Helping Fish Survive Catch & Release


Each angler has their own unique style of hooking, playing, landing, and releasing fishes; some are more proficient as a result of much past experience or natural ability. Others are novices or are intimidated by scales, fins, and slime of the quarry. Because of harvest regulations, personal preference, or angler ethic, many fishes that are caught and landed, are destined to be released, hopefully, in a condition that survival is probable.

Death or survival of caught-and-released fishes of many inshore species is paramount to the dynamics of that species’ population condition and abundance. Death from being caught and released, or cryptic mortality, now accounts for about 40 % of the total numbers of snook that were ‘harvested’ in 2001. For seatrout this ‘lost harvest’ is over 200 –thousand individuals annually — while for red drum, the magnitude is not well known but has to be considerable because of their availability. In the face of increasing human population and exploitation of our fisheries resources, it will behoove each of us to maximize the survival of any fish we catch and later release.

The following suggestions are simple and easy to practice but are by no means comprehensive or the ultimate solution- sometimes a released fish will die regardless of how well it is handled. Hopefully, these tips will improve our catch-and-release technique that will contribute to the health and survival of our fish stocks!

  1. Decide beforehand which fish are to be kept and immediately release all others.
  2. Limit your harvest: don’t harvest your limit! Entirely an ethic!
  3. Land your catch as quickly as possible. Prolonged fights increase levels of lactic acid in the blood that can result in delayed death.
  4. Refrain from handling the catch with dry hands, towels, or gloves. to do so, breeches the slime barrier to infection and parasites.
  5. Dehook the fish in the water, if possible, to reduce the chance of injury and affixation.
  6. Minimize time out of water- not only does this dry the slime but the fish must respire to live.
  7. Do not attempt to remove a hook that is lodged deep in the throat or stomach. Cut the leader as short as possible and release the fish.
  8. Use circle hooks- they have been shown to cause less injury and result in more ‘hook ups’.
  9. Use barbless hooks or crimp the barbs on lures and terminal tackle- they cause less injury and decrease handling time.
  10. Use proper techniques to deflate embolized reef fishes.
  11. Do not boat large pelagics, tarpon, or jewfish.
  12. Refrain from suspending large heavy fishes by the jaw alone.
  13. Be extremely careful not to injure the gills or eyes of any fish.
  14. Immediately gut and properly ice snappers, groupers, and drums.
  15. Catfish and rays should be handled with caution and released alive. If you become barbed, flush the wound with warm water and cleanse with antiseptic.
  16. Revive exhausted fish by holing them into the current or shade. release them immediately at the first attempt of escape. Be alert to fishes that swim away and settle to the bottom- they may die unless additional aide is given.

If the fish dies despite your efforts and it meets regulations, then add it to your creel, otherwise discard it!

Even though our fisheries resources are renewable, they are finite with respect to long term abuse and over harvest. in the big scheme, we should treat each caught fish with respect and exercise the best angling techniques to ensure our grandchildren have robust stocks in the future.

Ron Taylor