Let's say you invited a new friend over to your house. But while they visited, they kicked your dog, used fowl language in front of your mom, and spit their used bubble gum on your living room carpet... then stepped in it. As they left, they said, "That was fun. When can I come back?" You'd probably yell, "NEVER AGAIN!" And if aquatic ecosystems could talk, they might also say something similar to irresponsible anglers who abuse the privilege of fishing there.
With that in mind, let's pretend for a moment that all the biotic (living things) and abiotic factors (non-living such as water) in an aquatic ecosystem could in fact speak to us, here's a few things they would say about angling ethics.
Treat our fish with care - The fact is that the process of fishing involves pulling an aquatic organism (a fish) out of the environment they need to survive. And whether you're considering keeping some fish for a sustainable food source, or releasing everything you catch, consider these ethical points:
- Hook choices - Experienced anglers who have fished exclusive "catch-n-release" waters where they had to use a single barbless hook were surprised that they landed about as many fish as if they were using lures with multiple triple-barbed hooks. We actually have the video to prove it on a variety of record-sized fish. The fewer hooks in a fish's mouth simply results in a fish that can released with fewer potential places that it was hooked. Makes sense, right?
- Landing your fish can happen in several ways. 1) you can unhook the fish while it's still in the water - either by hand or in a net, 2) out of the water while held in a net, with a "fish gripper" or in your hand. When you unhook a fish while it's still in the water, they can still breathe in the water and you expose them to less stress on gills, scales, fins and the slime coating that protects them. Fish grippers help protect you and help safely restrain the fish while unhooking. Rubber mesh nets also help reduce abrasion to the fish's scales. Nylon mesh nets tend to be more abrasive. And because some species have very delicate scales and skin, avoid handling fish if you have sunscreen or bug repellent on your hands. That's another reason to "wet" your hands first before touching fish.
- Releasing your fish should always be done sooner than later. Plan ahead so you have the gear and procedure ready to minimize the fish's time out of water. A good way to see how well you're doing is to begin holding your breath when the fish is pulled from the water. When you need to take a breath again, the fish probably does too. Many experienced anglers also release the fish gently next to the boat after they have held the fish upright in a swimming position and allow the fish to recover and swim off freely. Both you and the fish will feel better when it's time to say, "so long".
Ah, that's a good start on your angling ethics, but you still have three more important things to discover in the "Learn More" section below. And so your entire classroom can share in being responsible ecosystem stewards, share the lesson activity with them and your teacher. It's free at the bottom of this page.