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Catch and Release Angling

The Ontario govt. is promoting sport fishing as part of the ‘Ontario Yours To Discover’ tourism campaign. Sport fishing is portrayed as a leisurely family activity, good for you and good for the environment.

But this seemingly benign activity has serious environmental consequences, so the Peaceful Parks Coalition is writing a series of informative fact sheets highlighting the facts and myths about sport fishing.

Catch and Release Angling:

Catch and release angling was originally introduced as a conservation measure.

Individual anglers, whether standing alone in a river or in a fishing party in the middle of a lake, accumulatively take a lot of fish out of the aquatic ecosystem - too many fish to be considered ecologically sustainable.

So provincial and state governments regulate the sport fishery by limiting the amount of fish an angler is allowed to catch and take home. But these ‘bag’ limits are too restrictive. Anglers complain that fishing trips come to an abrupt end as soon as catch limits are reached.

To enhance the ‘angling experience’, catch and release was, and continues to be, promoted by government fish and wildlife agencies. Anglers can fish all day as long as they remove the hook from the fish and throw it back into the water, presumably saved to be caught again later.

Catch and Release Angling Kills Fish:

At a glance, catch and release programs would appear to be a good conservation measure but only if you view fish as toys.

Hooks used to catch fish are big and sharp, may be barbed, and often lodge themselves in the head of a fish – the mouth, gills and eyes.

To remove the hook, the fish is lifted from the water causing it to temporarily suffocate. Fish breathe through water. Taking a fish out of water is equivalent to drowning for mammals. The hook is then torn off or cut off leaving the fish wounded, too often seriously.

Also, for large fish the aquatic medium provides balanced support for skeleton, musculature and internal organs. Removing them up out of the water can put unnatural strains on the fish's body.

Most fish species are covered by a thin layer of mucous "slime", which protects them. This may survive careful handling with wet hands, but not rough or prolonged handling, or with dry hands. Compromising this layer can lead to moulds and infections.

Many studies now confirm that fish caught and released through hook and line angling may suffer so much trauma during the event that they could die shortly thereafter. Even if fish survive, they might be less able to reproduce or more susceptible to disease.

A new study, which will be published in next month's Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology (August 2007), measures the physical trauma experienced by hooked fish and the causes of death.

The study’s findings suggest that extensive exercise, in combination with air exposure, a hook wound and extensive handling can play a role in loss of equilibrium for a hooked fish and can cause its death. The researchers compare the loss of equilibrium ‘to a person being asked to walk a straight line after having been spun around in a circle, or to a runner giving his all, "essentially what a fish is doing when it is being angled," and then not being able to walk very well afterwards because muscles are full of lactic acid.’

‘Like marathon runners, it is as though the caught fish "hits a wall."’

Sport Fishing Is Ecological Unsustainable

Catch and release programs were introduced because fish and wildlife agencies across North America understood that recreational angling was not ecologically sustainable. Sport fishing has the ability to deplete the aquatic system.

And as it is, fish hatcheries and the introduction of exotic species is often required, even at the expense of native species, to try to satisfy anglers' demand for sport fish.

Keeping anglers happy is important to wildlife management agencies whose funding comes from the sale of fishing licenses, regardless of the damage done to the environment.

The sport fishery is defined by ‘hook and line’ and as a recreational activity (not subsistence, i.e. food). While the taste of fish may be a consideration, fish attractive to sport anglers tend to be those species renowned for their speed and strength – fish that provide a challenge to the angler. Because catch and release programs were introduced to sustain the appeal of sport fishing, and not ecological sustainability, it fails as a conservation tool and is arguably an inhumane fishing practice.

If you go fishing this summer, please stop fishing once you have caught your limit.


An online search using the keywords “catch and release angling” will reveal an abundance of information on this topic. Below are a few sources of information for your convenience:

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources: Planning for Successful Catch and Release

Carleton University, Cooke Lab, Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory - Catch and Release and other Recreational Fishing Papers

Clearly Green Design