Those of you who come here often – or who fish the waters off Massachusetts – know that the striped bass are in. When I wrote up our fist day out, and mentioned my take on catch-and-release fishing, a couple of commenters (you know who you are) voiced objections, similar to mine, to fishing for anything but sustenance.
I don’t catch and release because I can’t justify catching a fish for fun. There’s disagreement about the extent to which fish suffer, with fishermen generally subscribing to the view that they can’t, while PETA is pretty convinced that they can, but I’m pretty sure we can say for certain that it’s no damn fun to get a hook through your lip (or, worse, your gut), and get hauled into a boat. That said, because we don’t understand the degree to which fish suffer, I’m unwilling to draw a line in the sand and say that it’s unacceptable to catch and release.
In the Atlantic striped bass fishery, catch-and-release fishing has a significant impact on the population. According to NOAA, 2004 (the last year for which I found data) saw 2.5 million striped bass landed by recreational fishermen (which constituted 72% of the total landings, striped bass being unusual in that the bulk of the fishing is recreational). An additional 1.3 million fish died after being caught and released. For every two fish caught and eaten, a third died for our pleasure.
There is, however, a not inconsiderable upside to catch-and-release fishing. Without it, we wouldn’t have nearly as many fishermen, which means we also wouldn’t have nearly the revenue from licenses. Those license fees fund much of the conservation efforts for our fisheries, and those conservations efforts are generally credited with saving the striper fishery in these waters after it was dangerously depleted by overfishing.
Recreational fishing also supports tackle shops, marinas, boat dealers, and mechanics. In a place like Cape Cod, where the fishing is world-class and consequently employs a great many people, that matters.
Do you fish? Do you catch and release? What do you think?