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Responsibilities of the Angler
As humans, we have the largest impact on living systems of any species,
and therefore we must take care when we interact with these systems.
Streams, lakes, estuaries, bays, and oceans exist in a fragile balance,
that if we are careful, can be enjoyed not only by us, but by our decendants.
This doesn't mean we can't occationall harvest a an animal from the ecosystem,
but it does mean that we must understand how removing that animal will
affect the ecosystem. Predators like wolves and sharks naturally
bound the population of the species they prey upon to what the environment
can support. People must use a little brain-power to do the same,
keep only fish that the environment can afford to loose, let the survivors
go-they have won the battle with their environment, therefore so will their
offspring (with luck). Sometimes doing the long-range right thing is painful,
but we don't own the environment-we only watch over it for our children.
Every angler must use their own judgement and apply their own morals, basically
don't kill without thinking about the result first. AND REMEMBER-YOU
DON'T ALWAYS HAVE TO KEEP FISH TO PROVE YOUR CATCH-PICTURES WITH RULERS
WORK JUST AS WELL TO REMEMBER THE EXPERIENCE (provided you have any credibility).
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Here are a couple of examples of how I do things. How would you
Problem #1: Put and Take fishery with limited natural
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Situation: I am fishing in a stocked trout stream in the Blue
Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The river is stocked monthly with 9"
rainbow trout from a local hatchery, but has a very limited population
of natural brook trout. I know I would like to have two trout
for dinner, but will probably have to freeze more than that (the limit
for the area is ten at 7" or above). I catch 2 brook trout, 3 small
rainbow trout (7", 9", 12"), and a large rainbow trout (21"). As
a responsible angler, I know that in the summer this stream will not support
a massive trout population, but will sustain a limted number all year.
What I would do: I would release all the brook trout, keep
the 9" and 12" rainbows, release the 7" & 21" rainbow (after a picture!).
Why? : The brookies are native fish that must rely on natural reproduction,
and experience heavy competition from the stocked rainbows, therefore they
all go back. The little 7" rainbow is the result of natural spawning
in the stream, and has survived at least one summer, and will likely survive
to spawn-it goes back to the stream. The big 21" rainbow is a long-lived
veteran of the stream, and will likely produce many more offspring, therefore
it goes back after a quick picture (besides-big trout don't usually taste
good). The 9"&12" trout are likely stocked trout, and the 12" has spawned
once since being stocked-they end up on the grill, and the stream will
not be hurt by their loss since the biologist stocking the stream likely
has calculated that the average angler will take home 2.8 fish (28%
of the limit-some anglers don't catch or keep any, some anglers keep the
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Problem #2: Naturally reproducing bass pond
on the Plains (Midwest U.S.).
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Situation: A small (5 acre) pond is located in the middle
of private land, and appears to only see an angler once a year. It
has a large population of small 8"-12" bass, it also has two large bass
(3 lbs, 5 lbs+), and a some large bluegill (8"). It appears to be
rain-fed, and has trees surrounding it. It has not been stocked in recent
memory, and will likely not be stocked again.
What can I take and not hurt the pond? Keep just short of
your limit of the 10"-12" bass (keep within the law), let go the all the
large bluegill you catch, and if it is truely fished only once a year,
you might be able to keep one of the large bass. Follow this one and you'll
actually be doing the rest of the fish a favor.
Why? The pond is in a stunted (out of ideal balance) state.
There are far too many little bass in the pond, and they are consuming
the entire year's growth of little bluegill. The big bass (the pond
masters) are doing the bulk of the spawning, but if one is lost it will
quickly be replaced from the swarms of smaller bass. All the bluegill
go back because it is their spawn that support the bass, and their population
should be larger than the bass population for the pond to be in balance.
Problem #3: A saltwater fishing trip in the
Gulf of Mexico in the summer
Situation: I take a multi-species all day trip out into the
Gulf of Mexico as the only angler (with guides who are not keeping
any fish for themselves). In the morning we are after King and Spanish
Mackeral. In the afternoon we are after bottom fish: Snappers, Grouper,
Amberjack. The latest reliable studies from the Coastal Conservation
Association show that the King Mackeral population is very healthy, and
that the Spanish Mackeral population is also healthy, but that the Grouper,
Amberjack, and Red Snapper populations are low. The limits on each
species are as follows: King Mackeral-2 at 18", Spanish Mackeral-10
at 12", Red Snapper-5 at 15", All other snappers-10 in agregate at 10",
Amberjack - 2 at 28", and Grouper-2 at 21". I know that I can
only really use 20lbs of fish fillets at most.
What can I take and not negatively impact the fishery? At most I
could keep (but well exceed my 20lbs of fillets requirement) : 2 King Mackeral
(24"-48"), 8 Spanish Mackeral (12"-26"), 2 Red Snapper (between 18"
and 21"), 1 Grouper (between 25"-30"), 1 Amberjack (32"-36"), and 8 assorted
'weenie' snappers (Vermillion and Lane snappers 12"-14"). HOWEVER,
I would likely actually keep only the following: 1 King Mackeral
(30"-38"), 5 Spanish Mackeral (14"-20"), 8 Vermillion Snappers, and either
1 amberjack or 1 grouper or 2 red snapper. This assumes
I am not fishing like this more than 4 times a year. If I fish any
more than that I usually select (if any) one species I might keep (usually
Spanish Mackeral or King Mackeral though the Spanish taste better), and
unless this fish looks near dead, release the rest. Sometimes
I will let all the fish go.
Why? Most saltwater species take several years before they
can breed, and the breeders are the largest of the bunch. Bottom
fish require a long time to breed, are fished heavily year-round, and reproduce
slowly. Groupers, Amberjack, and Red Snapper that are large are usually
at least 10 years old, and Groupers over 10lbs are likely closer to 20years
old plus. A keeper will take a while to replace. While mackeral grow
much faster, they are subject to more natural predation, and also, very
large kings (over 48"-like all very large saltwater fish) contain high
levels of mercury and other toxins. The Vermillion Snappers and Spanish
Mackeral breed quickly, and grow to adult size in a few years, meaning
they will be replaced quickly, and also that the natural system allows
for the loss of a good number of them. Also, there is a high level of mortality
when releasing bottom fish, if you have been releasing lots of bottom fish,
assume 30% will die, and count them into your personal limit.
ALWAYS KNOW YOUR ECOLOGY AND USE COMMON SENSE-WHEN IN DOUBT LET IT GO.
Problem #4: The healthy un-touched, un-tapped fishery.
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Situation: By shear luck or serious planning you get the chance
to fish an un-touched (to your knowledge) island or lake with healthy and
spectacular populations of fish. You might want one fish for dinner,
but you can live with out it.
What would I do? I might keep one fish per day that is: mid-sized
for its species, is a species that is not in the top one or two teirs of
the food web, is small enough for me to eat in one or two meals. If no
such fish exists in this area, and my life (or someone else) is not on
the line, I would let them all go.
Why? I would want to keep the fishery essentially the same way I
found it, and let another fortunate angler experience a 'virgin' fishery.
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