Fisheries Managers Need to Keep a Watchful Eye on Forward-Facing Sonar

New fish-finding technology has changed the way many fish.

Forestville, WI (October 3, 2023) – Recreational anglers have long benefited from advancements in technology. From fully-rigged fishing boats filled with high-tech electronics to amazing reels, rods, lures and even superlines, better tech has equated to more effective, fun, and productive results. But there is concern among some anglers about one of the latest and most incredible advances to hit the fishing scene. It is called forward-facing sonar (FFS), and angling experts are heralding it as far superior to any recreational fishing electronics feature ever created.

“This technology has been around for about three years now and it is truly amazing,” says Patrick Neu, president of the National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA). “It is, quite frankly, far superior to any fish-finding electronics I’ve ever used, and therein lies the concern,” states Neu. “As the technology comes down in price and even more anglers utilize it to find and catch greater numbers of fish in both freshwater and saltwater, there will be much higher catch rates. In species that are targeted for harvest, especially, higher catch rates ultimately lead to more stress on the fisheries.”

For this reason, continues Neu, the National Professional Anglers Association feels it is important to do its part as steward of the resource to help fisheries managers understand the effect this technology may have on fish stocks. “We need to help fisheries managers across the country understand how effective this new technology can be, and we need to assist them in any way we can as they begin to look into the effects of increased catches due to this new technology.”

Essentially, FFS allows anglers to scan 360-degrees around the boat (or under the ice), finding fish with amazing efficiency and watching how they react to a lure or live bait in real time. This technology makes the fish infinitely easier to find and follow, even in open water, whether suspended, on the bottom, or tucked into structure. FFS is a game changer for anglers who embrace the technology and learn to use it effectively. As of now, only a small percentage of anglers have this technology on their boats, points out Neu, which is no surprise since the current systems run approximately $4,000 per unit. But as with all technology, the price is likely to come down in the next few years. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see this technology available at or near $1,000 in the next 3-4 years,” says Neu.

NPAA President Pat Neu being inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame by longtime NPAA and FFHoF member Al Lindner.

INSIGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS FROM A FISHING LEGEND

Freshwater Fishing Hall of Famer and a Lifetime NPAA member Al Lindner agrees, noting he already sees FFS making a substantial difference on some of the waters he fishes. “Technology never goes backwards,” states Lindner, “so this is not going away. It has been a real revelation in terms of learning about fish movement and their reaction to lures and baits. It shows the number of fish in various locations and the direction they are moving. It allows anglers to uncover and explore what used to be hidden sanctuary locations where we never suspected the fish might hold. The technology is amazing. It is changing the way people fish and making them more productive than ever before. That brings up the question of if we are putting too much pressure on the fish stocks we pursue when employing forward-facing sonar?”

Overall, says Lindner, it is too early to fully comprehend the magnitude of what we are dealing with, but he has already seen at least two fishing situations where it has clearly demonstrated a negative impact. “The harvest levels and damage to crappie populations on some very popular waters around the country have been staggering because the fish can no longer escape our vision,” he explains, “especially when they winter in tight schools. It used to take some effort to stay on crappies when they moved. That is no longer the case when you use FFS. Some crappie populations have been greatly impacted.”

Muskie is another species taking a hit, expands Lindner. “These used to be the fish of 1,000 casts. Now, you move around with your trolling motor, look at the screen and they stick out like a sore thumb because they are so big. You cannot miss them – and when you find them you many times catch them!”

According to Lindner, many people in the fishing industry are seeing similar results – and he, like Neu, believes that FFS technology is now beginning to take a bite out of the walleye fishery as well. Both agree the time for fisheries managers to act is now, preemptively, before the effects of FFS technology are compounded by greater availability, additional improvements, and more usage. “It’s been my experience that state agencies and fisheries managers usually don’t move until fisheries collapse,” states Lindner. “We need to get out in front of this before it becomes a genuine problem. There is no time to waste.”

To be sure, neither Neu nor Lindner want to ban this technology. The genie is already out of the bottle, and FFS is a significant improvement that will help anglers at every level catch more fish. “What we need right now is to make the appropriate state agencies and fishery managers aware of the extra stress and possible increased mortality rate this new advancement may have on specific fish populations in both freshwater and saltwater environments in the near future,” says Neu. “At NPAA, we believe the time to act is now. Open seasons for harvest, possession limits and length regulations all need to be analyzed for the species that are proving most vulnerable to this new technology, and we need to adjust those parameters accordingly.”

In other words, concludes Neu, this is a true case of better safe than sorry. “It is clear that appropriate changes to fisheries management need to be in place before FFS technology explodes on the scene. It is my hope that technology may become a critical part of fisheries management in the near future as well. I envision cell phone applications that can help fisheries managers gather data, and the use of artificial intelligence that will help guide them to quickly adjust harvest rates to protect and allow the fisheries to flourish into the future.”

NPAA represents all who make a living in the sportfishing industry. Membership includes everyone from guides and captains to tournament anglers, fishing department associates/management/shop owners, manufacturing personnel, engine mechanics, and professional rep groups. In addition to superior networking opportunities, sportfishing advocacy and promoting entry into the sport, the organization offers a monthly member newsletter, a weekly industry NewsBLAST, and access to significant discounts on gear and services provided by many of its nearly 80 supporting partners.

For more information on joining the NPAA and exploring the many benefits memberships provide, visit npaa.net.

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