CPR for Fish!

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Published on: May. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 29, 2010

Catch-and-release makes good sense. It provides more fish for more anglers to catch more often. But, catch-and-release itself has a “catch.” If people don’t handle fish properly, the fish won’t survive after being released.

That’s why fish managers, including this old fisheries biologist, like to think about CPR for fish. CPR doesn’t mean giving the fish mouth-to-mouth resuscitation—imagine that! Instead, it stands for Catch, Pamper and Release. Pampering, or taking good care of the catch before releasing it, helps ensure its survival.

CPR is necessary for both voluntary catch-and-release and for when regulations require anglers to release fish they catch.

Voluntary catch-and-release is more common than you might think. It’s a modern philosophy that’s evolved as fishing has become more of a sport and less of a means of putting food on the family table.

Sport anglers enjoy the process of finding, fooling and catching fish. To increase the prospects for future enjoyment, they release their fish to, as they often say, “fight another day.”

Surveys show that many anglers who target bass, trout and muskie release most of the fish they catch. They might keep the trophy of a lifetime, but they are just as likely to snap a photo of it and return it to the water.

Many anglers are even releasing catfish and crappie, typically thought of as food fish. It’s the fun and satisfaction of successful fishing they seek, not the flesh of the fish.

Tournament fishing has done much to spread the catch-and-release philosophy. Tournaments that end in a fish-fry have become exceedingly rare.

Almost all bass and walleye tournaments require anglers to keep fish alive so they can be released. They even deduct points if a fish is dead or near death at the weigh-in. This requirement has led to innovations in livewell design and tournament weigh-in procedures that better protect fish until they can be released.

Fishing regulations often require catch-and-release. Some areas that receive a lot of fishing pressure or that are being managed to protect or rebuild fish populations have areas or seasons in which only catch-and-release fishing is allowed.

Fish shorter than the legal length limit also have to be released immediately after being caught. It’s important for anglers not to disregard undersized fish as “shrimps,” but to treat them as fish that have not yet reached the legal limit. They may someday grow to be trophies. Their chances of growing larger are reduced, however, unless they are provided CPR.

The procedure

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