Featured Seawords Article
Saving the Throwback: Tips on Saving the Stock
There may come a day when people will have to fish in designated reserves and lakes, where fishing in the open ocean is a thing of yesteryear. Fishermen and activists alike are dreading that day. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, overfishing still occurs in 45% of the fish stocks that are under restoration plans. One of the most interesting conservation strategies is the catch and release approach. Catch and release is aimed to prevent overharvesting but the mortality rate of fish caught and thrown back is still substantial. Here are some tips to ensure that the fish you throw back keeps on swimming long after the release.
1. Avoid catch and release when deep sea fishing. Though catch and release tactics tend to work well on shallow water fish, deep sea fish species are vulnerable to “barotrauma.” This is when fish are not able to adapt to the extreme change in pressure quick enough. Often the swim-bladder expands and bulges out of the eyes and mouth and compresses the internal organs of the fish. Even if it isn’t noticeable on sight, the fish is usually unable to swim or dive to due internal pressure changes. Some fishermen have used a needle to deflate the swim bladder before release but recent studies by the Central Fisheries Board with the U.S Department of Agriculture have found the practice to be equally as dangerous.
2. Choosing artificial baits. Several studies indicate that there is a lower mortality rate associated with artificial lures. Scientists believe that lures and flies reduce the rate of deep hooking and bleeding. The reason is because the active jabbing motion tends to catch on the lip of the fish at a much quicker rate. Though not all species of fish can be caught with artificial bait, artificial bait should be the preferred choice when applicable.
3. Practice rapid landing and limit the amount of fish play and tug. Minimize the exhaustion and extreme exercise of the hooked fish. Try to limit the amount of shock and stress to the fish. Heavier tackle and high strength lines reduce the mortality rate and are less likely to result in complications that may affect the survival after release.
4. Best handling is least handling. Experimental results and common sense have shown that minimized handling reduces post-catch stress and shock. It also lowers the likelihood of physical injury due struggle, loss of body slime and blood loss. Using purpose-designed unhooking devices and handling tools enable quick release and limit the amount of necessary handling. Using specialized handling tools is preferable to nets. They often damage the fish’s sensitive fins, gills, slime coat and scales. They also take an increasing amount of time to remove which increases the handling induced stress.
5. All in the release. It might seem like to overkill but fishermen who put consideration in release zones tended to have lower mortality rates. Fish should be released in “safe” areas. These are areas with low predator access and low stress such as an area with minimal currents. These recovery areas give the fish time to recover from the catch. Some fishermen even hold fish that are showing signs of stress or exhaustion using a designated grip or handling tool in a recovery area (facing the current or gently moved in a figure-eight pattern) to isolate them from predators and allow them to recover.