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Catch-and-Release Is the Core of Sustainability



Special to the Valley News
Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sustainability is a concept that has risen to the forefront in the 21st century. The idea is to carefully monitor natural resources so that they are not depleted by overharvesting. This allows us to preserve the planet and leave something for future generations to enjoy.

The notion of sustaining fish populations is near and dear to my heart. In my home state of Florida, I watched certain species dwindle from overfishing and loss of habitat. A few of the lakes I fished in childhood actually saw species disappear altogether.

When I was a boy, my family fished a body of water near Gainesville called Newnan’s Lake. We trolled for crappie, which were called speckled perch by the locals. On a return visit to the lake 30 years later, I learned that because of pollution and change of water levels, no one had caught a speckled perch there in more than 10 years.

I witnessed similar changes in the saltwater fishery. Commercial overfishing had severely decimated the flounder, redfish, snook and mullet populations, species that were plentiful 30 years earlier. Nature’s bounty had declined to the point where regulations had to be instituted.

These regulations established bag limits and size restrictions. The use of gill nets for commercial fishing was also banned. It didn’t take long for certain species to increase in numbers. Left alone, nature can rebound quickly.

When faced with a situation like sustainability, it is the nature of human beings to ask, “What can one person do to remedy this situation?” We often feel helpless, like solving the problem is beyond our capabilities. It can seem overwhelming.

Fortunately, there is one simple solution for New Hampshire anglers who care about sustaining local fish populations — catch-and-release.

In the past 40 years, the concept of catch-and-release has gained popularity with recreational anglers who pursue the thrill of the catch but don’t necessarily need to keep what they have caught. Releasing a big smallmouth bass or a fat rainbow trout is just like stocking one. If the angler wants a trophy for the wall, he or she might measure the fish and then take a photograph so the taxidermist can replicate the fish without killing it.

Though catch-and-release is easy, there are some guidelines help to make sure the fish actually survives after it is returned to the water:

Use barbless hooks. A barbless hook is easier to remove, especially if the fish swallowed it deep in the gullet.

Don’t overplay a fish. The fight puts the fish under stress, which can contribute to its demise even after release. Land it as quickly as possible.

Remember that as soon as you remove a fish from the water, it can’t breathe. It’s would be like holding your head underwater. Immediately ease the fish back into the lake. It should swim off on its own without hesitation.

Don’t use a net. When a fish comes in contact with the net, the slime layer over its body is damaged. This layer protects the fish’s skin from disease and parasites.

Of course, if you don’t use a net, that means handling a fish with your hands. When I catch a bass, I avoid touching its body by grabbing its lower jaw with my thumb and forefinger. This allows me to lift the fish, take the hook out of its mouth and return it to the water without injury.

Trout need to be handled more gingerly. Before you touch the fish, wet your hands. This will prevent the slime layer from being disturbed.

To release the trout, place the fish back in the water with the head pointing into the current. Hold the trout by the tail until it regains enough strength to swim away on its own. Some anglers will keep the fish in the water even after it has been landed.

Toothy critters like pike and pickerel are a challenge. Because of sharp, pointed teeth, it is impossible to lip them. Again, the fish should be only touched with wet hands. There are also gloves designed for this very purpose.

If you are inclined to keep a big one for the table, bear in mind that N.H. Fish and Game recommends that you do not eat more than one meal a month containing fish caught in local waters. Of course, there are some activists who frown on any kind of sport where another creature is disturbed in its natural habitat. But with more than 60 million anglers in the United States it is unlikely that fishing will go away as a national pursuit.

So the next time you boat a three-pound smallie, think about restocking it so another angler to come along will have a chance to catch it.