How do we increase iNat fish observations?


Hi all!

iNat has a low number of fish records compared to most vertebrate observations.
I’m extremely new to the hobby of microfishing and already I have the most fish species in my state (Illinois). On the one hand, it’s something to brag about, but on the other hand I am new and barely know my IDs as of yet. I should NOT be on top for my state, given the number of fish species and amount of fishing that goes on in Illinois.

Fishing is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the world, and that’s not reflected at all on iNat, which has less than 254,000 Ray-finned Fish observations and less than 7800 species (out of the about 40,000 in the world). For comparison, iNaturalist has approximately 379,000 Odonata observations and around 2300 species (out of about 5,000 species). This seems imbalanced given the popularity of fishing over dragonflies. Obviously, dragonflies can be easier to spot than fish, but at the same time, with the amount of money and time spent on fishing or diving across the globe, iNaturalist should have many more observations of fish.

So, the question I ask become two-parted. How do we get people already engaged in fishing to report their observations on iNaturalist? And how do we promote looking for fish to people who already use iNaturalist?


I might just try any get involved with our local sports fishing club! One issue might be in having geo tagged observations, as a lot of fishermen are quite guarded over their gps “marks”.


I assume there are forums for fisher-people–perhaps posting there and asking for their fishing pictures? The first day of fishing season in Delaware makes the major state parks look like the malls during holiday shopping, so there are a lot of people interested in the sport here. (I actually like seeing people fishing, and the people I’ve encountered who are fishing have been very nice.) I agree it would be great to see more fish on the site.

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I’ve been considering getting into microfishing and species fishing as well. For the CNC in SF Bay Area two years ago I went to docks and asked fishermen to let me check out their catch. Some were cool with showing off. I got white sturgeon for the count that way.


The City Nature Challenge has been very successful around the globe so the timing might be great to encourage people to keep sharing… We plan to rerun a very informal Oceans Week project again this year - what are your thoughts re including any fish? this gives everyone until June to reach out to a few local groups. I will contact the IGFA (International Game Fishing Association, Florida).


When I see people fishing here in NYC, I usually ask them if they caught anything, and they usually look at me suspiciously and say no. I think they wonder if I am policing them to try to see if they are keeping ones below the size limit.


Seining is a good way to catch a lot of small fish that can nonetheless be ID’ed to the species level.

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An interesting thing to note is that underwater drones rated up to 150 meters are now commercially available. They aren’t cheap, but they are likely to cost less than a typical underwater photography setup for scuba diving.

It really would be possible to find some interesting creatures in the 30-150 meter depth range where scuba diving is uncommon. Even at more shallow depths the battery lifetime will exceed the amount of time a scuba diver can stay at the depths and the lack of bubbles might scare wildlife less. Also, in cold and remote locations this may be a much more practical way to explore.


This has proven to be a huge success: Australasian Fishes
We are fortunate to have many skilled ID’ers that continually dedicate their time in assisting with ID’s, in my opinion this has led to an influx of observations.

So the stronger the reputation for a go-to place for fish ID the more observations of fish.


Last year I was in Zanzibar, and there was a fish market with fresh fish, taken straight from the sea. I documented as far as I could. I marked them as “captive”, would that be ok?


I think underwater life will always have less observations than terrestrial life (fishes are the most obvious example, but ascidians/sea squirts, sponges, other invertebrates, and underwater plants are even worse in this respect). This will be because the environment is less accessible. In one respect, we just have to live with this. On the other hand, for those people who post observations to help find out what it is (as opposed to those who already know), having a pool of people who can ID their observation is the key to better engagement. As @w_martin said, one way of doing this is to use groups to help centralise observations for a particular taxon or location, and to help maintain a body of related experts. On a personal note, the best way to improve the pool of identifiers is to become a better one yourself. I try to learn as much as I can, so I can better help people ID their observations, and also try to find niches, where not a lot of expertise exists now.


I don’t fish myself so I have only 2 or 3 fish observations. But every time I walk by a river or a lake where people are fishing I try to find courage to ask someone there to let me take some pictures of their catch. I haven’t tried that yet because I’m afraid the fishermen will be suspicious of me. :D


i think if you focus on people who are fishing you will always get poor results because people don’t want to share their fishing spots. Same with hunting, if you ask people where they went, they usually don’t want to tell you. In the least make sure to emphasize that things can be obscured (though that data is a bit less valuable), and maybe also focus on other methods of sampling fish that people can use.

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I think we should be encouraging people to post snorkeling and diving photos, or photos of rock-pooling and dip-netting. Fishing with a hook is invasive and harmful and should in my opinion not be encouraged on a nature site, which should promote respect for nature and living things.


Let’s not go down the hunting/fishing rabbit hole again. iNat isnt gonna take a position on that stuff either way nor should they.


The third sentence in the about section of iNaturalist is this:
“What’s more, by recording and sharing your observations, you’ll create research quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature.”

It seems pretty clear that protecting nature is one of the goals of iNaturalist, as it should be on a site like this. Otherwise what’s the point of collecting data? Not taking a position = endorsing.

But I’ll shut up about it because I know keeping the peace is more important to iNat than protecting animals.


While I don’t personally fish, the individuals I know personally who are most passionate and involved in studying and conserving fish and their habitats all seem to be into “species fishing”/microfishing/whatever. It makes sense to me that an inclusive platform like iNaturalist is not going to take a hard stance that aligns with any one hardline perspective on how to interpret the specific statement you’re quoting when there’s an obvious diversity of viewpoints on the subject among its users. Even if somehow there really is a case to be made that proves that one of these viewpoints is abstractly Righteously Right and the other abjectly wrong, this is probably not the arena in which that’s going to be sorted. Insinuating that this adds up to iNat caring more about maintaining some status quo than protecting wildlife is disingenuous.

Back to the actual topic:

As someone with very few fish observations but who would like to observe more, but is not inclined to add a time/money investment into rod and tackle fishing (there are too many other things to do already!) I would love to read a guide written by a fellow iNat user on other methods of fish sampling, sort of like the writeups for mothlighting. Are there good simple traps to make/use? Are certain types or brands of nets most useful and reliable? How are these best deployed, in what different habitats? What’s the best method to take clear identifying photos of whatever you catch in them, ideally with minimal stress induced before returning them to their habitats?

I know a guy who photographs for the “Meet Your Neighbors” project with an awesome custom made plexiglass tank setup for photographing aquatics that he nets, but it’s a bit more unwieldy and pricey than necessary if you just need evidence-quality photos for iNat rather than that project’s very high standards.


I’m unlikely to try to net fish for photos because I’d probably fall in, but would you need a fishing license to net and release fish? Just curious.


Good question and I am guessing the answer varies from place to place. You’d have to find a pretty bored warden if they bugged you about netting tiny fish though.


I fall in a lot. And yes, at least in my state you need to abide by the legal rules and get a license (which I have). Some areas do not permit nets.

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