RELEASING A FISH December 14, 2012 by The Kingfisher Leave a reply color=#40404 size=2RELEASING A FISHCatch-and-release is increasingly being practised by more and more anglers and is undoubtedly an ethic that needs to become entrenched if we are to secure a sound future for our favourite pastime or sport. Competitive shore angling in South Africa has made some extremely positive moves in this direction with most competitions now being fished on a catch and release basis. However, there is still much that anglers can do to improve the chances of their catch surviving. Catch-and-release mortality, or death due to hooking, fighting and handling fish before release, may be considerably higher than we think with some fisheries scientists estimating that at least 25% of released fish die due to sport fishing. Many variables determine whether or not a released fish will survive, including the species, the type and size of the hook, bait or lure used, how long the fish is played, how it is handled once the fish is landed and how quickly it is returned back to the water.As Colin Attwood described in an article published in the &ldquoThe Fishing Journal&rdquo (Vol 1, Issue 4), we should all be aware of the following problems that exist for many angling species:div margin-left17.25ptimg alt=* height=11 src=https://www.kingfisher.co.za/PicExportError width=11 Fish exhaust themselves when hooked and build up lactic acid in the muscle and damage muscle tissue, which makes them stiff and sluggish (similar to humans). This makes released fish vulnerable to predators. The longer the fight and the longer a fish is kept out of the water the worse the problem.div>div margin-left17.25ptimg alt=* height=11 src=https://www.kingfisher.co.za/PicExportError width=11 A swallowed hook that is cut off may rust and toxify the blood or interfere with the normal passage of food.div>div margin-left17.25ptimg alt=* height=11 src=https://www.kingfisher.co.za/PicExportError width=11 Handling fish with dry, unclean hands may lead to subsequent infections. The epidermis of fish lies on the outside of the scales and is responsible for secreting slime that protects it from pathogens. The epidermis, being very thin, is easily ruptured if touched by dry and abrasive objects, which in turn allows an entry point for pathogens.div>div margin-left17.25ptimg alt=* height=11 src=https://www.kingfisher.co.za/PicExportError width=11 Fish eyes may be easily damaged by abrasion and sunburn, as fish have no eyelids.div>div margin-left17.25ptimg alt=* height=11 src=https://www.kingfisher.co.za/PicExportError width=11 Lifting a large fish, with either a vertical or horizontal hold, places the skeleton and abdominal organs under unnatural stresses that may lead to bruising or rupturing.div>div margin-left17.25ptimg alt=* height=11 src=https://www.kingfisher.co.za/PicExportError width=11 Gaffing a fish, which is to be released, greatly reduces its chance of survival.div>ul>Having pointed out these facts, here are a few tips and suggestions to consider if you are planning to release your fish to help ensure that it has a better chance of surviving.Firstly, use strong tackle. Playing a fish for hours on light tackle may require "angling skill" but the longer it is played, the less likely your fish will survive. The size, shape and type of hook used are important. Removing or flattening the barbs is the first thing to do, you will be surprised that you don&rsquot loose many fish as long as your line is kept tight and the hook-up rate is better. Rather use large, wide single hooks than trebles. If you have to use trebles (e.g. when using a lure that needs treble hooks for correct swimming action), take off the points leaving just one point on each treble. Barbless steel or bronzed hooks are better than nickel or tin coated hooks, the latter causing a toxic response if left embedded in a fish's jaw or throat. Circle hooks are good news as far fewer fish are gut hooked, especially if you are fishing with live-bait. Where possible avoid leaving hooks in the fish's mouth, some fairly sophisticated de-hooking tools are available in most tackle shops, which work well.An important point is to minimise handling of your fish. Where possible leave it in the water and remove the hook using long-nose pliers or a de-hooking tool. Where this is not possible try and land your fish on a sandy beach and keep it on the wet sand. Instead of weighing your fish, which causes additional stress, simply take an accurate measurement of its length (i.e. fork length, total length, pre-caudal length or disk width). Good length-weight relationships exist for most of our more common angling species so the weight can easily be calculated at a later stage. Some innovative landing stretchers have been developed which greatly assist in reducing handling stress and enable easy measuring. Placing a wet cloth over the eyes of your fish helps to calm it down and reduces injury to these sensitive organs. Remember fast turn around time is essential, the sooner your fish is back in the water after being caught the greater its chance of survival.As recreational anglers we all have the responsibility to look after the fish resources which provide us with so much enjoyment. We need to respect the fish we catch and treat them accordingly, not simply view them as points on the board as often happens in the excitement of a &ldquosmash&rdquo. Gone are the days of catching tons of duskies, milkies or lessers and having them removed by the truckload after a competition. Many of our linefish and shark species are overexploited and it is really up to us to ensure their survival for generations to come. Recreational angling is undoubtedly a blood sport and there is increasing public pressure being placed on organised angling to reduce the environmental impact associated with fishing competitions. Within angling circles good competition anglers are generally regarded as being highly skilled anglers capable of catching substantially more fish than your average recreational angler. For this reason I believe that competition anglers should lead the way in developing better catch and release practises and ensuring the development of a responsible ethic towards sound stewardship of our fish resources.