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Delaware River Creel Survey
March 17 – October 21, 2002
Final Results

In 2002, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, on behalf of the Delaware River Basin Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative (an organization comprised of all Delaware River Basin States (PA, NJ, NY, and DE) and federal partners (USFWS and NMFS) undertook the task of securing a contract to conduct a creel survey that extended from Downsville, New York to Wilmington Delaware, nearly 280 river miles. This included approximately 64 miles of tidal river (Estuary). The survey was carried out by Versar, Inc.

One goal of the survey was to fulfill requirements of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Shad and River Herring Plan as well as document catch and harvest of river resident fishes within the basin. Survey results are now final and the following are some interesting details including summer fishing.

Based on aerial surveys, day-time angler effort was estimated to be 400,470 angler hours (120,046 trips). This amounts to nearly 1,500 angler hours of effort per river mile per season. Night-time angler effort was 25,689 hours (approximately 19,595 angler trips).

Although the proportion to the total day-time fishing effort was small, anglers found some success fishing at night-time. Most of the anglers fishing in the summer during night-time in the tidal portion of the river caught striped bass (4454 total estimated) while those fishing during night-time hours in the non-tidal portion caught catfish, american eels, and smallmouth bass (1605, 2522, and 1147 respectively).

Angler Catch and Harvest

Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth bass, Channel Catfish, and Trout
Smallmouth bass were the most frequently caught fish in the survey, a total of 98,393 were caught, 1,428 were harvested (~1%). Only 10,601 largemouth bass were caught with 981 harvested (9%). Smallmouth bass distribution was largely confined to the non-tidal river where most were caught (95%). For largemouth bass most were caught in the tidal river (96%). Approximately 58,703 channel catfish where caught with 9,183vwere harvested (17%). Most cats were taken in the tidal reach by boat anglers. Trout catch, as expected, was confined to the upper most river reaches. A total of 1,177 trout were caught with 216 harvested (8%). Catch of a variety of other species was also documented including 1,725 walleye.

American Shad, Striped Bass, and River Herring
A total of 35,281 American Shad were caught in 2002, only 6,627 shad were harvested (19%). Most (99%) shad were caught in April and May. We have noticed greater levels of catch and release fishing for many species in recent times including American shad. We attribute this in part to an increasing catch and release ethic. Interestingly about as many striped bass were caught, 36,328, as American shad. Only 538 striped bass were harvested (~1%). Highest catches for striped bass occurred in June with 80% of the total caught between April and July. About 7,553 river herring (alewife and blueback herring) were caught with 4,916 harvested (65%). Most (97%) of river herring were caught in April and May. Higher levels of harvest of river herring were attributed to their demand as bait for the popular coastal striped bass fishery. Pennsylvania and New Jersey have reduced recreational creel limits for river herring in an effort to curb harvest.

A summary of regulations for the Delaware River can be found in our Summary Book (see Delaware River under Season/Sizes/Creel Limits).

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission thanks state neighbors and funding partners in the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, Delaware Department of Natural Resource and Environmental Control, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. State neighbors also contributed substantive technical expertise in development and planning. Thanks are also extended to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for technical and Federal Aid guidance and the National Marine Fisheries Service for technical participation.

In addition to interviewing fisherman departing access areas at scheduled dates and times, to account for creeled fish, Delaware River fisherman were also counted during scheduled aerial overflights to complete the catch estimation process. The photo below depicts anglers fishing in the middle Delaware River during an aerial count.

Anglers Fishing in the Middle Delaware River
Anglers Fishing in the Middle Delaware River

The complete final report can be viewed from links below (All in PDF):

-- Areas 5 & 6

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