For most fly fishers catch and release is a at least a common practice and for many it is done almost exclusively. So some of the questions that arise are how to best handle fish so that upon release they have the best chance to recover quickly and ultimately what are their chances for survival?
Chicago Trout Bum had a post earlier this week that referred to a New York Times Room for Debate article discussing various perspectives on catch and release. The post generated a whole lot of responses as one would expect.
Aside from what some might suggest are the ethical issues around catch and release, what is the evidence pertaining to physical harm and fish survival?
Some interesting work is being done here in Ottawa at Carleton University. Dr. Steven Cooke, Associate Professor of Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology leads the Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory that is engaged in a variety of research projects pertaining to freshwater and marine fish ecology. One of his Master’s candidates is Sean Landsman who is looking at the effects of catch and release recreational angling on muskellunge. I have been following his research through his blog – Project Noble Beast. What could be better than doing science and fishing? To me at least, its a fascinating project. Reminds me of the days when I was completing my undergraduate degree in geomorphology (look it up) and fantasized about a masters program studying beach morphology in Hawaii. But I digress…..
As part of his research Sean actively fishes for muskies on the Ottawa River. An he has some pretty good success.
Among other aspects of his research, Sean monitors the activity of caught muskie by surgically implanting small acoustic transmitters into the fish. The transmitters can be monitored to provide depth and acceleration (i.e., activity) data as the released fish moves about the river. The goal is to obtain insight into the behavioral ecology of muskies.
The following chart shows the type of data the transmitters provide. This particular chart is for a shark implanted with a similar transmitter to the ones Sean is using. For someone who knows what to look for, the chart shows “activity” patterns that can be interpreted as “resting” and “active” periods.