Catch and release fishing is one of the biggest controversies in the fishing world. Many people believe that it is one of the very few practices that keep the fish numbers from teetering while still enjoying the fishing.
Others think catching and releasing is cruel and kills the fish regardless. The fish mortality would be the biggest argument here. Recent studies show that most caught and released fish have big chances of survival.
What Percentage of Fish Survive Catch and Release?
Depending on the type of fish and how it has been caught, there are different numbers of fish surviving catch and release. The average survival rate of catch and release fish is between 84 – 98%.
For starters, some fish are stronger, more resilient than others, and less prone to stress. Tarpon, bonefish, snook, and spotted sea trout have the biggest survival rate amongst studied fish. The fish hooked by their lips has better chances of survival than gut or gill-hooked fish.
The fish taken out of the water or caught repeatedly has fewer chances of survival. The physiological stress levels the fish experiences during the fight or being taken out of the water contribute to the accumulation of lactic acid waste. This, in turn, can disrupt the fish’s metabolism. It greatly lowers the chances of survival of the fish. In fact, stress is the most common cause of death in caught and released fish.
The longer the fish is out of the water, the less chances it has to survive. The study showed that fish held out of the water for around 30 seconds has 62% chances of survival, and fish held out of the water for about 60 seconds only has 18% chances.
Fish hooked by gills, guts, or throat have just over 50% chances of survival. On top of high levels of stress, fish sometimes experiences extensive damage to their vital organs, which drastically lowers the chances of survival.
How Much Does Catch and Release Hurt Fish?
For many years, people believed that fish didn’t feel pain. However, studies showed that, although fish doesn’t respond in the same way as humans, they can feel pain to a certain degree.
The fish fighting while hooked previously believed to be an automatic response is, in fact, a response to pain. There are pain receptor neurons called nociceptors located around a fish’s body.
Although nobody can say for sure how much exactly a fish is hurting while being hooked and dragged out of the water, scientists found that fish can feel enough pain to slow their movement, cease social interactions, and limit food intake.
Additionally, scientists discovered that fish in pain respond protectively, often engaging in behavior that helps heal, comfort, and reduce pain.
Do Fish Heal After Being Hooked?
Yes, fish can heal after being hooked, providing the wound is not too big.
Fish, like other animals, can heal their small wounds pretty fast. Although infection is a risk and can hinder the healing or, in extreme cases, even kill the fish, the risk is smaller due to the slimy coat covering the fish. The slime protects the fish from bacteria, greatly reducing the chances of infection.
While any minor injury to the mouth can heal rather fast, internal injuries from swallowing the hook are a different matter. While injuries in the muscle tissue usually heal rather well and relatively fast, an injury to the stomach, heart, liver, or gills is less likely to heal properly, if at all.
How To Safely Release Fish?
Careful handling of fish is important regardless of whether we plan to keep or release the fish, although handling is even more critical in the latter case.
- First and foremost, we should not take the hooked fish we intend to release out of the water to reduce stress and the possibility of suffocating. While sometimes it may be difficult to unhook the fish, we should do what we can to keep the fish in the water and preferably wet our hands before handling the fish. If keeping fish in the water while unhooking is not possible, we should ensure that the time fish spends out is the shortest possible. As mentioned before, even 30 seconds out of the water may increase fish mortality up to 38%.
- Fish should always be kept in a horizontal position. Turning fish vertically may cause internal organs displacement. It would be best not to hold large fish by a bottom jaw, as it may get dislocated, making it impossible for fish to eat.
- The best is to use barbless or circle hooks to make it easier to unhook the fish. Those hooks reduce the chances of injury and mortality of released fish. Also, if the hook is stuck, the best way to help the fish survive is to cut the line at the hook and leave it. Studies claim that leaving hooks in is far less lethal for the fish than trying to take it out and prolonging the stress of the fish or inflicting more injuries. The hook left in the fish can be expelled or encapsulated by the fish. Hooks made of steel and bronze give fish more chances at expelling them and are less toxic than nickel or cadmium hooks.
- If the fish is healthy but lethargic and doesn’t immediately swim away, you can help it by holding it under the tail with one hand and gently opening its mouth with the other, then slowly moving it forward. At the first attempt of fish to swim away, let go.
- Deep-sea fish brought to the surface often suffer distended air bladders. In that case, venting is the best option. It would be best if you had a 1.5 inches long needle 0.125 inches in diameter to perform that. You need to puncture the fish’s body at the tip of its pectoral fin at about 60 – 75 degree angle until you can hear trapped air escape. The needle doesn’t need to go too deep. In fact, if it does, you are risking injuring the fish by puncturing the belly. Sometimes distended air bladder may cause a fish’s stomach to turn out through its mouth. Don’t try to push it back. The fish can do it better by itself.
Ensure you always use the proper sized tackle for fishing. If the fish you pull in is repeatedly tired, you should change the tackle to a heavier one.
Fishing is a great sport, even if you don’t intend on eating the fish you catch. Catch and release practices are a debate between anglers but also between non-fishing people.
Although many people think catch and release is a cruel sport, it doesn’t affect nature if performed with care and respect for the fish. In fact, releasing caught fish ensures that there are enough specimens left in their habitat to promote the breeding and survival of the species.