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Catch & Release: Who Decides

By Christopher Smith, Principal Fisheries Biologist

Shawn Crouse / NJ Div. of Fish and Wildlife

Signs like these are appearing at many lakes throughout the state.
Although well-intentioned, this may not be in the best interest of the fishery.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife has observed a steady increase in the number of waterbodies managed by catch and release regulations in the last few years. These regulations have been established by local municipal or county government agencies and not by our agency. In most cases, the regulations were created with the best intent but unfortunately with a lack of sound science.

Fish and Wildlife completes extensive sampling and research before regulations are established or changed. Placing regulations on a waterbody that contradicts Fish and Wildlife’s established fishing regulations could have negative impacts on that fish population.

From a fisheries management perspective, unnecessary catch and release regulation can lead to overpopulation of a species; affecting growth rates, condition and population balance. From an angler’s perspective some may find catch and release regulations attractive, whereas for others it is a deterrent from fishing a waterbody.  Catch and release regulations in many cases have been utilized as a deterrent to anglers and not as an actual fisheries management tool. Remember, Fish and Wildlife manages the state’s resources for all residents.

The popularity of catch and release angling continues to grow every year. Not all anglers release fish for the same reasons. Some anglers release fish to maintain fish populations, others believe that the fish are not safe to eat and should be released, while some anglers simply go fishing for the sport and do not want to eat the fish. Despite the popularity of catch and release angling, others welcome the opportunity to harvest some fish from time to time. Let’s face it, fish are tasty! Other anglers want the chance to bring home the trophy fish of a lifetime.

Fishing regulations are established by the Division of Fish and Wildlife in order to protect and maintain balanced fish populations for all anglers to utilize and enjoy. As long as anglers adhere to the state fishing regulations the decision to “catch and keep” or “catch and release” should be left to the angler.

Fish and Wildlife recently utilized catch and release regulations in a very specific management situation to protect a developing fish population at Lake Audrey. This management strategy was appropriate for this waterbody. In other instances, catch and release regulations have actually been a hindrance, preventing anglers from being recognized for catching a state record fish.

Fish and Wildlife’s mission is to protect and manage the state’s fish and wildlife resources to maximize their long-term biological, recreational and economic value for all New Jerseyans. This is achieved through the regulations established by our agency.

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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