Popularizing Catch + Release Fishing in Mongolia

Project|| Introducing catch-and-release fishing in Mongolia. (completed as employee of Rare)

Location|| Six villages along the Onon River, Mongolia.

Clients|| World Wildlife Fund – Mongolia; Mongolia River Outfitters; Asia Development Bank.

Social Challenge|| Local fishermen greatly enjoy fishing for the “monster fish”, taimen, in the Onon River as it is a large, strong predator fish that puts up a good fight and makes for a fun sport. Overfishing of taimen by local fishers has reduced its numbers, especially of the larger ones, which creates an imbalance in the river ecosystem.

Members of a fishing club display campaign posters, brochures, and digital cameras (photo: G. Balbar)
Members of a fishing club display campaign posters, brochures, and digital cameras (photo: G. Balbar)

Audience Insight|| Mongolians do not rely on fish for their source of protein, so taimen fishing is purely for recreation. Based on observational, qualitative, and quantitative research, it became clear that fishers killed taimen they caught to hang on their wall as a form of bragging rights. Additionally, many fishers were not aware how unique taimen fish are to their villages and country, or how to properly release a fish after it’s caught.

Local fishermen learn to bend barbs on hooks to prevent damage to taimen (photo: G. Balbar)
Local fishermen learn to bend barbs on hooks to prevent damage to taimen (photo: G. Balbar)

Communication Strategy|| “If you catch and release taimen, you can save the largest, longest living fish and protect your own recreational fun”. This strategy was designed to showcase two benefits for adopting catch-and-release behavior that would be personally meaningful for fishers: saving a species that is unique to their home while still enjoying their sport fishing habits. Campaign messages and materials demonstrated the proper techniques for catch-and-release fishing, while introducing a new norm of taking photos of the catch for bragging rights instead of hanging taimen on their walls.

Taimen mascot and fisherman actor perform a story of catch-and-release at schools (photo: G. Balbar)
Taimen mascot and fisherman actor perform a story of catch-and-release at schools (photo: G. Balbar)

Outreach Plan|| In addition to reaching the entire community through events, printed materials, and outdoor signage, heavy investment was made on a group of 30 well-known, popular fishers who lived and fished in the 6 villages. These fishers were key influencers over all other fishers, yet caught the most fish illegally. WWF-Mongolia worked closely with these fishers to form local fishing clubs, provide training and support in adopting catch-and-release fishing practices, and empowered them to steward and protect the river. This effort included regular fishing club meetings, clothing that identified them as fishing club members and taimen stewards, provision of digital cameras to capture photos of taimen caught, and training in removing barbs from fishing hooks and proper methods for safely releasing fish.

Billboards in each town show local fishers demonstrating catch-and-release (photo: G. Balbar)
Billboards in each town show local fishers demonstrating catch-and-release (photo: G. Balbar)

Results||

  • During the first summer of the campaign, members of the fishing club took 250 photos of taimen they caught and successfully released and returned to the river.
  • Discussions among fishers about releasing taimen back to the river instead of keeping it increased by 75pp in one year (12.3% to 87.3%), and 76.9% of fishers answered “take a catch-and-release picture with camera” when asked the question “how do you show to others you are a good fisherman?”
  • Taimen population increased 48.7% (~288 fish) in the first year, and has continued to grow as the catch-and-release campaign has expanded to other parts of the country.