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Keep Those Fish Alive!

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Tips to reduce Catch-and-release Mortality

Many Rhode Island recreational anglers engage in catch-and-release fishing practices with the goal of releasing healthy fish and watching them swim away to live another day. Mortality of caught-and-released fish is a large concern, thus, it is important for anglers to take care in how they catch, handle, and release fish to increase chances of survival. Here are a few tips to help those fish survive, grow, and produce future generations:

Modify Artificial Lures…

13RISW-Alive1.jpgWhen using artificial lures, there are a variety of ways to reduce the risk of injury to both the fish and angler. For example, many artificial lures have multiple sets of treble hooks attached. These hooks can be dangerous when a hooked fish fights and thrashes to try to escape or remove the hooks. This thrashing of the fish can cause the other treble hooks to flail about and become embedded into the fish’s sides or sensitive areas, such as the eyes. These additional hooks can result in unnecessary damage, which can reduce the fish’s chances of survival. Furthermore, not only is the fish in danger, but the flailing treble hooks could also become embedded into clothing, skin, hair, or even a nearby angler and can be very difficult to remove. To reduce these risks, anglers can remove additional hooks or replace them with single hooks.

Circle Hooks…

13RISW-Alive2.jpgUsing circle hooks instead of typical “J” hooks can increase the chances of survival for released fish. Circle hooks are designed to hook a fish in the corner of the mouth and dramatically reduce the chance of “gut hooking.” “Gut hooking” refers to when a fish fully swallows the bait/lure, which results in the hook becoming embedded in the stomach or other sensitive internal tissues. The circle hook design allows the hook to slide along the fish’s inner mouth and then become embedded in the fish’s lip, reducing the potential for life threatening damage. Using a circle hook eliminates the need to set the hook, but when using a “J” hook, pay close attention and set the hook immediately to prevent the fish from swallowing the hook.

Bend Hook Barbs Down…

13RISW-Alive3.jpgThe barbs found on many fishing hooks are designed to keep bait and caught fish on the hook. When engaged in catch-and-release fishing, it can be advantageous to either bend the hook barbs down with a pair of pliers or to file them off. While the barbs may help the fish stay hooked, they also can result in additional damage to the fish as they are removed. Also, accidents happen and if a hook gets embedded in a finger, removal of the hook will be much easier and less painful with the barbs bent down or absent.

Reduce Fight Time…

13RISW-Alive4.jpgReducing the fight time is important when engaged in catch-and-release fishing. When hooked fish fight and try to escape, they experience a great deal of stress and undergo metabolic changes. If the fight is for an extended period of time, the metabolic changes can result in a very slow recovery or even death. Since using gear that is too light for the situation often increases fight time and the related stress on the fish, using the proper size gear for the targeted species can reduce fight time and help get the fish to the boat or shore as soon as possible.

Hook Removal…13RISW-Alive5.jpg

Hook removal is a very important aspect of releasing a healthy and lively fish. A variety of tools can be used to help reduce hook removal time as well as preventing additional injury to the fish. Hook removers, needle nose pliers, nail clippers, and wire cutters are all great tools to assist with this process. If the fish is “gut-hooked,” the best solution is to cut the line as close to the hook as possible. Do not try to remove the hook as this could damage the fish’s internal organs. Release the fish with the hook still inside as the hook will eventually corrode and naturally come out.

Handling, Reviving, and Release…

Proper handling and releasing of fish can 13RISW-Alive6.jpgdecrease the chance of unintentional mortality. Be sure to leave the fish in the water as long as possible, even when removing the hook. Wet hands or use a wet rag when handling fish, as this will protect the fish’s scales and protective mucous coating. If the fish must be removed from the water, make sure that the fish is properly supported. Do not lift fish by the gills or eyes, as this could cause a great deal of damage to these sensitive areas. When handling a larger fish, do not lift the fish by just the lips or mouth but make sure that the stomach area of the fish is supported. The use of nets to land fish can also help reduce the risk of injury, and only use gaffs if the intent is to keep the catch. When it is time to release the fish, gently place the fish back in to the water head-first in a swimming position. If the fish does not swim off right away, then revive it by gently pushing it back and forth in the water, allowing water to flow over the gills, to restore the fish’s oxygen levels. Continue to revive the fish until it is able to swim off on its own.

Following these simple techniques and using proper gear can greatly minimize the occurrence of unintentional death and injury of released fish. Recreational anglers are stewards to the marine environment and should follow responsible angling practices to ensure that fish populations are properly conserved and enhanced. A little forethought and preparation can help ensure that Rhode Island’s fishery resources are available to future generations of anglers. Now, go catch those fish… responsibly!

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