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Continue fishing or call it quits

by: David Coulson 1/8/2013

The forum post “Bag Limit Reached, Illegal to Fish?” is a topic that comes up every now and then.  While in Colorado the answer is a straightforward, it is legal to continue fishing once you filled your limit, there are a number of underlying related topics that I think are well worth discussing.  They fall into the realm of ethics and conservation rather than being purely legal.

In laying the groundwork for this discussion I think we need to recognize a couple of things.

First off, while it is legal to practice “Catch and Release (C&R)” once you have your bag limit in hand, this is not the case everywhere.  Alaska is one such state.  There you can practice C&R but as soon as you take your full limit into possession, you are done fishing for that species that day and you can’t claim to be fishing for another species on that water if you have a limit in hand. Nope, you have to quit fishing and they strictly enforce the rules, especially during salmon runs.

Second, I get the impression that some feel if they are practicing C&R they aren’t killing fish.  Don’t you believe it!  If you fish and catch fish, you will kill some fish. The fact the fish swam away is not proof that it lived to fight another day.  I’ve yet to read a research article on C&R where there was no mortality from handling fish.  A percentage of fish you catch WILL DIE.  It may be very small number, but some fish won’t make it, accept that.

There are things you can do to minimize the number that die.  I won’t go over them here as that’s not the point I’m looking to discuss.  But consider trying this; the next time you take a fish out of the water start holding your breath.  The fish needs to be swimming away before you start breathing again. I think you'll be surprised how little time you have to release that fish.  In hot or freezing air it should be even quicker.  Let’s face it, for the fish getting oxygen from dry or frozen gills is probably similar to you trying to breathe with a plastic bag tied over your head. 

Getting back on track to the limit concept, if we presume that the limit is there to protect the resource (I think it’s there more to promote “equal” sharing), then it would seem reasonable that we as anglers should not exceed killing that number of fish while fishing.  See where I’m going with this?

Simply, once you have your limit in hand, and given you will kill fish practicing C&R, you now are in a position where it is practically impossible not to kill more than your limit and that puts you in the position of resolving the ethical dilemma of releasing a “dead” fish so as to remain legal.

The C&R folks are not off the hook either on this point.  Let’s say the limit is four fish, and the statistics from a couple of studies suggest that one out of ten fish released will die (this is just for argument's sake, too many variables for a “real” number), then if you catch and release forty fish and keep fishing you will have exceeded your limit.   On no-kill water, C&R only, how many fish do you kill before you quit fishing? 

Now I don’t have answers here, and I’m as guilty as anyone, maybe more so, of practicing C&R endlessly without consideration to the impact I’m having on the fishery.  The point I’m trying to make is this. When we fish, we kill fish.  So if we truly care about the resource we need to consider the impact our actions may have on the fishery and acting accordingly. It seems reasonable that our goal should be to maintain the fisheries for all to share and enjoy for as long as we can.

Thus, maybe, just maybe, the best course of action might be to put down the rod and call it a day after we’ve caught our “limit,” regardless of whether we kept fish or not.

Blog content © David Coulson
Member comments
Coloradomrg, CO   1/8/2013 11:18:47 AM
Nice blog Dave. I think those that have studied the fish, and the sport have all had days of 30+ or 40+ fish. The idea that we are probably killing our 'limit' of fish is definetly not what we are thinking about as we catch and release over and over.
Coyute, CO   1/8/2013 11:46:35 AM
You wrote, "Let’s say the limit is four fish, and the statistics from a couple of studies suggest that one out of ten fish released will die. . ." What species of fish and what technique and lure type? For a weak sauce species like trout I bet the number of dead fish is even higher, while the number for stouter fish is much lower even lower yet for somebody who correctly handles and releases fish. It is so easy to site 'studies' that promote an individual’s particular point of view but there are just as many ‘studies’ that would dispute said point of view. Some try to cover both sides by saying things like, “I am a creationist and a biologist.” Funny stuff. As far as calling it quits after a limit - whether you keep fish or not - no thanks. However, I bet many would claim this as something they practice in order to sound ethical and warm and fuzzy but I am certain that claim would be false in most cases. I am sure there are Zen types about who could claim said claim as truth - but the true Zen master would know he could catch fish - so he wouldn't need to fish at all. If the bite is hot, people will continue to fish, limit or no limit, kept or not. It's like following a trail of gold nuggets most people wouldn't stop until they could no longer move because of the weight of the gold. Like a raccoon that puts his paw into a cage to get at some food with his fist either he drops the food to get his paw back or he sits there looking like an idiot with a piece of food in his paw but no way of eating it. There are a lot of raccoons in Colorado and I wish more practiced proper C&R and selective harvest but I won’t be holding my breath. :)
Coyute, CO   1/8/2013 11:48:38 AM
and I wish you could put a f-ing semicolon in these comments! lol
IceFishingFool, CO   1/8/2013 12:57:39 PM
Another point suldom covered is the release of crappies during ice season, its my opinion that if you put it back in the water with its mouth open, it will be dead and floating just under the ice. Close its mouth before releasing
alanlf5280, CO   1/8/2013 3:57:59 PM
Please explain IFF. I have never heard of this.
skiman, CO   1/10/2013 11:54:03 AM
I think Coyute has it right...too many "racoons"! Also right on about the hardines of the different species. How many times have we heard the fly-guys talk about C&R, and how many fish they've released unharmed? I wonder how many were too tired out from the fight to survive? Or the huge Lakers caught in deep water that were "horsed" in only to to have their air bladders ruptured? Or the limit(s) of fish that don't get eaten? I agree protecting our resources is up to all of us. It's like the Butterfly effect...everything we do effects everything else. Good Blog Dave, thanks!
ZZZ, CO   1/10/2013 12:54:17 PM
Good points by all. One thing that gets overlooked a lot is possession limits. There's a lot of folks out there who will never go over their daily limits but have no problem keeping a freezer full of fish at home. Last Summer I watched a guy at a small lake taking his limit of crappie several times a week for the entire season. He was talked to by more than one person but just kept doing what he was doing. Just my opinion, but I think people who are way over their possession limit do a lot more damage to fish populations than those who might kill a few released fish. Bag AND Possession limits are set for a reason. Ignoring either one will have negative effects on our fisheries.
malty falcon, CO   1/10/2013 12:59:32 PM
Dave, this seems like just a ramble. I would be more interested if you made a point here...instead of maybe "this" and maybe "that". I KNOW you are an ethical guy, don't get me wrong. Lets all practice selective harvesting, just not wasteful fishing.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   1/10/2013 1:16:43 PM
Thanks for all the comments. In a nut shell my point was meant to be, if you fish, you kill fish, C&K or C&R. Thus, I feel we all need to be mindful of the impact we're having on the resource and consider calling it a day when we've killed our limit, whether or not we took them home.
David Coulson
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