When I was a kid growing up in suburban Boston, I was a fisherman of single-minded addiction. There wasn't a brook, river, pond or lake within bicycling distance that I didn't visit on a regular basis. More often than not, my return trip home was complicated by a balance-busting pendulum of slimy, spiny fish destined for the pan.
In those days before cable television, I had no sense of the argument for catching a legal-sized fish and voluntarily releasing it. It just wasn't something I considered. Fish were for eating. Then the New England Sports Network found its way into the idiot box in our living room and I started watching the likes of Roland Martin, Jimmy Houston and Bill Dance catch giant largemouth bass by the boatload and LET THEM GO! At first, my 12-year-old brain just couldn't process what it was seeing. I thought they were all fools. I mean, who would go through all that trouble to drive down to Lake Okeechobee, catch a 7-pound bass, let it go and be satisfied to return to the dock empty handed?
|Spring 2010. I let it go.|
The tao of catch-and-release angling is stronger than ever. It's a simple sacrifice anyone can make to help them feel like they're practicing good conservation and protecting the resource. Over the years, however, I find myself starting to come full circle. I don't go fishing nearly as often as I used to or I'd like to. When I do, it's often with an unapologetic attitude of filling the cooler up. Of course, I follow all state and local regulations - keeping only fish of legal size and never taking more than my allotted limit (or fewer if my blood lust is satisfied early). I suppose this path I have chosen, to feed myself and my wife with as much natural and wild food as possible, has a lot to do with my current fishing philosophy. I have also been swayed by more than a few voices who argue the act of tricking a fish to bite something it believes to be food, wrestling it from its habitat and damaging its overall health by sapping its energy reserves and improperly handling it, only to release it so that you can do it again may be a bit, ummm... misguided. The polar opposite of catch-and-release would be the Swiss and German fisheries management philosophy that all fish brought to the net must be kept and utilized by the angler. Let it be known, I disagree with these mandates wholeheartedly, but I think it's interesting to see the other side of the coin.
I am slightly amused by those who believe practicing catch-and-release alone is an adequate strategy for preserving fish populations. I was recently directed to check out the group Greenfish, which seems to suggest this is the case. The web site makes some mention of "other conservation measures," but the overriding mission is to convince recreational anglers catch-and-release is the answer to all evils. (It should be noted that Greenfish is an apparel company that is out to make money. The boast that it donates a whopping 1% of profits to non-profit groups that tout the shared catch-and-release philosophy to the masses is rather unimpressive to me).
Food for thought should include the growing evidence that fish released by good-intentioned anglers suffer mortality rates due to their brief human encounters. A very short list might include these results for striped bass, trout and marlin. Note that the authors of these articles (and others, should you choose to investigate further) are often using the data to argue for or against catch-and-release fishing. In almost every study and species, the mortality rates are related to water conditions, how the fish were handled and what type of tackle they were caught with.
The point I'm trying to make is; while there is no doubt practicing catch-and-release is a tool for the conservation of many gamefish species, it is but a screwdriver in the box. Far more important are efforts to protect and preserve valuable fish habitat from development and pollution and maintain high water quality throughout the environment. If letting a trophy bass go back into the pond so it can spawn and produce future generations makes you feel good, keep doing it. If your passion for fishing goes beyond providing the raw materials for trout almondine, pursue it. Understand though (are you listening Greenfish?) there is a lot more to fisheries management and conservation than releasing your catch to fight again another day.
|For some fishermen, catching a mess is a worthy goal, and that's A-OK with me.|