From the Executive Director’s Desk: Summer 2020

[Newsletter: Summer 2020]

 

Executive Director John Carmichael

“Game fish are too valuable to be caught only once.” This phrase, attributed to famous fly angler Lee Wulff, is largely credited with triggering a change in freshwater fishermen’s attitudes in the latter 20th century and ushering in the era of “Catch and Release”. While this has helped managers nationwide maintain access to freshwater and inshore stocks despite increasing recreational fishing effort, things are a little different when you move into the ocean and are managing species like those in the Council’s snapper grouper complex. Besides the desire of anglers to keep many saltwater fish because they are excellent table fare, some species are found in deeper waters where the chance of surviving that first catch can get pretty slim. Nonetheless, whether fish are released by choice, or required to be released due to regulations, the success of management plans often depends on optimizing their survival. The recently approved Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 29, also called the best fishing practices amendment, takes a big step in that direction by requiring the use of circle hooks and descending devices.

Over the last few weeks, we have put our “ABO”, aka Always Be Outreaching, concept into high gear to develop an outreach and education campaign on best fishing practices. You may see a wallet card with the new rules at your local tackle shop. There is also a dedicated page on our website with lots of information on releasing fish, using descending devices, and recognizing barotrauma ( https://safmc.net/best-fishing-practices/ ). This page addresses much more than just the circle hook and descending device regulations, because best fishing practices encompass a lot of things that cannot simply be regulated. For example, we cannot make an effective regulation that requires anglers to limit their fight and handling times despite knowing that short fights and limiting handling helps fish survive. That is where the outreach component comes in, and minor changes in behavior and practices can really add up across the millions of fish that are handled and discarded. Consider if just an additional 1% of the 98 million Black Sea Bass released from 2010 through 2019 survived because of better handling practices and reduced gut hooking. This would have put another 980,000 fish in the population to be caught another day.

Many studies have shown that handling time, hooking location, and presence of barotrauma, all things fishermen can influence, are important factors in determining whether a released fish lives or dies. Using best fishing practices means doing what we can as fishermen to reduce the impact of each of these factors. As the best fishing practices section of our website points out, increasing survival really starts before the first hook hits the water.  This includes obtaining and learning how to use the proper equipment, becoming familiar with the rules so you can quickly decide if a fish can be kept or needs to be released, avoiding locations where fish that will need to be released are common, and learning to recognize barotrauma to know when to use that descending device.

That brings up a part of the amendment that has generated lots of attention, the descending devices. There have been some questions about why the Council stopped at requiring a device onboard as opposed to requiring it to be used. The simple answer is that the Council recognizes that not every fish needs to be descended and that it would be incredibly burdensome on fishermen, and unrealistic, to make such a requirement. By requiring a device onboard and ready to use, and focusing on outreach and education activities to inform fishermen on when it should be used, the Council is trusting fishermen to evaluate the situation and descend fish when appropriate. The science is there to show that reducing gut hooking and handling times, and descending fish that show signs of barotrauma, can increase survival. We just need these best fishing practices to become regular fishing practices.

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