Sustainability is a very popular topic these days. With climate change constantly looming over us, ocean quality continues to plummet, and more and more fish waste occurs each day due to overfishing; sometimes we as anglers take this as a reflection of our own behavior. So let’s talk about how to practice sustainable fishing.
As recreational anglers, are we doing everything we can to protect our environment and show our waters how much we care? For most of us, the answer is probably, no. But, that’s okay. Awareness is the key and while it might not seem like there is much we can do, it only takes small changes each day to make a big difference.
In this article, I want to focus on sustainability as a recreational angler. Even if you only fish a few times a month, there are little changes you can make to have a tremendous impact on the quality of your local water. All of these things we do may eventually trickle down and make a difference on a much larger scale. You never know!
Practice Proper Catch-and-Release
C&R is likely one of the most widely debated topics in the fishing community. The reason for this is because so many fish die when you throw them back. As many as 50% of fish that are caught and thrown back into the water can die but it all depends on the location of the hook.
The key to a proper catch-and-release is to ensure that you don’t keep the fish out of water for longer than one minute and that you hold them properly. One thing that makes me cringe is when I see bass anglers bending the jaw of the fish open so far that it extends far beyond their natural range of motion.
What they don’t realize is that they’re actually breaking the fish’s jaw which makes it impossible for them to feed properly. So, when you go and throw them back in the water, they swim away like they’re fine but you aren’t seeing the fact that they will slowly die the next few weeks because they can’t feed.
In reality, all fish that are caught have a higher chance of dying when you return them to the water. This is due to decompression sickness which is the same thing that happens to humans who travel too far under the water.
If you can remember as a kid, you would swim down to the bottom of the pool sometimes in a deep end and you’d start to feel the pressure in your ears. That’s the sudden change in pressure. Over time, this can lead to bleeding, bulging blood vessels, and ruptured organs.
The same thing happens to fish. The longer you keep them out of the water, the harder it will be for them to survive when you put them back.
Another issue that fish encounter when you pull them out of the water is the removal of their protective coating. This makes them more vulnerable when you throw them back.
The overall theme here is that we need to not only be more willing to practice catch-and-release, but we need to do it properly when we do so, otherwise, there is no point because the fish will die anyway.
Clean Up After Yourself
Many of us see fishing as an opportunity to hang out with friends and family, have a good time, and make a whole day out of it. Sometimes we take our entire family to the water and fish all day long without a care in the world. One thing we neglect to think about is how we’re impacting the water and the environment while we do it.
It drives me absolutely insane when I find anglers leaving a mess behind, littering, or tossing dead fish onto the shore.
With the way things are right now, recreational angling has a bad enough reputation in the animal rights world, we don’t need this stain on our sport as well.
As an angler, it’s your duty and privilege to protect and care about the waters that you fish. You need to take this seriously and do everything you can to clean up after yourself, leave it as you found it, and protect the fish at all costs.
Adhere to Seasons and Bag Limits
Every state has different guidelines in terms of when their fishing seasons starts and dictating when you can take certain fish, and how many of them you can take. For example, I live in Pennsylvania and bass are a restricted species which means you can only keep them during a specific time of year and you have a limit to how many you can take per day.
For largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass caught in lakes, the season runs from June 12th through October 31st. The bass needs to be at least 15-inches and you can only take four combined species per day.
A significant part of getting and maintaining a fishing license is agreeing to the limits and restrictions in your state. If you’re caught taking fish that are undersized or taking more than you should, you’ll get fined and potentially get your license revoked.
These limits exist for a reason.
You’re not the only angler out there taking four largemouths a day. Without these limits, there would be people out there abusing the system and taking as many fish as they could catch with no regard for the population and the health of the water.
In addition to bag limits and seasons, there are additional restrictions based on your state as well. In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to catch bass and string them up without immediately returning them to the water during an offseason. So, if you catch bass and you want to take it back to the shore to take a picture, you can do it; but if you get caught expect a DCNR warden to give you a hard time about it.
The ultimate goal of these rules and regulations is not to ruin your fun or make it more difficult, it’s to protect the population and ensure that we have recreational fishing for years to come.
Using Technology Responsibly
Use your fish-finding technology in a responsible way. More and more technology comes out each day to help make fishing easier on the angler but this just puts more stress on the fish population which makes it harder for them to thrive and live comfortably.
While using fish finders is fun and makes for a more enjoyable experience, we shouldn’t abuse the luxury by fishing with multiple rods and cleaning out our lakes and ponds. Use fish-finding technology to locate honey holes and then let your instinct do the rest.
Keep It Old Fashioned
I believe in doing things the old-fashioned way because I think it preserves the actual sport of fishing without making it feel so commercialized. There are a million different lures that do a million different things. You’ve got people with bass boats that cost more than the trucks that pull them with these giant motors pumping fumes and toxic gas into the water. None of this is good for the environment and it’s not good for the population.
Consider sizing down your boat and motor to an outboard trolling motor and even row when you can. Obviously, I realize this doesn’t make sense for everyone and not every angler is willing to do this but keep in mind the difference that one small decision can make.
When you look out onto the water and see boats lined up from shore to shore, you have to sit back for a second and realize how bad that is for the water itself and the fish that call it home. We can’t get so carried away that we forget to realize that we’re breaking into their habitat, tricking them into biting something that will hurt them, pulling them into a boat, and then throwing them back just for fun.
Never forget the privilege we have and how easily it can get abused if we’re not careful.
I in no way intend for this article to be a scolding session or attack on the angling community. I spend as much time on the water as the next guy but I think it’s important that we take the time to acknowledge that we have a role in water conservation. We as anglers have a place in this discussion and it’s important that we don’t neglect the role we play.
Also, keep in mind that the work doesn’t stop when you pack up. Sustainability in all areas of our life is just as important.
All of us might be able to do just a little better each day and those baby steps will make a huge difference down the road. Think about it! Good luck out there!