Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Keep or Release: that is the Question

© By Othmar Vohringer

I have been following a discussion on one of the popular web based fishing forums about retaining fish or releasing them again. What I thought at first was to be a meaningful discussion quickly turned into a heated shouting match.

It all started innocently enough with a novice fisher asking the forum members how many fish he could keep and take home. He obviously didn’t look it up in the fishing regulations were he could have found the retaining quota of each fish species. The first reply to that question should have been, “Look it up in the fishing regulations.” Instead, the first reply was a lengthy rant about the ethics of fishing, that true sport fishers release all fish, that only slob fishers who do not care about the fisheries, environment, and fish conservation would take fish home. “We have a moral obligation in this age and times to release every single fish we catch. Before you come here and ask unethical questions may I suggest that you get an education about ethical fishing.” I found this to be rather strong language directed toward a novice asking a simple question.

From there on it went downhill with the discussion: sport fishers throwing punches back and forth at each other. Rather than getting involved in a discussion that, given the heated emotions, was destined to lead nowhere I decided to make it a topic here at the BC Fishing Blog.

Looking through the forum threads to view all the opinions for and against retaining fish I realized, with some feeling of shock, that the most outspoken (not to mention verbally insulting) opposition to keeping fish came from fly fishers. I have nothing against fly fishers. In fact I admire the skill and patience they put forward to become proficient with their choice of tackle. What I wonder though is what makes some fly fishers think that they are more ethical fishers than others? What makes them think that they have the right to use language that borders uncomfortably close to verbal assault against anyone that decides to retain fish they’ve caught?

I won’t repeat all the cussing, slander, and defamations that have been uttered on that forum. However, what I am going to say is this: In a time were sport fishing is attacked by animal rights and through lobbing of laws, such as currently proposed in Ottawa, that would make fishing a criminal act of cruelty to animals would it not be wiser to be a little bit more open-minded and respectful of other anglers that do not share the same opinion on the topic? As it stands what happens is that we deliver the ammunition the animal rights groups are looking for to further their agenda.

If the keeping of fish is unethical, as the majority of the catch and release advocates suggested we must then also assume that the fishery agency is unethical to. After all, it is that very agency that establishes catch and retain quotas of the various fish species and localities within the province using data obtained from biologists. Retention quotas are established to make sure the fishery does not get over fished nor a given species becomes endangered. It’s called establishing a sustainable balance of fish species that a given habitat can carry.

While I respect catch and release fishing, I will be darned if I let every fish go on its merry way. I have no hesitation in keeping as many fish as my family and I are inclined to eat. Having said that I have never yet limited out on any given quota. I also release more fish than I keep. Releasing a fish is not a question of ethics for me. Ethics has nothing to do with catch and release and releasing every single fish does not make a fisher more ethical than the one who keeps what he can eat.

Some fishers, and I know a few of them, like to fish for the sport of it but if asked they will tell you that they do not like to eat fish. On the other hand there are folks that fish because they like to eat fish. Still others fish in the hope to win the jackpot on a fishing tournament. And then there are the ones that simply fish to have fun and relax.

Whatever the reason for fishing is, the fishing community can accommodate them all. Fishing is, as many other things in life, an individual’s choice and we should respect that. Looking down our noses at the ones that do not share our opinion does absolutely nothing positive for fishing. I will tell you what it does though. Newcomers to the sport, especially the young, will be put right off even considering fishing as a recreational activity. Honestly, who wants to be around some stuffy guys that think they have written the book on morals and ethics. Squabbling about an issue that really isn’t one also creates division in the fishing community and that, my friends, is exactly what the anti fishers are hoping for. Divide and conquer is a tactic that has been used by legendary generals as far back as Julius Cesar and it still works today.

If you want to keep fish and take them home you’re certainly entitled to do so. You earned that fish by paying for your licence and spending time and money to buy tackle and learn how to fish. To find out how many fish you can keep on a given body of water and area consult the BC Fishing Regulations.

If you only fish for the fun of it and to pit your skills against the fish, then have fun and enjoy what makes you happy.

Tight lines…and don’t forget to have fun!

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Anonymous said...

This is another one of those divisions that could allow hunters and anglers to sink themselves before the anti crowd gets a chance to do so.

As you said, if you've paid your fees and abide by the legal limits set, why should you take your fish home for dinner if that's what you want to do? By the same token, if you're just fishing for the challenge of it, and you're careful not to injure the fish, and to release them promptly, why is that a bad thing?

I do wish hunters and anglers would stop fighting among themselves. It is very counterproductive.

Othmar Vohringer said...

I agree with you 100% Kristine, sometimes hunters and fishers are their worst own enemy. I just wish that we (hunters and fishers) could put all this squabbling about nothing behind us and concentrate on issues that really matter.

thebigandyt said...

good piece, i'm in the same boat as yourself, mostly i'll release them, but i have no qualms of knocking a couple of them to eat later on.

i also worry about the ethics behind the decison, it make more sense to a non fisher that a fish is kept and eaten. Most people i know would view catch and release as pointless, we go to all that trouble and nothing to show for it. You could spend days trying to convince them otherwise.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Thanks for the kind words. In some respects I agree with you about the publics perception of catch and release. It’s what makes fishing a sport. However, I am open minded and have no problem with what ever other fishers do as long it is lawful. My problem is with the holier than thou crowd within our own camp ready to point fingers and preach ethics at every opportunity.

Tom Sorenson said...

I never knew catch and release existed growing up. We were not poor, but we certainly weren't wealthy, either, and catching fish was sometimes what sustained us in the summer months. As I grew older and my brother started practicing catch and release, I started to light heartedly give him a ribbing - but then I realized how much darn fun fishing is! I was still a kid, but it was like a light bulb went off. Fishing is fun, so enjoy it however you want.

For me, it depends on the fish - I don't especially care for the taste of trout and coupled with the fact I think they're almost more work than they're worth (pickin' out the bones and all) I love to catch them, still - so it's catch and release for trout. Bass, I'll catch as much as my wife and I can eat. Same with most panfish. Catfish around here tend to taste muddy - so its catch and release with them, too.

A good post. It does good to remember that our way is not the best way, nor is it the only way to enjoy the outdoors.

Othmar Vohringer said...

thanks for you visit Tom and the comment.

I am basically the same as you. If Iike the taste of the fish andit's legal I will keep it, if I don't like the taste or it is not legal I let it go.

The bottom line of my article could be summed up as; To each his own.

Mike said...

Hello Othmar, great Blog and a great post. I live in Calgary, AB where I fish and write about the Bow River. I love fishing and I am very careful to treat the fish I catch with care. I do not eat fish so I put all I catch back into the clear waters of the Bow River or which ever body of water I fish.

It's funny you bring up "attacks" in your article as this is precisly what has happened to me here from our local "Fly Fishing" community. I have been threatened more than once from these friendly people. It's sometimes hard to ignore them but I know inside that I do not need to respond to their threats or comments. I need to carry on and continue to do what I do.

The moral of the story here is if you ask a simple question, you should get a simple answer.

Thanks for the great Blog, I will be back soon.