Catch & Release Explained
Catch & Release
An angler releasing a thresher shark at the side of the boat.
What is Catch & Release Angling?
Catch & Release (C&R) is the term used to describe a situation where a fish that is caught, is subsequently released unharmed with the intention that it survives to continue its existence in its natural environment. The fish may be released from the hook without being handled or ever being removed from the water, or it may be temporarily removed to facilitate unhooking. It may be temporarily transferred to a live tank or a keep net before being returned alive to its natural environment.
Circumstances under which Catch & Release is practised
There are many reasons why Catch & Release is practised.
1. A captured fish may be smaller than the legal minimum landing size in which case, releasing the fish is mandatory.
2. Some angling organisations recommend their members abide by minimum and/or maximum size limits for conservation and ethical reasons. Consequently, members who choose to comply with such recommendations will release a proportion of the fish captured voluntarily.
3. An angler may individually choose, for conservation and ethical reasons, to adopt their own personal minimum and /or maximum retention sizes and consequently release a proportion of fish captured voluntarily.
4. A legal ‘bag limit’ (maximum number of fish allowed to be retained) may exist, in which case, any captured fish that would lead to the limit being exceeded, are returned.
5. A voluntary bag limit may be adopted, selected by the individual or organisation of which the angler is a member. Any captured fish that would lead to such limits being exceeded if retained, will be released.
6. A captured fish may be a species the angler chooses not to eat.
7. The circumstances under which a fish caught cannot be retained or stored for immediate or later consumption.
The Catch & Release debate
The level of voluntary (self imposed) catch & release and compliance with mandatory catch & release (adherence to legally enforceable regulations) is dependent upon the prevailing perception among recreational anglers that the successful survival of a released fish will contribute to conservation and better fishing in the long term. Anglers need to believe they are ‘making a difference’.
In many parts of the world, marine fishery resources are managed within a framework that embraces recreational fishing together with commercial fishing and fishery resources are subject to a fully integrated management approach with restrictions applied to both commercial and recreational fishers where the objective is to realize the optimum socio-economic return to society.
In such circumstances, mandatory minimum/maximum landing sizes and recreational angling bag limits frequently result in high levels of catch & release. Further more, there are many instances where the quality of the angling experience has improved as a result of restrictive management* that has addressed stock depletion and restored previously collapsed stocks. Under such circumstances, the willingness to practice catch & release is considerably enhanced as recreational fishers develop an increased level of confidence in fisheries management.
In Europe, the process of development of marine fisheries policy has ignored recreational fishing. The Common Fisheries policy (CFP) has evolved within a cultural mindset that has only ever considered commercial fishing. Indeed, many commentators identify the core failure of the CFP as being industry-centric rather than resource based. The CFP is now widely acknowledged as having failed to look after the public fishery resources with many stocks far less abundant than they were a mere four decades ago and represented by mainly smaller and immature individuals. Consequently the quality of the recreational sea angling experience for millions of EU citizens has been significantly diminished as publically-owned fishery resources have been commercially over-exploited within a management framework that has prioritized short term survival of commercial fishing.
The widely acknowledged failures of the CFP, together with the lack of recognition of the validity of recreational sea angling and exclusion of recreational sea angling as an equivalently important player to commercial fishing in the CFP, has contributed to a prevalent perception amongst the recreational sea angling community that European fisheries management is set to continue to fail with an ongoing decline in the quality of the sea angling experience.
Some recreational anglers are therefore less willing to embrace catch & release believing the fish they capture and return are likely to be captured commercially - resulting in minimal, if any, benefit to the fishery resources and long term improved quality of angling.
*What is regarded in European marine fisheries management as ‘restrictive’ for recreational and commercial fishers should not be confused with restrictive management in some other global locations. Restrictions in, for example, the striped bass fishery on the east coast of the USA are of a completely different magnitude to anything in the EU. See: http://www.asmfc.org/ - Striped bass – State Regulations.
Survival Rates From Catch & Release
A number of scientific research projects from around the World for both marine and freshwater fish illustrate that survival rates vary enormously and are dependent on species, fishing methods, water temperature, air temperature, how they are handled and the depth of water they are caught in.
At one end of the spectrum, mackerel, even if lightly handled and promptly returned, are likely to die even when they are seen to swim off strongly. Heavily scaled fish such as grey mullet and bass are believed to have high survival rates and bass, captured by rod and line, have been tagged for research purposes over many years.
In Australia, research on angler captured grey mullet suggests a mortality of 4 per cent . Members of the elasmobranch family of fish are also subjected to regular tagging with little or no evidence of high rates of subsequent mortality.
Members of the gadoid family of fish such as cod, can be successfully caught and released, even when captured from deep water, providing they are bought to the surface slowly and handled minimally. There can be no doubt that whilst more research is required for different species under different circumstances, there already exists sufficient research to show that the practice of catch & release recreational angling, whilst facilitating socially and economically valuable angling activity, need not result in unacceptable levels of mortality - depending on the intensity of angling being carried out.
Many anglers have adopted additional practices and methods for increasing the survival rates of fish released after capture. These include the use of 'circle' hooks, minimising the unnecessary use of treble hooks and striking bites early to avoid deep hooking.
1. [Post release mortality of angled sand mullet (Mugilidae) by Broadhurst, Butcher and Culis]. Published by ELSEVIER.
More information on catch & release can be found by clicking on the links and downloading the documents below: