It wasn’t that many year ago I recall writing in one of my columns that the practice of catch and release fishing was being practised by an ever-increasing number of anglers.
I’m not so sure if that statement holds true anymore. Many of the anglers I’ve talked to in the last couple of years say they are keeping at least part of their catch on a more regular basis. In part, because of the cost of putting food on the table and, also, because of the quality or, rather, questionable quality of some fish being sold in grocery stores. Some of the fish sold in stores is farmed in Asia and either renamed or relabelled. Either way, it just seems that a lot more anglers are keeping wild, fresh-caught fish from our lakes and streams.
This is in spite of the fact that a number of salmon and trout waters in the Interior have been designated catch- and-release fishing only in an attempt to preserve the quality of our sport fishing. In this province, catch and release is promoted by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC as a management tool in an effort to reduce the cost of rearing and using stocked fish, while many other conservationist groups advocated catch and release as a way to ensure the sustainability of natural fish stocks.
There have been countless studies that have measured both the effects of various types of fishing tackle and angling techniques on fish mortality and, in pretty well each and every study, the link between the causes of fish mortality, the types of gear used and techniques used to both bring the fish in and subsequently release the fish have all boiled down to one thing – the amount of stress fish are subjected to directly affects post release survival rates.
To put things in simple terms, the manner in which fish are caught is important. Most fish are caught using either artificial or some form of natural bait. Studies have compared mortality rates and angling methods and have found that the use of artificial baits such as lures or flies, does significantly reduce both the incidence of fish swallowing bait too deeply (to remove the hook without injury) and the rate of fish mortality. Studies also seem to indicate that the physiological effects of stress (as a result of being caught) are usually pretty well reversed within a 24-hour period.
Common sense, as well as scientific data, show that the longer fish are out of the water, the more they become stressed and that a minimal amount of handling not only reduces the amount of stress but also the risk of physical injury due to struggling and loss of body slime. Holding fish out of the water also puts stress on a fish’s inner body and organs which are, in part, held in place by the external force of water pressure. It is therefore important to keep a fish on the surface but still in the water, when removing the hook. Any fish displaying signs of exhaustion or stress should be resuscitated by holding the fish with its head pointing into the current. In still waters, fish can be gently moved back and forth to increase the amount of oxygenated water passing through the gills. Only when the fish demonstrates a stable equilibrium and ability to swim on its own, should it be safely released.
As for those anglers who want to keep what they catch to eat, maybe they should consider only catching what they need (within the regulations) and then simply calling it a day.
I’ve more or less always done my part by simply not catching very many fish – although I have to admit that sometimes it is due more to a lack of skill than it is a conscious effort to limit my catch.