I know, It sounds like clickbait. But just give me a bit.
Catch and release has already been outlawed in 2 developed countries. Additionally, scientific studies claiming that fish feel pain have been cited as reason to add fish to animal welfare laws.
If this were to happen, these laws would govern slaughter practices for commercial fisheries.
Once that’s done, it’s easy to see how catch and release would also come under scrutiny.These laws could then be extended to declare catch and release as inhumane.
Sound far fetched?
Well, you may not know that catch and release is already illegal in Germany and Switzerland. The German Animal Welfare Act states that “no-one may cause an animal pain, suffering or harm without good reason.”
Of course, “good reason” sounds very subjective. But, it seems that there is sufficient consensus in Germany and Switzerland. Recreation is not a good enough reason to harm fish.
The result, it’s illegal to release a fish that is above a minimum size. The idea being that you can justify fishing if you’re going to eat the fish. But, if it’s just for sport, then it’s cruelty.
Fish caught that are below a minimum size are to be released. However, the moment you catch one above that minimum, you’re supposed to keep it for consumption.
A recent film “C&R – Crime and Reality” by Brothers On The Fly aims to shed light on the catch and release issues in Europe. It features several interviews on fisheries management policies.
Conservationists worry that if everyone is keeping the larger fish that they catch, that he fishery will be quickly depleted.
In the C&R film anglers joke about fish being slippery. The idea is that you catch a large trout and it “accidentally” slips out of your grip.
Germany has conservation efforts that revolve around management and stocking. It seems that for the most parts these efforts have been successful in preventing fish stocks from being depleted due to over harvesting.
You can watch the film here: vimeo.com/199440550
Be advised that it has english subtitles.
Som how has this impacted the popularity of fishing in Germany?
Well, a google trends (Germany) analysis of the search term, “fishing” shows a fairly stable level of interest since 2004.
Evidence Against Catch and Release
As for the illegality of catch and release, the main point being made is that it’s inhumane.
So, what evidence exists that catch and release fishing is inhumane?
A recent study that has gotten a significant amount of press discusses this issue. And while it’s targeted more towards commercial fisheries. the rationale for catch and release would be the same.
The study was conducted by Penn State University, Professor of Fisheries Biology, Victoria Braithwaite. In it Professor Braithwaite claims that there is sufficient evidence that fish experience pain and discomfort.
Professor Braithwaite also wrote a book titled: “Do Fish Feel Pain.” According to the Washington Post article, in the book she is quoted as saying:
“I have argued that there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals — and more than there is for human neonates and preterm babies.”
In the book, Braithwaite also goes on to question the practice of catch and release.
What would this mean to recreational anglers?
While I’m not a biologist, I can approach this subject from a recreational anglers perspective.
Fishing is more than just something to do on a Sunday morning. The connection with nature has a deeper meaning than just the pursuit of a hobby.
Concepts of self sufficiency and survival come into play. There is a feeling of oneness with nature when you learn the intricacies of the predator prey relationship.
One could say that if you don’t need to eat the fish you catch, then there is no point in going fishing.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. The experience of interacting with nature and testing yourself regardless of consumption is half the battle.
A future in which catch and release is outlawed can seem like a very uncertain place for anglers. Many who are avid catch and release advocates hardly ever keep as many fish as they’d otherwise bee allowed to.
Bag limits would need to be reduced drastically. Additional conservation measure would also be necessary. The potential for abuse by anglers would be significant.
On the other side of the coin, asking game wardens to police against catch and release in addition to all their other duties seems outlandish.
The arguments however do nothing to address the main point. What if fish do indeed feel pain. Is it justified for anglers to inflict this pain for the sake of enjoyment and the practice of their art.
My best answer is as follows. Many anglers and hunters feel the pull of their predatory instincts. The practice of this art is inherent in my being. If the fish are sentient, go ask them if they’d rather be released or killed.
If you tell me they’d prefer to be never caught in the first place. And that catch and release should be illegal. I’ll say that I’m glad that I don’t live in such an inhumane place.
It’s the desire to strip the essence of humanity away and leave a bland existence behind that I find inhumane.
What can you do to preserve Catch and Release Fishing?
We strive to catch fish as humanely as possible and release them with as little harm as we can. We do so with pride.
We should teach the principles of catch and release whenever we can.
One of the most important things we can do to help preserve fishing traditions is to share them.
Take a kid fishing. Watch their face light up when they get a their first bite. Fishing may not be for everyone. But, for those that catch the bug it can be a lifelong enriching experience.
You can help hand down a pass time that helps those who have known nothing but concrete and cityscapes gain a whole new appreciation for nature.
Remember, anglers are some of the best stewards of our waters.