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Mandatory Fish Kill Regulations - will you obey them?

Blog by: David Coulson , CO 1/9/2014

During a conversation on regulations the other night, I mentioned that some states, for some species, have “it’s illegal to release it back into the water” rules.  I was questioned if that was true as wouldn’t that make a lot of anglers, “criminals.”  Maybe, I think it depends on your view and how willing you are to violate what I consider the first rule of fishing ethics, obey all fishing laws, even if you don’t agree with them.  A common line of thought on ethical behavior and legal conflict is oft discussed here.  Do you release a fish you know will die in a catch and release water or do you break the law and harvest it.  My answer, release it.

I know there are places in Colorado where Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) wants us to harvest every one of some species.  My favorite example is Trappers Lake, where we’re strongly encouraged to harvest all brook trout caught (no limits on them) due to the competition with the native Colorado River Cutthroat.  Similarly, the Colorado River from the confluence of the Williams Fork River the Utah state line has the regulations of "no bag or possession limit for channel catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye, green sunfish, bluegill, bullhead, yellow perch or crappie."

As to the doubters that such laws exist, here you go. Go to Wyoming’s regulations, and on page 28 for the Green River, Little Snake River, bear River and Great Divide basin drainages that a burbot, northern pike, walleye, and yellow perch have a must kill regulation.  Go to the Utah 2014 regulations, page 29 Green River and Tributaries and you will find this tidbit, “No limit for burbot, northern pike, smallmouth bass or walleye. Anglers may not release any of these fish, which must be immediately killed.”  And one more, the California Fresh water regulations have these regulations on page 20 5.51. NORTHERN PIKE. No northern pike, dead or alive, may be released into any water at any time. All northern pike taken shall be killed immediately by removing the head and shall be retained by the angler. The angler shall notify CDFW that he/she has taken and possesses a northern pike by calling CDFW’s CalTIP telephone number (1-888-CDFW-CALTIP) as soon as possible, but not more than 24 hours after taking the northern pike. The angler shall maintain the head and body of the fish in a refrigerated or frozen condition, whenever possible, until CDFW collects the northern pike.” And this one on page 25, “5.90. WHITE BASS. a) Open season: All year. (b) Limit: No limit. No live white bass may be possessed or transported. Any white bass taken must immediately be killed by removing the head or cutting through the gills, except at Lake Nacimiento (San Luis Obispo County) where any white bass taken must immediately be released into the water or killed by removing the head or cutting through the gills."

I haven’t checked other states, but I rather doubt Utah, Wyoming, and California are the only states with mandatory kill laws on their books.  Some time back I was talking with one of the CPW fisheries biologist and posed the question, "if you’d like certain species to be eliminated from certain waters (such as those above) why not have a mandatory kill law."  The response was,  "we don’t want to make criminals out of Colorado anglers."  Plus, he went on, “anglers as a whole are not very effective at controlling fish populations."  Hum, it seems that CPW doubts our ability to “fish out” a water.

I suspect the real reason we don’t have such a law is the difficulty in enforcing it.  Hell, they can’t catch bucket biologists, how likely is it they’d be able to show someone released a fish back into the water they caught it from.  My narrow view is, if getting rid of a species is that important then pass the mandatory kill law. Granted there are a number who’d violate it, but that’s true of any law.  It sure would send a stronger message than the “no limit” laws we now have.  I know I’m more likely to kill a fish if it’s the law, than keep something I don’t want when there's a “no limit” rule in place.

My question to you is this, if Colorado had such a law on the books, would you honor it?  If not, are you going to honor the laws listed above in Utah, Wyoming, and California or any other state’s mandatory kill laws when you visit?


Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
JOHN_COSprings, 1/9/2014 3:53:15 PM
If a water I fished was a mandatory kill/keep only for carp, then I simply would not fish it for carp. That was one thing I had to double checked before my trip over to Utah last year. I am well aware my beloved species is even more despised there than here. If I fished a catch and release only venue, and a fish I caught was not going to make it, I would still release it - though I would have to say it may be more humane or ethical to euthanize the fish. At some point, common sense needs to apply.
pikeNcolorado, 1/9/2014 3:58:26 PM
Here's something to think about.... I bellyboat the Yampa River for miles and miles every summer. Storage is extremely limited on a belly boat and if you are doing 12-15 miles in a day then you have food, drinks, sunblock, raingear, not to menchen fishing gear. If I had to take a pike out of that river and kill it, then float it down river, how do they expect me to transport them? What if it was an epic day to where I caught 20 of them? Alot of the land outside the river is private property, I can't throw it on the shore of private property. Bottom line, I don't see me killing a fish that I love to catch and having to take 30-40lbs of pike carcass down river for the next 10 miles to dispose of properly. (PS, I am very aware that they want me to "harvest" pike out of the Yampa River. I'm not barking up that tree in this response.
pikeNcolorado, 1/9/2014 4:02:10 PM
PS, I grew up in California. They can keep their crazy laws to themselves. Honestly, who is going to cut a pikes head off, throw 35 inches in their freezer, until the next time you can run it by the fish and game office? That's ludicrous. THANK GOD I NOW LIVE IN THIS AMAZING STATE OF COLORADO!!!
Abel1, 1/9/2014 4:05:17 PM
I had to release a 16# steelhead in WA State because it was wild even though it was obvious it wouldn't make it. However I would release a northern back into the water if by law I was told to kill it. Does that make me a bucket biologist? If it came down to killing certain species because it was the law it would be time to hang up the fishing gear. Maybe the biologists need to choose a body of water for their little experiments so they would have some facts to base their ideas on. I say leave things alone. They seem to be doing fine until man thinks he has a better plan.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 1/9/2014 4:15:18 PM
I should have added, but I was running long on the blog, in Wyoming and Utah, it is legal, where manadatory kill is required to "waste" the fish, as in dispose of it properly rather than having to consume it.
FishSeal, 1/9/2014 4:50:53 PM
Personally, I would honor the laws. As a biologist, I have learned that fishermen are an aid to maintaining fisheries. If that is what they deem appropriate, then I'll do it. IF fishermen were to really be able to eliminate a species (which is impossible unless the fish weren't reproducing) and it wasn't for the best, then it is easy enough for them to change the rules or restock.
esoxrocks, 1/9/2014 5:51:59 PM
I think I would harvest. As much as I hate it, some fisheries just can’t support some species. The Northern Pike is a good example. I absolutely love fishing Esox (as my FXR name will attest) but many systems, especially ones in CO simply can’t naturally support this species. If it weren’t for stocked trout, most Pike fisheries in CO wouldn’t exist, as higher elevation lakes simply can’t produce the biomass necessary to support the food chain required to maintain large numbers of these top predators in a healthy condition…at least for very long. I don’t know the perfect solution…as I’m not all that excited about catching stocker trout. I’d much rather catch one 35” Pike than 20 12” stocker trout…but given that the relationship is more like hundreds of stocker trout to produce one 35” Pike, I don’t know if we can sustain that kind of unnatural costly support of a non-native species…even one I love to catch. That said, I would really like to see more emphasis (read: money spent) on development of more productive structure for warm water species in our lower elevation lakes where prey species can reproduce at healthy rates and thus support more top predators...rather than feeding these fish very expensive hatchery raised trout. At lakes in WI, the DNR allows the placement of “cribs” on the ice which, when the ice melts, provide places for phytoplankton to reproduce, habitat for smaller prey species to spawn, as well as cover for panfish, which attracts larger fish, and so on. Many lakes have a number of these structures placed on the ice each year...year after year. With so many of our Front Range lake bottoms shaped like a soup bowl, it would make sense to add structure and cover to these lakes. For example, add a couple dozen 8’x12’ cribs to Bear Creek Lake and I bet you see a big jump in the lakes carrying capacity.
anchor-down, 1/9/2014 7:01:06 PM
sad to say,but yes if it is a fish i could call grocerys i would, we might not agree with the biologist all the time but there is a reason for it,they do a good job most of the time. the balance is a must,and bucket biologist usally cause this , not all the time but most. i think we do a better job than they do as far as not waseting fish, look at antero when they drained that, the eagles loved all the trout in the pasture. just my 2 cents
Ajax5240, 1/9/2014 7:15:25 PM
Killing a fish for no apparent reason would bother me, however... A ticket for not killing it would bother me even more. I do have to remind myself that in most cases, the people setting these rules are looking at a bigger picture than my personal satisfaction. Most of the DOW employees that I have interacted were terrific people, and outdoor enthusiasts themselves.
JKaboom, 1/9/2014 7:18:49 PM
I have release shorts in waters that have a minimum size that I knew were going to die. I have released fish that were going to die in C&R only waters. If there were a mandatory kill/waste law on a water I fished I would follow the regulations. There are many regulations/laws that I disagree with but it is my responsibility to follow the rules as an angler. It does not make it feel any better at times but that's what I do and would do.
Swigs, 1/9/2014 7:43:19 PM
Dave, a solid post with some thoughtful back and forth. Very civil. California....hmmmm.
moosegoose, 1/9/2014 7:58:20 PM
Awesome food for thought!!
KayakerFishfinder, 1/9/2014 9:51:50 PM
Mandatory kill orders were developed because of bucket biologist. By not killing the fish when you catch it you are supporting the person who committed the crime in the first place. Wildlife agencies have limited resources to control such behavior. It has been stated/suggested by the other DOW agencies the only way to correct the situation after it has happened are the following: 1. Mandatory kill order on the specific species (anglers control the situation). 2. Kill the lake completely and start over (big money!). 3. Do not allow fishing on the lake and do not stock it with fish again (everyone loses). Do not support bucket biology. It comes directly out of our pocket when the Colorado Parks and Wildlife has to correct the issue.
Tiny Stevens, 1/10/2014 2:31:21 AM
Very good reading Dave and it certainly gives pause... On the one hand, the laws are in place for a reason, but, as you say, here in Colorado there isn't a kill law in place, merely suggested that fish are kept or encouraged. It certainly can cause an ethical dilemma for sure. Tiny
Hawaiian Punch, 1/10/2014 6:43:01 AM
As much as it bothers me to kill a fish I would have returned to catch/breed or just keep swimming,I'm still a license holder and by signing the license agree to obey the laws that go with it! I may not like it. . . .I might learn some new trick in the kitchen. . . . . . As a die hard walleye guy,I love/hate slot limits(how many day's have you had of nothing over 17 1/2. . . .17 3/4 like they fell out of a mold?) some of the most fun day's I've had, all I took home was a great sunburn and some pictures
KingFisher13, 1/10/2014 7:21:55 AM
Illegal to release a Northern, White Bass, or Mackinaw back into the water I caught it out of? Would I go by the law? Of course I would! However, sometimes fish just slip out of your hands )
pikeNcolorado, 1/10/2014 7:47:50 AM
King13, You really need to learn how to hold on to a fish so that doesn't happen!!!! HA HA HA. I also second the notions above regarding harvesting. But killing a healthy fish to throw it on shore or in the trash? I do abide by the laws, but that would be tough to swallow.
anglerwannabe, 1/10/2014 8:16:37 AM
you guys have given me a lot to think about. At Spinney and 11 Mile they want you to remove all pike I believe under 24 in? that's a challenge since because my thought is, if you don't eat it, don't kill it. Some of them are large enough to eat but some of the smaller ones aren't so easy to fillet. After reading everyone's thoughts here, going to have to reconsider releasing the little guys.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 1/10/2014 8:17:58 AM
Some rules are difficult to accept. But no more difficult to accept than the blatant disreguard for our resources that some folks seem to have. Why are we willing to accept bucket biology, but not the cure? Not every species belongs everywhere. Let's come down hard on the problem and the folks responsible. I, too, have a tough time killing anything I don't want for the table, coupled with a strong C&R mentality, "no limiit" rules have zero impact on me. I know they want the fish killed, but . . . A mandatory kill rule would be complied with in my case. However, I'd likely be like John, and simply fish where such rules don't exist. Good comments folks, thanks.
boogieman, 1/10/2014 8:52:12 AM
at some point i think you need to trust the management decision, even if you don't necessarily agree or understand it. Most likely the water manager is more informed of the current state of the water, and what the management objective is. I would like to think i would kill a large pike, if there was a no release law on the books for that body of water, but it would be hard, releasing big fish is much more gratifying than keeping them (for me). Good blog Dave
ColoradoDad, 1/10/2014 9:42:46 AM
I thought about this a bit & a lot would determine how logical the kill order would be. If it was "kill all pike in all waters" I would most likely join Dave & John’s camp and stop targeting them however if it was "kill all Asian carp" I would more than happily comply. While I don’t often target trout & would rather catch almost any other species, if there was a mandatory “trout kill” I wouldn’t fish places like Antero. What I think would be much more effective would be a bounty program, such as they had at Wolford. If you catch a pike & really want to release it you can, but if you want to kill it you get $20. MD has a similar program for Snakeheads that has really worked well there I would’ve much rather seen a bounty program or something similar at Miramonte for SMB last year to see how effective that could be here. If that didn’t work then they could’ve tried a mandatory kill order. I guess I already have a personal mandatory kill mentality. For instance if I was fishing Quincy & caught a common carp, I would kill it. If I was fishing pella crossing & caught a pike I would kill it. I love to catch both carp & pike, but either of those species would wreak havoc on those ecosystems.
Doc, 1/10/2014 10:26:01 AM
I think I would..they know more about it then I do.
Coyute, 1/10/2014 10:57:42 AM
We are all criminals to some degree. The guy who goes on and on about how much of a saint he is, seldom truly is. There are a bunch of people who claim to follow all fishing rules while on their pedestal of righteousness, but as soon as no one is looking, they are flirting with the same notions they supposedly advocate against. Agendas are like a**holes, everyone has one. As much as I despise amatuer biology, some of the decisions made by biologist over the years in this country are equally despicable. Most times, my code of ethics regarding conservation goes above and beyond the written law but when the laws tell me to kill something and waste it, I look at it like going 70mph when it's posted 65.
Muskie NM, 1/10/2014 11:04:25 AM
Its like that here in NM. It suck but if you don't control them they will explode this lake could have Big pike some day if controlled right.
twhart, 1/10/2014 11:19:42 AM
I am trained as a biologist and that is what I do for a living. I understand the basis behind many regulations, but there are still some that don't seem to make a whole lot of biological sense. For me, I guess it would depend on the species in question and maybe even water/fishery in question. I know we have pike in many waters where they aren't supposed or aren't wanted, many populations due to bucket biology. However, I like fishing for pike and before moving to Colorado years ago, I only had that opportunity on trips to Canada, and while fishing Keyhole Reservoir in WY and also in South Dakota during graduate school. If the species is pike, I most likely will not kill unless I am wanting some for a meal. I love fishing for pike at Stagecoach and they encourage that you kill them. I let a lot of them go and only keep/kill if I want to eat some. I for one, hope they never get a handle on that pike population regardless of how it came to be in that water. I still catch and see a lot of nice trout out of that water and the pike fishing is good as well. As I get older, I become more and more tired of the concept of placing additional regulations on fishing, hunting, guns, etc. Enforce the regs that are already on the books.
JOHN_COSprings, 1/10/2014 11:32:13 AM
For my beloved common carp, if we take a look at St. Vrain, a lot of money was spent removing all the fish from Pelican Pond where common carp had become the dominant species - a total fish kill. It was restocked and aerators installed. Last year we had the catastrophic flooding. It is almost a certainty that the common carp are now back in Pelican again. Nature always finds a way. What we need to think about is long term fisheries management, different methods of population control and education / enforcement regarding (bucket biology). Perhaps different slot limits, bag limits, the stocking predator species (with protection so they can actually grow to a size to be effective), habitat modification and curtailing motorized watercraft and/or enforcement of no wake zones to reduce turbidity. As has been previously mentioned, if you have a breeding population of the undesired species it is going to be real difficult to totally eradicate it long term. I sure am no biologist and I acknowledge that kill orders, in certain environments, can and have been successful. BTW, this is a great topic, thanks David for getting it rolling.
Abel1, 1/10/2014 11:50:38 AM
For me twhart has hit the nail on the head. Great job! You and I are on the same wave length. Without being a smart a.. what res. would be considered a success after man's interference? Spinney was awesome back in the day and now its just like everywhere else. I hear Miramonte is on the mend. Where have we gone in and made drastic changes that improved the resource? I know they are out there.
shiverfix, 1/10/2014 12:01:06 PM
Abel, not to be a smart*ss, but I would say most lakes/reservoirs in the state fall under the drastic changes category, considering most of the lakes we fish are not natural, and pretty much none of them have any native fish, other than suckers. All of it is man made, man managed, and man handled (:
esoxrocks, 1/10/2014 12:33:51 PM
Did anyone see the post article on Dillon this week? About how the Mysis Shrimp in Dillon have adapted to feed on the surface at night and so are not serving as food for the trout as initially expected, and are, in fact, outcompeting the small trout for food. Now they are looking at stocking Arctic Char in the lake to feed on the shrimp that were introduced as forage for the trout in the first place. Lake Trout were suggested as one answer (apparently they feed on Mysis on the bottom, during the day) but the problem is that once the Lakers get big enough they move from shrimp to feeding on trout. Witness the Blue Mesa fiasco. Point is that we don’t do a very good job of managing any of these fisheries too well when we try to out think Mother Nature. Like they say…”nature is a mother”.
Lloyd Tackitt, 1/10/2014 12:39:37 PM
Never had to make that decision, but assuming the intent is for the greater good, and sicne I occasionally kill and eat fish then sure, I'd follow the law. Why not? If I thought that killing fish was "wrong" in some way I wouldn't fish at all. I release 99.99999% of all that I catch, and really enjoy releasing them, but I'm not particularly squeamish about killing them.
Abel1, 1/10/2014 12:50:06 PM
Shiverfix thanks for the input. I started fishing Spinney back in the late 80's. Pike or no pike there were huge trout on the surface everywhere. Now you make the 2 1/2 hour drive up to get skunked. What happened? Same with Dillon. Back in the 70's it seemed like a trout haven. I was up there over the 4th and asked why no one was fishing. I was told it is full of suckers. I guess Miramonte will be the one to keep an eye on for the next few years.
Dakotakid, 1/10/2014 1:17:24 PM
For Pike in CO I believe if there was a limit that many fisherman would take their limit home with them, but since there is no limit many anglers release all that they catch since others are taking large numbers of fish.
shiverfix, 1/10/2014 1:48:41 PM
Abel, forgive me if you already know all this. I have found more papers and articles about Dillon than I have about any other reservoir, and the history of the biology is really interesting. They removed most of the cover (trees, buildings, even grass) before it was filled, so even from the beginning it was a really sterile lake. And from what I remember of the articles it is on the back end of the cycle, meaning there isn't much left from the original flooding. That was what prompted the decision to put in the mysis shrimp. Though, as we all know now, that wasn't a good idea since the shrimp lives really deep, and actually removes more biomass the trout and kokanee would eat than offers as a food source. However, since the water coming out of the outlet is deep, it has a lot of shrimp in it. This is why the Blue below Dillon is such a productive fishery with very large fish. So an error in the lake creates an opportunity downstream. As for Dillon, it still has large fish in it, but from what I have read they are very skinny. All lakes have a life cycle, and biologists try and counter that life cycle to keep the lake productive. Dillon was on the way to being a fishery that couldn't sustain a large biomass, and the mysis, however incorrect, was an effort to counter that. What's funny to me is that Dillon is now thought of us a poor fishery, however it is one of the few lakes that has a self sustaining kokanee population.
ColoradoDad, 1/10/2014 2:48:31 PM
Not to hijack this post but the reason fish are large in the Blue River below Dillion is they are planted there. See the biologists blog: His quote "I stock brood culls from the Glenwood Springs hatchery there, and unfortunately that's really the only thing that maintains a large-fish component to the fishery there."
shiverfix, 1/10/2014 3:14:39 PM
coloradodad, thanks for that link, that is really interesting! Sounds like there hasn't been much mysis coming downstream with the flows so low for the last couple of years.