The fishing effort in Florida has increased dramatically over the past decade and is still on
Fishing effort in Florida has increased dramatically over the past decade, and it is still
increasing. Fishing is a favorite pastime of Florida's residents and visitors, and in 1997,
anglers made about 24 million fishing trips and caught 141 million marine fishes, 71.5
million of which were released. Florida's resident population of 14.7 million increases
daily by about 1,000 people, and more than 40 million tourists, most with coastal
destinations, visit the state annually.
Managers of Florida's fisheries use a combination of traditional measures to control
harvests and protect fish stocks. These measures include bag limits; minimum and
maximum sizes; closed seasons and areas; and in some cases, no harvest is allowed
unless a special permit is purchased. Bag limits reduce the number of fish that are
harvested and allocate the catch over time so that the year's total harvest is not taken in
one season. Aggregate bag limits are sometimes applied collectively to a complex of
species such as grunts and snappers, so that the community is not overfished. Minimum
and maximum sizes or "slot" limits protect sexually immature fish and may be imposed to
create a "trophy" fishery, i.e., a fishery that produces extremely large individuals. Closed
seasons and closed areas protect a species during spawning, especially when fish return
yearly to known locations to spawn. The "no harvest" rule is implemented when a stock, for
example jewfish, is severely over-fished. To succeed, Florida's fishery management
strategies of size limits and closed seasons depend on the survival of fish that are caught
and released. In this article we outline some steps anglers may take to increase the
chances that the fish they catch and release will survive.
"Limit your kill; don't kill your limit!"
Fish die for a variety of reasons after being caught and released by an angler, but usually
they die from the physiological stress caused by the struggle during capture or from
injuries caused by the hook or the angler. Some fish may die even though they appear
unharmed and despite efforts at revival. Fish that struggle intensely for a long time during
capture are usually exhausted and stressed from the accumulation of excessive amounts
of lactic acid in their muscles and blood. Severe exhaustion causes physiological
imbalance, muscle failure, or death. Therefore, use the proper weight-class tackle, land
your catch quickly, and when possible leave the fish in the water while you release it.
Bringing an exhausted fish out of the water is like placing a plastic bag over the head a
marathon runner—the fish needs oxygen to recover!
Hook wounds may appear minor to anglers, but damage to the gills, eyes, or internal
organs can be fatal. If the fish is hooked deep in the throat or gut, research shows that it is
best to cut the leader at the hook and leave the hook in the fish. Prolonged attempts to
remove the hook often do more harm than good. Fish are capable of rejecting, expelling, or
encapsulating hooks. Steel and bronze hooks are less toxic and are rejected or
"dissolved" sooner than are stainless steel and cadmium- or nickel-plated hooks. Studies
on striped bass, spotted seatrout, and snook have shown that in most of the cases of
hook-related maortality , live bait was used. Artificial lures are generally in motion and the
hook is set before the lure can be swallowed. Likewise, if you are using hooks with live or
dead bait, try to set the hook immediately to avoid internal damage from "gut" hooking. If
you allow the fish to run with the bait, the chances of gut-hooking the fish increase.
Survival rates for some Florida fishes
Controlled studies have shown that most fish released after hook-and-line capture survive.
Researchers working in Boca Grande Pass tagged 27 tarpon with sonic transmitters and
found that 26 of these hook-and-line-caught fish survived. The one fish that died had been
lifted from the water for a photograph before release. Scientists repeatedly caught bonefish
held in a large pond in the Florida Keys and found that 96% survived capture. A few of the
bonefish that ultimately died had been caught 5–10 times each, which suggests that
bonefish hooked and released in the wild probably have an even higher survival rate.
Angler-caught snook held in large net-pens throughout Florida had a 98% survival rate.
Most of the snook that died were caught with live bait, consistent with studies showing that
fish caught with lures generally survive. Spotted seatrout caught in Tampa Bay had a 95%
survival rate. Hook position affected survival rates; trout hooked in the gills or gut had lower
survival rates than those hooked in the mouth. Redfish survival rates range from 84% in
Georgia waters to 96% in Texas waters. Like seatrout, hook position affected survival
rates; more than 50% of the throat- or gut-hooked fish died. These studies demonstrate
that catch-and-release fishing works—most fish that are released survive; however, by
following a few simple guidelines, anglers can maximize survival rates.
Guidelines for Catch-and-Release
The most important actions an angler can take to ensure a successful release are to hook
and land the fish as quickly as possible, leave the fish in the water while removing the
hook, and release the fish quickly.
These are additional tips to improve survival rates:
Decide beforehand which fish are to be kept and immediately release all others.
Do not engage in a prolonged debate over whether or not to release the fish after the fish
has been landed. Never place fish in your live well intending to release them later if you
catch a larger one. Once you make a decision to keep a fish, stick with it. The fish you
release from your live well has a decreased chance of surviving.
Avoid the use of gaffs and never remove large fish such as tarpon from the water.
Large fish can injure themselves and the crew and should therefore be treated with
respect. Take a photograph of the fish in the water and turn it loose.
If the hook is difficult to remove by hand, use long-nosed pliers or a hook-removal tool.
Do not tear additional tissue in removing the hook—back it through the original wound. If
this fails, cut the leader and pull the hook through the injury. Cut the leader close to the
hook when releasing large jewfish, tarpon, sharks, and other fishes that are gut hooked
that you do not plan to keep. Do not lift a gut-hooked fish out of the water by the leader; this
can increase the damage.
Try fishing with barbless hooks or crimp and remove the barb.
Catch rates using barbed and barbless hooks are not significantly different. The
advantages of using barbless hooks are that they are easier to remove and they cause
less physical damage to the fish.
Wet your hands or gloves before handling the fish.
Do not injure the eyes or gills. Placing the fish on a wet towel will help keep the slime that
protects it in place. To keep the fish still, place it on its back or cover its eyes with a wet
towel. Control the fish at all times! If you drop the fish, the chances of it dying increase.
If your fish is in good shape, put it back into the water headfirst.
If it doesn't swim or is lethargic or erratic, some "resuscitation" may be needed until the
fish can swim off on its own. Revive exhausted but otherwise healthy fish by first placing
one hand under the tail and holding the bottom lip with the other. If the fish is in fair to good
shape, merely hold it headfirst into the current. If it is severely lethargic, depress the bottom
lip to cause the jaw to gape and gently move the fish forward. Moving the fish in an erratic
back and forth motion will just induce more stress. At the first sign of the fish attempting to
swim away—let it go. Prolonged attempts at resuscitation will be stressful to the fish.
Large pelagic species such as sharks and tarpon should be brought alongside the boat
within 20 minutes of being hooked.
If you are consistently landing exhausted fish that require extensive efforts at resuscitation,
you should consider using heavier tackle.
Practice and share these techniques! Teach your children and inexperienced anglers
these few simple procedures to help ensure abundant fish populations for the future.
Source - Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
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