in the Dominionistic group were more likely to be older males with higher incomes and more education than people in other groups, while people in the Protectionist group were more likely to be female or have lower incomes.

About 80 percent of the people who responded to the survey believed that climate change was occurring, although 30 percent thought climate change was caused by natural events. “In general, people were more concerned about future risks of climate change than present risks,” says Bowker. “In addition, differences in social and cultural values may serve as barriers among certain angler groups in perceiving the risk of climate change and adapting to changing resources.”

Read the full text of the article.

For more information, email J. Michael Bowker at mbowker@fs.fed.us.

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