Practice Proper Release Handling
Many unintended fish deaths and injuries can be prevented by following these simple handling rules for fish you intend to release:
- Be attentive and set the hook immediately to prevent the fish from swallowing the hook (setting the hook is not necessary with circle hooks).
- If the hook is swallowed, do not forcefully remove it. Cut the line off as close to the mouth as possible and then release the fish.
- Leave the fish in the water while removing the hook. If you need to remove the fish from the water, wet your hands or use a wet rag in order to preserve the protective mucous layer on the outside of the fish.
- Don’t use the gills or eyes as a handhold. On larger fish, remember to support under the belly.
- Return the fish to the water head first. Revive a fatigued fish by supporting it in a swimming position in the water and gently move it back and forth until it can swim off.
- Use knotless landing nets. They’re less damaging to the fish and tangle hooks less. Only use gaffs on fish you intend to keep.
Use Circle Hooks, Wide Gap Hooks, and Barbless Hooks
- Use circle, wide gap and barbless hooks to greatly reduce the chance of lethal wounding for released fish.
- Use these hooks for bait fishing and for inattentive/inexperienced anglers to reduce post release mortality levels.
- Consider using single hooks in lieu of trebles or doubles – easier on the fish as well as the angler.
- If fishing with artificials, flatten the hook barb with a pair of pliers or file down the barb.
Use Tackle That Minimizes Unintended Harm to Fish
- Use larger hooks or baits to avoid capture of small fish.
- DO NOT USE Yo-Yo Rigs (natural bait rigs where the bait is weighted with embedded lead and other hardware and tackle is not attached directly to the line).
- Tie all tackle to the main line to prevent loss. Lost bait rigs will inevitably be consumed by other fish, birds or marine mammals, oftentimes with deadly results.
No Wanton Waste
- Carefully release all fish that are unwanted, or prohibited by regulation. Even so called “nuisance species” play a valuable role in the marine ecosystem.
- Don’t throw them into the dunes, break their backs, etc. It’s wasteful and gives the sport a bad name!
- For trophy size fish consider a picture for the wall or a release mount vs. killing a large fish for a skin mount. Bottom line: if you kill it, eat it!
Minimize Fight Time
- Reduce the fight time. The longer the fish fights, the higher the stress level for the fish, which reduces the chances for recovery.
- Studies have shown that a fish that is played long and hard can die from the metabolic changes that take place in its body.
- Those that survive can take several days to return to their normal condition.
- Increased fight time is usually associated with tackle that is too small for the job. By using appropriately sized tackle, fight times can be reduced.
Properly Dispose of Trash and Unwanted Tackle
Marine debris such as synthetic fishing lines, plastic bait bags or containers, and six pack holders can all have undesirable effects on marine life. Fish, birds, marine mammals and sea turtles can swallow and die from ingesting these inedible materials or can become entangled in this debris, leading to wounding, starvation or immediate death. Properly dispose of all trash onshore. Remember—it ends up somewhere!
Don’t Damage the Habitat
- Fish Need Habitat! Damage to fish habitat causes damage to fish populations.
- Physical disturbances (for example propeller dredging of mudflats, anchoring in eelgrass meadows, wading into active spawning beds) can cause short or long term damage to fish resources and/or their critical habitats.
- Think before you act – can my activity damage my favorite species habitat or the habitat of the other species upon which it depends? A little care goes a long way in sensitive habitats.
- Remember – you’re just one of many people using that habitat time and time again.
Limit Your Bag vs. Bag Your Limit
- Consider taking only what is needed for consumption in the near term rather than trying to catch the bag limit every trip.
- Do you really need to take 10 bluefish home?
- Better fresh fish for the table tonight than freezer burned fish tossed in the trash in 6 months!