When I start thinking about my next fishing outing, like most fishermen, my thoughts focus on the enjoyment I have waiting for me; a chance to reconnect with nature, sooth my soul and take away memories to last me until my next outing. I think of myself as someone who does his best to preserve nature so that I can continue to enjoy the environment and so that my son, and generations to come, can do so also. I don’t litter and even will pick up bottles or garbage that I find and hope my fishing companions will notice and that it will be contagious. But I’m not one to impose my values on others. So if I see a fishing pal drop a wrapper carelessly, instead of saying “hey jackass friend, why not drop that in a wastebasket instead”, I’ll just subtly pick it up myself (hoping he/she will notice) and save it to toss later, or toss it directly if there’s a recipient nearby.

But even though I think I’ve got all the good behavior down (and maybe you do too), perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider how recreational fishing can have an impact on the environment, because in fact it’s not just commercial fishing that has a negative impact on the environment. Unfortunately, we good natured weekend warriors also make an impact and recreational “harvest” may make up as much as 12% of the global take.  source: Cooke & Cowx

 Ok, now you’re thinking, “Hey, I practice catch and release…” But it is not only those fish that you keep. Even the ones you toss back may end up as flotsam. Not to mention that negligent fishing practices and carelessness can also harm other wildlife and even destroy entire habitats. Here are some things that might be good to keep in mind, consider and even address actively and constantly improve your conservationism and minimize your negative impact on the environment and sport we all love. To approach this logically I’ve assembled five points, one for each finger (assuming you haven’t lost one to a nasty Pike, Muskie, Walleye, Golden Dorado, Pacú, etc. while trying to extract your “lucky fly”).

  1. Transport – Imagine putting your outboard in your bathtub before taking a bath. Right, they are nasty. So imagine what they do to the natural environment. Now jump in the tub with your outboard and crank her up… You may or may not whack a fish with your outboard propeller but it works like a moulinex on plants and anything else that are vital for fish survival (i.e. food and shelter).

    Moulinex

    Engines also make clear waters murky because of their pollution and contribution to erosion.Some alternatives I can think of are, electric motors, not using a motor at all, and at the very least, just being conscious of the potential damage you might do if you’re not as careful as you could be while operating a fishing boat.Giving up the motorized transport may introduce you to a whole new fishing experience.

    Two years ago, I decided to try fly fishing from a canoe I found by a path leading to a small lake behind the cabins we were staying in while fishing Trout Lake in Canada. I’d never tried to fly fish off a canoe before, and it wasn’t easy, but when I finally hooked a Pike, even though he wasn’t very big, he hauled me all over that little lake before I got him in the net. It is still the most vivid catch memory from that trip.

  2. Gear – Most of your gear goes in with you and comes back out, but there are some things that you leave behind which can have significant negative effect you may not be aware of. There are the obvious things, such as lures that get snagged and you end up loosing because of a broken line. Whenever possible, make every effort to retrieve them. You’ll have the lure to use again in the future, and you’ll ensure that no animals are injured when they come across your lure either by mistake or because they mistake it for real food. Fishing line is also a huge hazard. It doesn’t bio-degrade and can trap fish and fauna alike. Next time you have a big hairy knot-up (galleta as it’s known around here) dispose of it properly instead of just tossing it to the depths.Lead weights are another hazard.  They are toxic and left in the water they can also be mistaken for food. Believe it or not there are lures and weights that are now made of fish food and might actually improve the luck of some of you out there who I know can use all the luck they can get… 😉

  3. Trash – This one is simple to remember. Don’t be stupid. Don’t litter. ‘nuf said?
  4. Non-native – Non-native plants and species can devastate your newly discovered fishing paradise. You’ve all heard by now about Zebra Muscles, Asian Carp and Sea Lamprey among others, that are invading and significantly impacting your local fishing environments. In most cases this didn’t happen because some crazy guy introduced the non-native plant or creature on purpose. Usually these problems started because of carelessness. Be sure you boat, float, lures, bait bags, minnow buckets, etc. are all cleaned and free of plants and other animals before you go from one body of water to the next. It’s just the smart and correct thing to do. It will also ensure that your gear stays in the best shape possible and you enjoy your investment that much longer. Invading species can displace native ones by outcompeting them for resources, thus altering the species composition and balance of the ecosystem. According to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, non-native and invasive species cost the United States more than $100 billion dollars each year.Also, don’t dump your unused bait in the water when you are done fishing, and don’t use live bait if it is prohibited. Be a good sportsman and obey the rules. If you set a good example, other will follow.
  5. Handling – This is something that is becoming more and more popular and well know, and I’m happy for it. The length of time and how you handle your catch is key to fish survival.I hope most, if not all of you, are practicing catch and release, and only keep what you eat during a shore lunch or dinner. Taking “limits” back home to store in a freezer for me is just greedy. Go out and have a nice fish dinner in a restaurant when you get back home, and if you want fresh caught Pike or Trout, enjoy it when you’re on the water only.

    Keep only the small and medium sized fish and let the big ones that reproduce do their duty.  Use barbless hooks to minimize damage, hold the fish as little as possible, avoid touching their gills and removing protective slime. Reel them in, take a quick picture and return them to the water quickly (to avoid exhausting them). If you hook a fish deeply, don’t risk unnecessary harm by trying to get it out — simply clip the line and let the fish go.

Give and Take-care

Like I said before, I’m not one to impose, but I hope by now you are considering some ways that you can be a more environmentally friendly fisherman. Nobody is perfect, but by setting an example whenever we can, we’ll ensure that there are many more productive and enjoyable fishing outings in our future and for those who follow on behind us.

Sources: Cooke, Steven J. and Ian G. Cowx. “The Role of Recreational Fishing in Global Fish Crises.” BioScience. September 2004. Vol. 54, No. 9.

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