10 Recreational Fishing and Keep Fish Wet

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the types of benefits provided by recreational fishing to the economy.
  • Classify individual motivations for recreational fishing.
  • Review options for maintaining satisfactory recreational fishing.
  • Explain the basis for therapeutic value from recreational fishing.
  • Understand the types of impacts that recreational fishing may have on fish, populations, and ecosystems.
  • Explain how science can inform responsible fishing practices.
  • Apply the Keep Fish Wet principles to minimize postrelease stress or mortality of released fish.
  • Apply principles of behavior change to nudge recreational anglers to adopt responsible fishing practices.

10.1 Recreational Fishing and Its Importance

Recreational fishing is fishing for fun or sport, or fishing that “does not constitute the individual’s primary resource to meet essential physiological needs” (Arlinghaus and Cooke 2009). While subsistence fishing has a longer history, the first recreational fishing began at different times in different regions of the world. A Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle, by Dame Juliana Berners (1496), was the first book written about recreational fishing. Today, recreational fishers dominate many freshwater and marine fisheries. At least 220 million recreational fishers use a variety of gear, including rod and line, handlines, spears, bow and arrow, traps, and nets, to catch fish while engaged in a leisure activity (Arlinghaus et al. 2015; Cooke et al. 2018). In this chapter, I refer to recreational fishers as anglers. The term “angler” has been used since the mid-15th century to refer to those who “fish with a hook.”

Although commercial fishers have taken the brunt of the blame for fisheries depletions in the ocean, restrictive fishing regulations are often implemented for recreational fishing to prevent decline in catch rates (Lewin et al. 2006). In some freshwater lakes and streams, recreational fishing may be the only source of fishing mortality and may lead to collapse of important freshwater fisheries (Post et al. 2002). A major constraint in preventing overexploitation in recreational fisheries is the diffuse and open-access nature of the activity, making it very difficult to monitor the status of all fished populations (Arlinghaus and Cooke 2009). Privatization of recreational fisheries exists in only limited situations (Olausen and Block 2014), while many commercial fisheries have adopted individual transferable quotas.

The economic impact of recreational fishing is substantial, valued at U.S. $190 billion globally (World Bank 2012). However, the economic value of recreational fishing is often underappreciated, as is the secondary value of recreational catch as a source of food. In Wisconsin alone, recreational harvest from lakes amounts to ~4,200 metric tons and an estimated annual angler consumption rate of ~1.1 kg, nearly equal to the total estimated U.S. per capita freshwater fish consumption (Embke et al. 2020). The annual economic impact of trout fishing in Georgia alone is U.S. $130.3 million, which amounts to between $60 to $165 per trout angler (TenHarmsel et al. 2021). Although recreational fisheries have a greater importance in developed countries, as incomes rise in developing countries more opportunities arise to develop recreational fisheries and their links to tourism.

Two children sit on a cooler by a lake, fishing for fun
Figure 10.1: Two young recreational anglers using familiar spinning fishing gear.

Approximately 11% of individuals fish for recreation in industrialized countries, although participation decreases in industrialized and urbanized regions where fishing has a reduced cultural importance (Arlinghaus et al. 2015). In the United States, 54.7 million Americans fished at least once during 2020, with a participation rate of 18%. Freshwater fishing attracts more participants than saltwater fishing, largely due to access constraints. Time spent inside and more hours watching television, playing digital games, and following social media compete with nature-based activities in young people (Larson et al. 2019). In larger cities, fishing is one of the last remaining ways in which people connect with nature. In order for future fishing participation to increase or even remain the same, it is important to introduce children to fishing at a young age. Many (88%) of the current fishing participants first fished before the age of 12 (Figure 10.1).

In addition to the concern that recreational fishing can deplete fish populations, many of today’s anglers are concerned about the welfare of fish that they catch, as well as noncompliance with fishing regulations by others. From the second a fish is hooked, they experience stress, and playing the fish has physiological effects. Fortunately, studies have revealed the following three key principles for releasing captured fish with minimal harm (Danylchuk et al. 2018): (1) eliminate air exposure; (2) eliminate contact with dry surfaces; and (3) reduce handling time. Numerous programs have developed to educate and promote a catch-and-release ethic that limits the effects on the captured fish. Many fishing groups have formulated and promoted the development of an angler’s ethic for conservation of many marine and freshwater fish populations. Education about good angling practices may provide the best approach for improving the welfare of recreational fish.

10.2 Motivations for Recreational Fishing

We fish to be outdoors, to relax, and to experience the thrill of the catch. When we look more closely, these motivations vary among anglers. The five most common types of motivations include the following:

  1. Enhancing psychological and physiological well-being,
  2. Experiencing the natural environment,
  3. Experiencing social connections,
  4. Connecting to the fisheries resource, and
  5. Improving fishing skills and equipment. (Fedler and Ditton 1994)

Catching fish is only one of many components of the angling experience. Some anglers may rank eating fish high, while others rate catching fish to eat lower, emphasizing the experience of nature. Making a connection to the environment was the most common motivation for recreational fishers (Figure 10.2; Young et al. 2016). Thirty-four percent of fishing participants said that getting away from the usual demands of life was one of the best things about fishing. Motivations are highly complex and changeable over time (Schramm and Gerard 2004; Young et al. 2016). Both catch-related factors (i.e., catch rate, size of caught fish, fish harvest) as well as non-catch-related components, such as sociability and crowding, influence angler satisfaction (Birdsong et al. 2021). Some degree of aggregation of anglers may be important, perhaps for social reasons, though further increase in crowding reduces satisfaction (Schuhmann and Schwabe 2004; Olaussen 2010). Not all anglers share similar interests in catching fish, as it depends on the value individuals place on these factors:

  1. Catching something,
  2. Retaining fish,
  3. Catching large-sized fish, or
  4. Catching large amounts of fish. (Anderson et al., 2007)
Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 10.2: Positive attributes reported by recreational anglers in the United States. Long description.

Over time, an angler’s motivation may change from a catch orientation to emphasize noncatch motivations, such as being outdoors or passing on their passion for fishing (McKenna 2013). The progression often follows these stages:

  • Stage 1: I just want to catch a fish!
  • Stage 2: I want to catch a lot of fish!
  • Stage 3: I want to catch big fish.
  • Stage 4: I’m just happy to be out fishing.
  • Stage 5: I want to pass on my knowledge and passion for fishing.

Studies of angler characteristics confirm that there is no such thing as an “average” angler. Rather, anglers are a and changing group. Therefore, we can segment anglers in distinct categories for analysis (Bryan 1977; Kyle et al. 2007; Beardmore et al. 2013; TenHarmsel et al. 2019). For example, Magee (2018) categorized recreational anglers into five distinct fisher classes with differing motivations (Table 10.1).

Type of angler Motivation Illustrative quote
Social fishers Motivated by noncatch-related aspects of fishing, particularly socialization and escapism. “We'll keep them live in a big tank, but if we don't catch many then I'll say let's put them back because there's no point. If we're not going to feed the whole family, then forget it.”
Trophy fishers Motivated primarily by challenge and mastery aspects of fishing, including catching large fish. “It's purely… for catching the fish, the fight of the fish and yeah, obviously at the top our mind, is the personal best I guess… It's the size of the fish that's most important.”
Outdoor enthusiasts Tend to fish primarily for the opportunity for escapism and being outdoors. “I always fish primarily by myself; it's the challenge of looking at the conditions, working out what's my best chance, where I should go, what lure I should use… and just the satisfaction of actually getting the fish.”
Generalists A mix of fishing motivations. Individuals in this class rated escapism as an important aspect of fishing. “The relaxing part of it is a big motivator, especially with the stresses of work… If the tide is right the anticipation of nailing a couple of big fish is pretty cool. That can be with friends or on my own.”
Hunter gatherers A mix of different motivations, and a comparatively large percentage of individuals who gave neutral responses to each item. “I'm part of a fishing club and there are a lot of guys in that I think are artists, whereas I'd probably use dynamite if I was allowed….I'm certainly more of a skull dragger than a finesse fisherperson.”

Table 10.1: Five distinct classes of recreational anglers.

Why do we need to know so much about angler motivations? If we ignore angler motivations, we risk providing the wrong mix of angling opportunities that fully meet public needs. This is a fundamental principle of fisheries management. With the many distinct types of anglers, the fisheries manager has many opportunities to improve fishing opportunities through stocking, regulations, access improvements, or habitat enhancements. The wrong choices will reduce angler satisfaction and the likelihood of returning. For example, more restrictive fishing regulations allowed Bull Trout numbers and average catch rates to increase dramatically, yet resulted in dramatic declines in participation by traditional anglers who did not favor the new regulation (Johnston et al. 2011). In addition to considering motivations of anglers, managers must also examine motivations and interests of the nonparticipating anglers and consider lost opportunities, or what economists call “opportunity costs.” Only 18% of the U.S. population fishes in any given year, leaving one to ask what we can do to allow the other 82% to fish.

Declining participation, stakeholder conflicts, regulations on harvest, and angler behavior and compliance are common concerns that can dramatically influence how satisfied an angler is with a fishing trip (Arlinghaus and Cooke 2009). Declining participation is associated with demographic shifts to urban living. Anglers choose fishing locations based on expected catch, but environmental and facility quality are also important determinants (Hasler et al. 2011; Hunt et al. 2019; Birdsong et al. 2021). How quickly a new fishing hole gets fished out depends on suitable regulations to avoid the phenomenon of an invisible collapse by highly mobile and successful anglers (Post et al. 2002; Post 2013).

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 10.3: Four quadrants of management priorities based on importance to anglers and angler satisfaction with fishing experience. Long description.

As anglers become progressively diverse, fisheries managers need ways to satisfy users with different preferences while concurrently conserving a limited resource (TenHarmsel et al. 2019). Each angler group has differing views on the importance of fishing attributes, such as catch rate, fish size, or the environment. From the field of marketing, we can apply a framework that analyzes both the importance and satisfaction with each attribute of fishing. The framework reveals guidance for needed actions and recognizes that a “one size fits all” management approach is not optimal for large, complex fisheries with a heterogeneous mix of anglers (Ward et al. 2013).

The importance and satisfaction ratings for anglers can be displayed in a two-dimensional graph that shows importance versus satisfaction (Figure 10.3). The x-axis represents attribute satisfaction and the y-axis represents attribute importance, both ranging from low to high. Each of the four quadrants corresponds with management priorities. For example, trophy anglers who rate size of catch as most important would be dissatisfied with many small fish in their daily . This combination fits the upper-left quadrant, which indicates that fisheries managers should concentrate on improving the size of fish caught. High importance and low satisfaction means “concentrate here.” The ideal combination is high importance and high satisfaction, which means fisheries managers should “keep up the good work.” The case of low importance and high satisfaction means “possible overkill.” Finally, the lower-left quadrant of both low importance and low satisfaction means “low priority.”

Questions to ponder:

Many people love to fish, and perhaps you are one of these people. What are your primary motivations for fishing? Do you know any anglers who fit one of the categories defined in Table 10.1? If you do not fish, what alternative leisure time activities are you engaged in?

10.3 Therapeutic Benefits of Recreational Fishing

Recreational fishing reflects both cultural and emotional aspects of our relationships with places, fish species, and individual fish. Experienced anglers have memories of important places to fish, fishing partners, types of fish caught, and even individuals captured even if not landed. The positive influences of fishing create positive feedback, so that good fishing encourages more fishing. By making connections with nature via fishing, people feel better (McManus et al. 2011). In fact, Australia’s national recreational fishing policy maintains that “Recreational fishing is a legitimate activity that contributes to Australians’ health and well-being at individual, family and community levels” (Griffiths et al. 2017). In the United States, fly-fishing has been adopted as a therapy for treating combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder and improving the quality of life for women with breast cancer (Hildreth et al. 2019).

Casting for Recovery (2022) was formed in 1996 to introduce the benefits of fly-fishing to women with breast cancer. Approximately 200,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year, and more than 2.9 million breast cancer survivors are living in the United States. Retreats organized by Casting for Recovery provide opportunities for breast cancer patients to escape to a safe space in nature while learning to fly-fish (Weston 2016). Participants in weekend retreats report a high degree of satisfaction, healing, and learning (Henry 2017).

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder originating from experiencing a traumatic event (e.g., witnessing a violent act, sustaining a debilitating physical injury, combat). PTSD symptoms make it difficult for individuals to relax, enjoy, and participate in activities with others due to the fear of triggering symptoms. Approximately one in five of the 2.4 million troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD or depression. Since 2005, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) began treating wounded military service members returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Participants learn fly-fishing through outings, insect identification, flytying, and rod-building classes. Project Healing Waters accommodates fly-fishing for clients with physical limitations or mobility issues.

Does fly-fishing work as a therapy? Few randomized controlled experiments by licensed mental health professionals have been done to answer this question. However, much has been learned from efforts by trained therapists to use fly-fishing to resolve trauma even when there is no control group used for comparison. Participants learn that it is not about the fish but the activities that assist in forming new memories while decreasing the intensity of traumatic memories (Parmenter 2022).

Fly-fishing can create a healing environment that can promote a return to healthy activity and personal transformation for veterans and military personnel with PTSD, and it facilitates a positive mood in individuals suffering from PTSD (Bennett et al. 2017; Hildreth et al 2019; Craig et al. 2020). The calming effect of sharing natural environments with other like-minded companions in pursuit of elusive wild fish was also alluded to in earlier writings about fishing. Author and ecologist Carl Safina (2011) likened fishing to meditation when he wrote, “Fishing in a place is a meditation on the rhythm of a tide, a season, an arc of a year, and the seasons of life.”

Therapeutic fly-fishing programs can improve quality of life for veterans with combat-related disabilities. Participants demonstrated reduced symptoms of PTSD, depression, stress, and functional impairment in the immediate response to the program and increased leisure satisfaction even after three months (Bennett et al. 2017; Parmenter 2022). Interviews with participants in the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program demonstrated that the program facilitates positive mood, generates motivation for coping, provides hope for the future, and contributes to post-traumatic growth (Craig et al. 2020). However, the fact that fishing and other recreation therapy provides health and well-being benefits is underappreciated (Kemeny et al. 2020).

Benefits of fly fishing Representative quotes
Positive mood - “It helps you relax, to unwind…it puts you in a better frame of mind…it’s just tranquil.”
- “It’s hard to explain to people the tranquility of just being on a stream. It doesn’t matter if I’m fishing, or just trying to see what kind of bugs are on the water; it’s just that feeling of peace and quiet.”
- “It definitely helps me with my anxiety; just casting, alone in itself. And, just knowing, I’ve got to get better, I’ve got to go further … it’s a soothing thing, it helps you just calm down within because you don’t have to rush it.”
Motivation for coping - “When I first got back from Iraq, I didn’t have any patience at all, my concentration wasn’t there…I couldn’t tie a fly. Now, with fly-fishing, I’m probably more patient than I have been in a long time."
- “Because of PHWFF, I get out of bed.”
Hope for the future - “Fly-fishing breaks down a lot of barriers, and makes you feel like you’re not alone…it’s a big network, and a mentorship. For me, it’s not about the fishing at all. I love to catch fish, but I don’t go to fish at all, I go to see everybody.”
- “Everything about it is so—I’m not going to say divine—but it’s just natural, just being around the water and the trees. And it helps you cope even when you’re stuck. I was so stuck.”
- “I may have a bad week or two, but tell myself Friday is a casting session which helps me get through the day. I can deal with a few bad days because there is going to be one day I can go fishing.”
Post-traumatic growth - “I feel like I do love myself. I love fishing and I just feel happy and relaxed and peaceful. I got one thought in my head, not a million.”
- “With flyfishing, you have something you take on forever, you can take it with you. They don’t come and feed you but teach you how to fish and feed yourself.”
- “It ain’t about the fishing. It’s about where it takes you and how it can reform you and make you over and help you get out of a rut, and just try. It’ll transform you. It helped me to be more complete.”

Table 10.2: Benefits of fly-fishing and representative quotes by participants (from Craig et al. 2020).

10.4 Conservation Issues Facing Recreational Fishing

In North America and other areas, fisheries are a public resource, and open access may lead to overfishing. Recreational fishing often the natural age and size structure, resulting in fewer older larger fish (Figure 10.4). Recent studies also reveal that high fishing pressure may reduce genetic variability or influence evolutionary pressures (Sutter et al. 2012). Fishing may also alter aquatic food webs. A third effect relates to loss of fishing gear and lures that result in unintended ecosystem consequences. Habitat modifications to improve access for boats may make habitats less hospitable for fish (Lewin et al. 2006). The loss of bigger and older individuals in a population is a common influence of unrestricted recreational fishing. Even at a modest rate, fishing can greatly reduce the number of older fish in a population, resulting in catch dominated by small fish (Figure 10.4). Recreational fishing is facing a number of conservation challenges, including high exploitation, selective harvest, fishing and boating during spawning, pollution and contaminated fish, stocking, sublethal effects, fish welfare and antifishing sentiments, and community and ecosystem influences (Cooke and Cowx 2006; Lewin et al. 2006; Arlinghaus and Cooke 2009).

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 10.4: Theoretical comparison of number of fish in an unfished and fished age group through time. Long description.

High exploitation is a prominent conservation issue in recreational fishing, particularly in highly valued species. For example, recent studies show that approximately 40% of recreational Walleye fisheries of Wisconsin were overharvested (Embke et al. 2019). Other assessments indicated that a collapse of recreational fisheries may be more widespread than previously assumed (Simonson and Hewett 1999; Post et al. 2013; Rypel et al. 2016). Numerous technological innovations, such as social media, fish finders, drones, and underwater cameras, have greatly increased anglers’ ability to locate and catch fish (Cooke et al. 2021). Such developments in fishing technologies have so greatly influenced success in finding and catching fish that we need to revisit questions of what constitutes “fair play” in recreational angling and what limitations, if any, should be imposed. Because these new technologies are cost prohibitive for some participants, an uneven playing field exists.

Recreational fishing is highly selective. Anglers have favorite species to target, and regulations are often needed to protect spawning or trophy-sized fish. Targeting rare trophy individuals of fish species that are late maturing or with variable recruitment may have effects on population viability. The International Game Fish Association continues to certify the world record size fish, even for species that are at risk of extinction (Shiffman et al. 2014; Cooke et al. 2016). If we continue to certify records for endangered fish species, we must ensure that the role of anglers in conservation exceeds the risk of population collapse. Some sportfishing-based conservation projects focus on at-risk fish species, including the mahseers, Taiman, Murray Cod, White Sturgeon, Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, Arapaima spp., and coastal sharks (Cooke et al. 2016; Gallagher et al. 2017). In these and other cases, anglers can promote conservation in a number of ways by raising funds, monitoring catch, and implementing guidelines for responsible angling practices (Schratwieser 2015).

Question to ponder:

Should we permit recreational fishing on fish that are at risk of extinction?

Recreational anglers learn the patterns of the fish they target and adopt fishing practices to increase the odds of success. For example, bass anglers soon learn that fishing during spawning season when males are creating and defending nest sites can be highly effective. In particular, parental males of black bass (Micropterus spp.) are highly vulnerable to angling while guarding nests in shallow water. Even temporary removal of guarding males may lead to predation on offspring or even male abandonment of the nest (Suski and Philipp 2004). Fishing may also influence fish populations indirectly via habitat disturbance. Boat noise near nesting bass may also reduce nest success (Mueller 1980; MacLean et al. 2020), and wading by anglers can kill developing trout eggs (Roberts and White 1992). Construction of moorings for recreational boating reduces aquatic vegetation, important habitat for juvenile fish (Hansen et al. 2019). Planning for quality recreational fishing requires that we minimize the indirect effects of recreational fishing.

Water pollution has reduced availability of fishable waters as well as eliminated the aesthetic quality of fishing experiences. Although water pollution laws have benefited recreational fishing tremendously (Vaughan and Russell 2015), consumption advisories for contaminated fish are commonplace, often eliminating the benefits of fishing for food (Cole et al 2004; Westphal et al. 2008). Pregnant women and young children are the most at risk fish consumers. Some anglers are not aware of the fact that contaminants bioaccumulate up the food chain from sediments to plants to fish. Fishing also generates litter from discarded fishing line, hooks, and lures that may result in injury to wildlife. The of lead from fishing sinkers can lead to poisoning and death when ingested by waterfowl.

Stocking is an important tool for recreational fisheries management. It may supplement heavily fished populations, and in certain cases, nonnative fish stocking may cause problems for native populations. Stocking on top of native trout populations has been discontinued in many states, as noted earlier in Chapter 9 Fly Fishing’s Legacy for Conservation. Introduction of species from outside their range may cause unintended consequences or may be beneficial. Throughout much of the industrialized world, novel ecosystems are increasingly widespread; there are no pristine environments and no species assemblages unaltered by human activity. For example, the unintentional introduction of the Sea Lamprey into the Great Lakes had profound consequences to all large-bodied fishes, such as Lake Trout, Burbot, and Lake Whitefish (Brant 2019). This introduction plus others so greatly changed the Great Lakes that an intentional creation of put-grow-take salmon and steelhead fisheries resulted in a world-renowned biologically and economically valuable fishery in the Great Lakes (Tanner 2019). These introductions are well managed and considered to be beneficial. However, several species of Asian carp, introduced in Arkansas in the 1970s, have expanded their range and are considered ecologically destructive. Asian carp are now a threat, as their expansion continues into the Great Lakes (Reeves 2019).

Most fisheries management agencies categorized fish as threatened or endangered (all take is restricted), game (harvest is regulated), or nongame (harvest may be regulated). Unfortunately, many species are perceived to have low fisheries values and are referred to as “rough fish.” As noted earlier, Rypel et al. (2021) argued for dropping the term “rough fish” because it is and reflects a cultural problem of viewing these fish as nuisances. The term was first used in the late 1800s to refer to fish that were gutted but not filleted. Often these “rough-dressed” fish were discarded when other higher-valued species were caught. Referring to fish as “rough” is not helpful or informative and obscures the unappreciated benefits of native species. Furthermore, the daily harvest or possession limits for these and nonnative fish are unlimited in many states. The use of the term “rough fish” was recently eliminated by one state (Minnesota), which has substituted the term “underused fish.” With a growing demand for alternative fishing adventures, agencies need to create scientifically based fishing regulations for the undermanaged and underused fish.

Question to ponder:

What descriptive name(s) would you suggest we adopt for nongame fish to better reflect their values?

10.5 Challenges in Managing Recreational Fishing

Management agencies often hear anglers express their concern that “fishing is not what it used to be.” Anglers are relaying their experience in personal success rate, measured as either catch rates or size of catch. Maintaining high levels of fishing satisfaction is a challenge for a number of reasons. First, angler trip success and catch rates are dependent upon a fish’s vulnerability to angling gear and often decline with increased fishing effort (Shaw et al. 2021). Second, access to innovative technology and specialized information increases vulnerability to capture and loss of harvestable-size fish. Although fishing success may be enhanced by hiring a fishing guide, the additional cost is often prohibitive for many anglers. Finally, the paradox of satisfaction is a common pattern where improved fish populations lead to higher expectations and, therefore, not higher fishing satisfaction.

Recreational fishing is also challenging to manage because of the ability of anglers to easily change target species or target fishing spots. Most anglers (86%) reported that other species would be acceptable substitutes for their preferred species (Sutton and Ditton 2005). As anglers become more experienced, they learn about fishing sites and social media, and other fishing communities provide access to changes in fishing success. Consequently, fishing effort can rapidly change in response to expected catch rates. For a region with multiple species and locations, angler behaviors of choosing fishing opportunities appear to be driven primarily by expenses and less by specialization (Shelby and Vaske 1991; Beardmore et al. 2013; Sutton and Oh 2015). If fishing regulations are uniform within a region, anglers will fish down stocks closest to home and then substitute more distant locations as catch quality declines close to home (Carpenter and Brock 2004). This creates a leapfrog exploitation pattern that spreads across a region. The substitutability problem means that management regimes must be flexible enough to avoid such cascades of fishery impacts across patchy environments.

Recreational anglers have dealt with animal welfare concerns and antifishing sentiments in recent years (Arlinghaus et al. 2012; Muir et al. 2013). (Chapter 5 discusses personal decision making about minimizing pain and suffering in recreationally caught fish.) The term “welfare” addresses physical and mental health and well-being of a fish or group of fish. Scientists and ethicists differ on how to approach animal welfare. For example, the animal welfare views held by individuals may be any of the following:

  • Function-based, that is indicative of growth or fecundity,
  • Nature-based, which relates to the ability to lead a natural life in the wild, or
  • Feelings-based, which focuses on mental states rather than physical health and emphasizes not only the avoidance of stress or fear but also the opportunity to experience positive feelings.

Recreational anglers practice a mix of pursuit of fish for food, competition and trophies, leisure, and catch and release. The pain and suffering of fish are not the only morally relevant criteria considered. Recreational anglers may claim that the utilitarian benefits of sportfishing exceed any harm. Typically, they consider welfare considerations for fish from a functions-based view, which recognizes that angling induces stress and may cause injuries, but responsible fishing practices can minimize injuries.

Responsible fishing practices should be actively debated by recreational anglers so that values, beliefs, norms, and personal actions drive decisions rather than ill-advised policies. For example, the Swiss Animal Welfare Act makes voluntary catch and release of legally harvestable fish an offense. This act, passed in 2008, is based on the belief that the only valid reason to go fishing is to harvest fish. In Germany, fishing tournaments with voluntary catch and release are banned. Five ethical viewpoints are common in many parts of the world (Table 10.3; Arlinghaus et al. 2007; Arlinghaus and Schwab 2011).

Viewpoint Description
Animal welfare Focuses on how recreational fishing impacts the well-being, health, and fitness of individual fish and actions to minimize impairments.
Animal liberation Takes a utilitarian view to weigh the benefits of recreational fishing to individual anglers and society against the pain and suffering of individual fish.
Animal rights Holds that animals have an intrinsic right to life and a right not to be harmed. Therefore, recreational fishing is unethical.
Angler motivation Examines intention of the recreational angler to either meet essential survival needs (i.e., food) or fish for fun. Angler’s motive is what counts most in judging ethical permissibility. Therefore, catch-and-release fishing is unethical, whereas fishing for food is acceptable.
Biocentrism and ecocentrism Recreational angling is a threat to natural wilderness processes and biological integrity and should be avoided.

Table 10.3: Five ethical viewpoints applied to recreational fishing.

Of these five viewpoints, only the animal welfare and ecocentric views do not involve the total abolition of recreational angling. Responsible angling requires better information on technologies to improve fish care (Cooke et al. 2021). Laws and policies that follow other viewpoints may greatly limit availability of conservation practices. In response to animal rights activists, 23 of the 50 states of the United States have passed constitutional amendments proclaiming a right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions (Ballotpedia 2022).

Questions to ponder:

Which of the five viewpoints are you likely to adopt to decide how to address welfare of fish caught by recreational anglers? Which of these viewpoints represent the biggest threat to the future of recreational angling?

10.6 Options for Regulating Recreational Fishing

Costs of enforcement of regulations of harvest and gear restrictions can be substantial. Therefore, voluntary adoption of fishing restrictions via promoting changes in behavior is preferable (Cooke et al. 2013). The most commonly employed regulations for recreational fishing include creel (or bag) limits, closed seasons, and length limits. Over time, these regulations have become more restrictive in response to increasing fishing.

Creel limits are simple and easy to understand and enforce. They restrict angler harvest per fishing event or day. Creel limits are widely applied to distribute the finite harvest among more anglers and reduce the harvest by more experienced anglers. These limits have historically been higher than the daily angler catch of most anglers (Cook et al. 2001; Radomski et al. 2001). For example, the Yellow Perch daily creel limit in Minnesota was once 100 fish. With high daily creel limits, few anglers harvest the daily limit. Often only “10% of the anglers harvest 50% of the fish” (Snow 1978). There are two reasons for the highly skewed distribution of success (Figure 10.5). One is that not all days are equally good for fishing. The second is the great variation in skill level among anglers (Wagner and Orth 1991).

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 10.5: Frequency distribution displays the number of angler days resulting in differing catch per day for a hypothetical 8 fish per day creel limit and estimated change if creel limit is reduced to 4 fish per day. Long description.

Creel limits are one of many elements that may be used by anglers to define fishing success. When more fish are harvested per trip, anglers rate fishing higher. High creel limits may cause anglers to have unrealistic expectations about the potential supply of fish compared to the demand (Cook et al. 2001). Creel limit reductions may be unsuccessful in reducing angler harvest or affecting fish populations. The hypothetical angler success graph (Figure 10.5) demonstrates that a reduction in creel from 8 to 4 would affect only a few trips and result in a small harvest reduction. Furthermore, creel limits are applied on a per-angler basis, so they cannot control total harvest if total fishing effort increases or if noncompliance is high. Finally, since anglers have a variety of motivations, they likely respond differently to regulation changes (Beard et al. 2011).

The ethic of fairness is involved in setting creel limit regulations because many anglers do not harvest a single fish during an angling trip. In Wisconsin lakes, Walleye harvest was not equally distributed. Only 7.4% of Walleye angler trips were successful in harvesting at least one Walleye, and <1% harvested a limit during a fishing trip (Staggs 1989). In Minnesota, anglers were slightly more successful, where 27.2% of angler trips ended with a harvest of at least one Walleye and about 1% harvesting a limit. The ideal creel limit would distribute the catch among more anglers and prevent overuse by a few individuals.

Long-term trends in panfish populations (i.e., Bluegill, Yellow Perch, Black Crappie, Pumpkinseed, and Rock Bass) in Wisconsin lakes showed significant declines due to overfishing (Rypel et al. 2016). The daily limit for panfish was 50 aggregate per day from 1967 through 1998, which was reduced to 25 in 1998. Further reduction in daily limits for panfish (10) to improve undesirable small sizes of Bluegill populations increased both mean length and mean maximum length relative to sizes in control lakes (Jacobson 2005; Rypel et al. 2015).

Recreational fishing is often regulated with a variety of length-based regulations, based on the assumption that population size structure and trophy potential will improve as a result (Figure 10.4). Most common are minimum length limits; however, maximum length limits and protected and harvest slot limits are also very common. Minimum length limits are adopted to avoid growth overfishing, where the fish are removed before they attain quality size for anglers. Maximum length limits are adopted to protect the big, old, fat, fertile, female fish (BOFFFFs). A protected slot limit is designed to allow anglers to keep up to the daily creel limit of fish smaller than slot. This regulation has the dual purpose of allowing balance of harvest of small pan-size fish and trophy fish.

The big old fat fertile female fish hypothesis considers the many ways that the BOFFFFs benefit the long-term productivity of fish populations (Hixon et al. 2014). Often the larger fish in a population are more valuable economically (as trophies), and there are potential trade-offs between harvesting these fish or implementing management measures to protect them. There are five hypothesized effects of BOFFFFs on population productivity (Figure 10.6). Large females produce far more eggs than small females. Natural mortality of large females is low, meaning that the BOFFFFs will survive long periods of conditions unfavorable for reproduction. Larger females often produce larger eggs with higher amounts of yolk, thereby allowing the offspring to grow faster and survive better. Larger fish typically spawn earlier in the year and at different places than younger females. To the extent these relationships hold, recreational fishing tends to differentially remove BOFFFFs because fishing both elevates mortality and changes the age/size-selective pattern of mortality within fished populations.

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 10.6: Hypothesized maternal effects of big, old, fat, fertile, female fish (BOFFFFs). Long description.

Fishing regulations may also close certain areas or locations to fishing. Closed seasons or catch-and-release fishing seasons during spawning are sometimes implemented. Protected areas refer to implementing some level of exclusion from the use of fish resources. Attempts to establish “no-take” marine reserves in Hawaii, California, and the Florida Keys have engendered strong opposition from sportfishing groups (Salz and Loomis 2004), which limits the use of the regulatory strategy. There tends to be more support for protected areas that for banning commercial fishing but allowing catch-and-release recreational fishing (Bartholomew and Bohnsack 2005). Marine protected areas (MPAs) are most effective when (1) MPAs are large, old, and isolated, (2) all fishing is prohibited, and (3) enforcement is strong (Edgar et al. 2014). Some anglers argue that if nonextractive activities, such as SCUBA diving and snorkeling, are allowed within no-take reserves, then catch-and-release angling should be permitted because it is not extractive. Consequently, best practice includes the recreational anglers in the design and implementation of protected areas to ensure that recreational values are incorporated into the management strategies (Danylchuk and Cooke 2011).

Catch-and-release practices have increased to reduce the effects of angling on fish populations, particularly where angler motivations are less harvest oriented (Arlinghaus et al. 2007). Voluntary release of Largemouth Bass exceeds 90% in certain waters and effectively “recycles” fish, thereby improving fishing quality (Myers et al. 2008). These trends reflect the values, beliefs, norms, and action causal change of influence (Figure 10.7). This theory helps to explain choices of actions based on habits and complex motives. At the core of the theory are notions of values and norms. Values are general principles that provide standards for assessing actions. These core values rarely change over a short time span. For example, one may value being active in the outdoors for feelings of relaxation and enhancing a sense of personal well-being. Both emotions and rational thinking lead to beliefs about best practices for recreational fishing. Beliefs in turn affect personal norms and action in a sequential fashion.

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 10.7: Values, beliefs, norms, and action causal change of influence. Long description.

Many avid catch-and-release anglers begin by nudging others with the simple message, “You should release your catch.” For example, fishing buddies had the largest effect on catch-and-release behaviors (Stensland et al. 2013). Norms are important because they are standards that serve to motivate individual behavior based on a sense of obligation rather than punishment. As such, norms become informal rules enforced by informal sanctions or internalized by the individual.

However, the benefits of catch and release are not guaranteed because angler behavior and gear choice can affect its success. Often, the responses to catch-and-release fishing on fishing mortality are species-specific (Allen et al. 2008; Sass and Shaw 2020). Success of this practice depends on reducing air exposure, hooking injury and mortality, and handling time. Implementing fishing regulations that require anglers to release fish are also associated with recommendations for use of differing gears, such as circle hooks, barbless hooks, or certain types of landing nets (Brownscombe et al. 2018).

Reliance on voluntary norms of proper behavior among anglers facilitates achieving management objectives (e.g., development of voluntary release of fish to reduce fishing mortality). Fly fisher Lee Wulff actively promoted voluntary catch-and-release fishing even when regulations allowed harvest, and his name continues to stand for catch-and-release fishing and the concept that “game fish are too valuable to be caught only once.” In his biography of Wulff, Jack Samson (1995) wrote that “The father of catch-and-release angling and a pioneer in the conservation of Atlantic salmon, Lee Wulff may have been America’s greatest fly-fisherman.” Voluntary release of Largemouth Bass has become a commonplace norm that often aligns with management objectives of trophy and competitive tournament fishing (Siepker et al.; 2007; Myers et al. 2008). Ray Scott, the founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, introduced the catch-and-release ethic to bass fishing and was a staunch advocate for boating safety. At the time, Scott wrote that the “notion of releasing a bass was about as common as giving a steak back to the butcher after you’d bought it. In bass fishing, success was measured in numbers of fish on the dock.” Ray Scott’s persistent message was “Don’t Kill Your Catch” in order to nudge bass fishing tournaments to adopt codes of conduct (i.e., social norms) that drive compliance (Boyle 1999; Thomas et al. 2016).

Raising angler awareness about the practice resulted in catch and release becoming a pervasive “social norm” for a variety of recreational fisheries (Stensland et al. 2013; Sass and Shaw 2019). Wisconsin’s Muskellunge fishery management has focused on catch-and-release fishing due to low creel limits and restrictive length limits. Numbers of musky anglers have never been higher as catch and release has become a norm for Muskellunge anglers. In Wisconsin and elsewhere, the release rate for Largemouth Bass and Muskellunge often exceeds 90% in recent times, reflecting the current social norm. As release rates increased over time, the catch rates for Largemouth Bass have increased (Sass and Shaw 2019); however, the responses to catch and release are species specific, and promotion of the practice should not assume that “one size fits all” fisheries. Walleye fishing attracts many harvest-oriented anglers, and therefore catch and release has limited benefits over size limits.

How can we influence the behavior of recreational anglers? Fisheries management generally relies on deterrence via restrictive regulations. The low probability of being caught is one of the key drivers of noncompliance in recreational fisheries. Yet, nudges based on social norms may be more cost effective (Mackay et al. 2021). A nudge is an aspect of the choice that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. For example, “Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not” (Thaler and Sunstein 2021).

Not all nudges will work, and therefore we must consider opportunities for changing norms in fishing practice. The theory of planned behavior models explains an individual’s behavioral intentions as influenced by three questions: (1) Do I have the right skills to do this? (capability); (2) Do I like it? (motivation); and (3) What do others think of this? (opportunity or norm) (Figure 10.8; Ajzen 2005). Among the many behaviors that might be promoted as new social norms are more effective and less-harmful lures and hooks, use of landing nets, choice of fishing time or seasons, and reduced handling and air exposure. In an evaluation of the use of venting tools and descender devices to minimize (injury resulting from changes in barometric pressure) in released reef fish, Crandall et al. (2018) found that the influence of others via social norms had the greatest influence on adopting new barotrauma mitigation tools.

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 10.8: Three questions that determine behavior intentions according to the theory of planned behavior. Long description.

Efforts to implement large-scale and long-term behavioral intervention strategies for recreational angling should include following simple steps (Geller 1989). These are Selection, Intervention, Evaluation, and Dissemination (Figure 10.9). Step one (Selection) is to identify the target behavior that is desired. Step two is Intervention. Change agents should apply Benjamin Franklin’s principle, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn,” to their intervention communications. To encourage adoption of a new behavior, it should be Easy, Attractive, Social, and Timely (remember: EAST). Verbal and written messages alone are not sufficient. Rather the use of local, credible anglers to demonstrate the new behaviors is preferred. Conducting these demonstrations in pleasant, outdoor surroundings will increase participation by anglers. Step three is Evaluation, during which observations of baseline and after-intervention behaviors are compared to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention on target behaviors. Step three may indicate the intervention was not effective and a new behavior is selected for change. If the intervention was effective, that leads to step four, Dissemination. Here the benefits of adopting the new behavior are shared with recreational anglers. Much can be learned from social marketing to make the target audience aware of the benefits of the behavioral change. For example, social marketing uses market segmentation to divide a market into small units with common characteristics. In promoting behavior change in recreational fishing, segmenting the angling population into different motivations (see Table 10.1) will help define different strategies appropriate for the target group of anglers.

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 10.9: Steps in applied social marketing to change behavior of recreational anglers. Long description.

Recreational fishing regulations via creel limits, length limits, and catch and release are still evolving as new research explores angler behavior and consequences of catch-and-release fishing. Ice fishing is a popular winter sport in northern climates; however, more detailed information is needed to develop fishing regulations for ice fishing that properly consider the effects of air exposure, freeze damage, and temperature shock on the fate of fish released (LaRochelle et al. 2021; Lawrence et al. 2022). Microfishing is a growing form of fishing where the angler is motivated by catching many species of fish with small hooks. Few appropriate studies have been conducted to inform fishing regulations suitable for microfishing (Cooke et al. 2020). Learning how to understand and influence behavior of recreational anglers remains a high priority.

10.7 Responsible Recreational Fishing and Keep Fish Wet Principles

Recreational anglers are important and effective conservation partners who may influence the behavior of other anglers (Granek et al. 2008; Cooke et al. 2019). Depending on the fishing gear used, the angler’s skill and intentions, and environmental conditions, hooking mortality of released fish ranges from ~1% to over 90% (Bartholomew and Bohnsack 2005). Therefore, modifying angler choices and behavior may greatly reduce mortality of released fish (Arlinghaus et al. 2007). Keep Fish Wet is one program designed to encourage anglers to adopt strategies to minimize stress in hooked fish. Three Keep Fish Wet Principles address actions that are most under the angler’s control and backed by scientific evidence.

  • Principle 1: Minimize air exposure
  • Principle 2: Eliminate contact with dry surfaces
  • Principle 3: Reduce handling time

Additional tips provide simple and easy actions that every angler can do (Table 10.4). Proper use of tools and related tactics may include , retrieval tools, landing nets, unhooking tools, measuring devices, holding and recovery nets, and livewells (water tanks used to keep fish alive). Keep Fish Wet is an organization that works to build relationships with anglers who will rely on the organization to provide practical guidance for catch-and-release fishing. As such, it is a recognizable brand with the potential to influence angler behavior.

The general tips provided are generally applicable to recreationally caught species. However, there are differences among fishing locations and game species that require further species-specific studies (Cooke and Suski 2005; Kerr et al. 2017; Browncombe et al. 2017, 2019a, 2019b). For example, use of circle hooks when fishing for sailfish and coral reef fish reduced lethal injuries (Prince et al. 2002; Sauls and Ayala 2012), and replacing treble hooks with single barbless hooks reduced unhooking time (Trahan et al. 2021).

When Tip
Before you go fishing - Follow local regulations
- Think twice before going after spawning fish
- Be wary of warm water
Before your first cast - Use barbless hooks
- Consider using artificial baits
- Use rubber nets
- Limit use of lip grippers
- Carry hook removal devices
When you hook a fish - Limit fight time
- Hold fish in or over water
- Grip fish carefully
- Photograph wet fish
- Only revive fish that cannot swim

Table 10.4: "Keep Fish Wet" tips.

The claim that minimizing air exposure of caught fish enhances postrelease survival is supported by credible and authoritative scientific evidence (Figure 10.10). The scientific evidence comes from a number of studies that reveal the levels of stress, gill damage, and reduced recovery time induced by increased air exposure. In a study of Rainbow Trout, one minute of air exposure following exhaustive exercise promotes more severe acid-base disturbances than does exercise alone (Ferguson and Tufts 1992). One minute of air exposure is much shorter than the time most anglers take to admire the catch and pose for a photograph.

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 10.10: Structure of an argument supporting the premise that minimizing air exposure will reduce the mortality of released fish. Long description.

After catching a fish, it should be released as soon as possible to ensure survival. However, the angler can quickly test the reflexes of the fish with a few simple tests. These signs of impairment in the reflexes of captured fish are correlated with mortality and stress indicators, such as elevated cortisol and lactate levels (Davis 2010; Raby et al. 2012). Anglers who wish to release caught fish should learn to follow the steps for determining reflex action mortality predictors (Brownscombe 2018). If fight times are short and air exposure is minimized during handing, then one should expect the fish to show a strong escape response (Figure 10.11). If the angler grabs the tail of the fish with the fish submerged in water, an unimpaired fish will immediately attempt to swim away and the angler will feel the muscles flex. Additionally, if the fish is held out of water using two hands wrapped around the middle of the body, the unimpaired fish will actively attempt to struggle free. If a fish passes the escape response test, it should immediately be released to reduce any further handling. If it fails, the angler tests the righting response. Here, the fish is placed upside down in the water just below the surface and should right itself in a few seconds. If it passes the righting response, it should be immediately released. If a fish fails both the escape and right response tests, the angler checks for normal gill ventilation. Hold the fish in the water, observe for regular, consistent ventilation (opening and closing) of the operculum (gill covers). If a fish isn’t ventilating at regular intervals, it fails this test, and is highly impaired and at high risk for mortality. Therefore, the fish should be held until it can be reassessed for the righting response and ventilation responses (Figure 10.11). In the final test, the angler holds the fish in water and rolls the fish side to side. If the eye remains level instead of rolling it with the body, the fish passes the test. With either outcome of the eye test, the fish should be held until it can be reassessed and released only after passing the righting response.

Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 10.11: Steps in determining the reflex response in order to minimize the risk of mortality of a released fish. Long description.

Even shark anglers have become strong allies for the development, dissemination, and adoption of specific best practice catch-and-release guidelines. Ninety-three percent of recreational anglers from the United States have caught a shark at least once while fishing (Press et al. 2016). However, many lack knowledge of sharks and how to enhance their survival after capture, and guidelines from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) were not consistently applied. NMFS recommends that recreational anglers who catch and release sharks (1) use nonoffset circle hooks; (2) set the hook immediately in the lip or jaw to avoid gut hooking; (3) reduce fight times by using heavy tackle; (4) minimize handling of the animal, including not landing the shark; (5) use a dehooker to remove the hook; and (6) revive the shark if it is fatigued or near death. These guidelines must be better disseminated.

To increase the awareness of the important role we all play in protecting our fisheries, anglers are asked to embrace a Code of Angling Ethics to serve as a reminder of their stewardship role.

In one example Code of Angling Ethics, anglers make the following pledges:

  • Have a valid fishing license for all members of your party.
  • Understand and follow state and lake-specific regulations. Compliance to regulations directly plays a role in sustaining a healthy recreational fishery and benefits fishing for the future.
  • Strive to keep the watershed clean and minimize the impact you may have when fishing. Avoid degrading stream and lake banks and properly dispose of debris and trash, including monofilament line.
  • Respect property and share waters respectfully with others.
  • Avoid the introduction of aquatic nuisance species to protect the integrity of Illinois lakes and streams. Prevent the transport of unwanted plants, fish, and other aquatic animals by thoroughly cleaning all recreational equipment and disposing of live bait in the trash.
  • Practice best handling guidelines for catch-and-release fishing. Fish should be released with minimal harm to help ensure post-release survival and promote healthy fish populations.
  • Keep no more fish than needed for consumption.
  • Take care when anchoring to minimize damage to the aquatic environment. Be aware that there may be nesting fish close to the shore during the spawning season.
  • Preserve the sportfishing tradition by sharing knowledge, skills, techniques, and ethics. Help others to understand sound fisheries conservation practices. (Illinois DNR, no date)
Long description available in figure caption.
Figure 10.12: Diffusion of innovations graph based on adoption-diffusion model. Long description.

Adoption of any new fishing practice behavior does not happen simultaneously among all participants. Rather, some people are more apt to adopt the innovation than others. When promoting a new behavior, it is important to understand the target population to help or hinder adoption of the innovation. Innovators are eager to try new ideas and demonstrate their effectiveness before early adopters eventually adopt them (Figure 10.12). Later, the early majority and late majority may learn and adopt the new practice, and the last group, called the , applies the practice only if it is the only remaining method. According to adoption-diffusion theory, the greatest impact in implementing innovative fishing practices will come from seeking out and educating the innovators and early adopters (Rogers and Shoemaker 1971). The Keep Fish Wet brand uses ambassadors who serve as innovators and can demonstrate the correct application of Keep Fish Wet principles so that the new behaviors become new social norms.

Question to ponder:

Can you think of “brands” that help foster social change?

10.8 Governing Conflict and Challenges

Management of recreational fishing has a strong moral dimension, while relying on scientific studies in informing responsible fishing practices. The ethical decisions deal with values, rules, duties, and virtues of relevance to both human well-being and ecosystems. Guidance on recreational fisheries recognizes that the right to fish carries with it the obligation to do so in a responsible manner so as to ensure effective conservation and management of the living aquatic resources (FAO 2012). Consequently, to govern fisheries we must engage all stakeholders and their potentially diverse views in decision making (Arlinghaus et al. 2005). Over time, if the recreational anglers form influential, conservation-conscious communities, they become a powerful force for the conservation of aquatic biodiversity. Boundary organizations can bring different people with variable backgrounds into routine contact. Examples include the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust in conserving flats habitats and fishing, Mahseer Trust supporting mahseer conservation in India, and Mongolia River Outfitters/Fish Mongolia for Taimen conservation in Mongolia (Adams et al. 2019; Brownscombe et al. 2019c; Cooke et al. 2016).

The number and catching capacity of recreational anglers globally are very substantial. Most recreational fisheries have no mechanism for limiting total fishing effort, which may result in negative effects on important fish populations and communities, in addition to traffic and congestion problems. Although some types of angling depend on group sociability (Olaussen 2010), excessive crowding at popular fishing locations, dubbed “combat fishing,” is undesirable (Figure 10.13). Crowds and conflicting actions by other anglers were two of the most significant factors influencing angler satisfaction (Tseng et al. 2009; Birdsong et al. 2021; TenHarmsel et al. 2021). Anglers seeking solitude while fishing may desire remote public lands to be physically and legally accessible. In many congested fishing locations, site improvements may help to reduce the negative effects of crowding on the fishing experience.

With increasing demands for recreational fishing, more conflicts are anticipated and should be addressed by management actions (Coleman et al. 2004; Elmer et al. 2017; Arlinghaus et al. 2019). It is not possible to maximize the quality of fishing experiences for trophy and more harvest-oriented anglers simultaneously. Similarly, it is not possible to maximize the harvest in a commercial fishery while providing quality recreational fishing. Making a choice among competing objectives requires a value judgment informed by societal preferences (Arlinghaus et al. 2019). Key questions to consider include these:

  • What do stakeholders want?
  • What can the target population provide?
  • What can the ecosystem sustain?
Crowd of people wading in shallow water while recreational fishing
Figure 10.13: Combat fishing for king salmon near Montana Creek, Alaska.

The future of recreational angling depends on how well we foster sustainable use of species targeted by recreational anglers while minimizing conflicts. The challenges of maintaining sustainable recreational fishing into the future will require collaboration with multiple stakeholders and resolving multiple objectives. Collaborations are likely to enhance use of traditional ecological knowledge, leverage regional and local networks, and enhance sustainable fishing (Granek et al. 2008). People who fish develop an identity as an angler, which drives their engagement in conservation behavior and normative beliefs about responsible fishing (Mordue 2009; Landon et al. 2018). A more holistic engagement will contribute to making access to recreational fishing more equitable and responsive to changing motivations. Finally, there are many examples of interventions that have enhanced fishing satisfaction and provide for a more optimistic outlook for the future of recreational fishing (Elmer et al. 2017; Cooke et al. 2019). In the book Fishing Through the Apocalypse: An Angler’s Adventures in the 21st Century, Matthew Miller explores many nontraditional types of fishing that are changing the expectations of recreational angling.

Profiles in Fish Conservation: Sascha Clark Danylchuk and Andy Danylchuk, PhD

Headshot of Sascha Clark Danylchuk
Figure 10.14: Sascha Clark Danylchuk.

Sascha Clark Danylchuk and Andy J. Danylchuk might be called a power couple in the science of recreational fishing and the science of catch and release in particular. Both share a passion for fishing that drives their work and play. Sascha Clarke Danylchuk is the Executive Director of Keep Fish Wet, and Andy J. Danylchuk is Professor of Fish Conservation at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Both are fisheries scientists with strong credentials built upon their decades of innovative investigations that have informed the best practice for catch-and-release fishing. Together they taught themselves to fly fish and tie flies while living on a remote Caribbean island.

Sascha worked for a number of non-profit organizations before joining the Keep Fish Wet organization in 2016. As Executive Director, she works directly with anglers and conservation organizations. Keep Fish Wet promotes the use of science-based best practices to catch, handle, and release fish. Sascha says, “One of our goals is to unlock science and make it more accessible and understandable to all anglers.” Along with economic benefits that accrue from catch-and-release fishing, many anglers and organizations become influential in fish conservation. However, recreational anglers can learn much from scientists, and Keep Fish Wet helps make the science of recreational fishing accessible to a wide audience.

Headshot of Andy Danylchuk
Figure 10.15: Andy Danylchuk, PhD.

Andy J. Danylchuk focuses his research on many factors that influence the life history and ecology of fish and other aquatic organisms, as well as how disturbances can influence the dynamics of their populations. His work on stress physiology, behavioral ecology, spatial ecology, predator-prey interactions, and adaptations in life history traits as a response to disturbance has been often cited by other scientists. He has also collaborated with numerous stakeholder groups to develop best practices for the recreational angling community to avoid overfishing.

Both Sascha and Andy are acutely aware that many fish die due to recreational fishing, including catch-and-release fishing. Catch-and-release practice has been used a long time, but the science is very new. Sascha says, “Fishing is a blood sport.” Yet, the fate of landed fish is determined largely by angler behavior that determines the health of released fish. They both help develop and advocate for adoption of Keep Fish Wet principles and tips to reduce the number of fish that die from fishing.

The principles and tips they advocate are different from many other fishing tips in two important ways. First, the principles and tips were selected because they are backed by substantial scientific evidence. Second, the principles and tips recognize that the fate of fish after release is primarily determined by angler behavior. For example, simple advice such as avoiding fishing spawning fish, using barbless hooks, avoiding grippers, and keeping air exposure to ten seconds or less can be easily followed by anglers and will result in enhanced survival of released fish. Other advice may be more specific based on the fish and location. Sascha’s research on Bonefish demonstrated that air exposure and handling time influenced whether a landed fish will swim away after release. In The Bahamas, where there are numerous predators such as sharks and barracuda, her research guided anglers to avoid releasing Bonefish in areas where predation threat is high.

Andy Danylchuk has pioneered the use of telemetry, biologgers, accelerometers (i.e., motion detectors), underwater video cameras, and associated emerging technological aids in the study of recreational angling. He also investigated physiological disturbance of captured sharks and other fish by measuring stress indicators in blood samples. This type of research was essential to supporting the “reduce handling time” principle. Andy’s studies of movement of Bonefish led to learning the sites where spawning Bonefish aggregate.

Although many research studies on proper handling of released fish have occurred, anglers are largely unaware of the findings because they are written for other scientists and inaccessible to most anglers. Sascha has examined how best to encourage behavior change in anglers. Social media shaming does not work. Her work is done through education, outreach campaigns, partnerships with fishing industry’s biggest brands, and fishing demonstrations. Scientists talking to anglers and guides is a novel approach but directly benefits information transfer. Sascha has written a blog, Finsights for Keep Fish Wet Fishing, that translates the scientific journal articles to a form accessible to anglers. She is building a strong bridge between scientific findings and the practice of recreational angling. Keep Fish Wet recognizes that many of the best practices, such as learning how to hold a fish, take some proper on-water education and practice.

The outcome from releasing a landed fish is too often a sublethal or unrecognized effect, such as a wound from hooking or exhaustion. Recovery of the fish takes time, but the final fate is not known to the angler, and it may influence spawning success or cover-seeking behavior. Translating the scientific findings to simple memorable language, such as “minimize air exposure,” tells the angler how to treat the fish to avoid sublethal effects. In demonstrations to anglers, the Danylchuks emphasize desired behaviors, such as “no knuckles in photograph,” “no grip and grin,” “protect the slime,” and other essential actions for catch-and-release fishing.

Andy Danylchuk is a Patagonia fly-fishing ambassador where he has a direct influence on fly-fishing globally. As an award-winning professor, he is a strong proponent of experiential, hands-on opportunities that can enhance learning for students of all ages. And this philosophy extends to education of anglers. He is a scientific advisor to Keep Fish Wet and was awarded the Excellence in Public Outreach from the American Fisheries Society, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the conservation and sustainability of fishery resources and aquatic ecosystems by advancing fisheries and aquatic science and promoting the development of fisheries professionals. He also received the Flats Stewardship Award and is a Member of the Circle of Honor for his significant contributions to the stewardship of flats species and habitats. He has strong collaborations with researchers globally and advised Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, Indifly Foundation, Patogonia, and Fish Navy Films, among others.

Together, Andy and Sascha have had major influence in developing and promoting the best practices for the conservation and management of recreational fisheries. Anglers can make small changes in how they catch, handle, and release fish to help fish return to normal behavior as quickly as possible after release. Advocates show their support and commitment by becoming advocates for Keep Fish Wet and pledge to use best practices for catch and release by minimizing air exposure, eliminating contact with dry surfaces, and reducing handling time. Take the pledge at https://www.keepfishwet.org.

Key Takeaways

  • In inland waters, recreational fishing is often the dominant use of fish.
  • Larger fish in a population are more valuable as trophies, but the big, old, fat, fecund, female fish in a population have a disproportionate effect on productivity.
  • Catch-and-release fishing is a growing conservation strategy beyond the domain of fly-fishing.
  • Our ability to achieve sustainable fisheries with a positive effect on environmental conservation is highly dependent on forming and promoting a conservation-minded angling culture.
  • Solving problems in recreational fishing requires that we build trust in an accessible, reliable, and solution-oriented framework for changing social norms.
  • Human behavior is a key source of uncertainty in recreational fisheries management.
  • Keep Fish Wet principles are best practices for catch-and-release fishing that address the elements of the angling event that are most in an angler’s control.
  • Technological innovations in recreational fishing have raised questions about “fair chase” and need for gear regulations.

This chapter was reviewed by Sascha Clark Danylchuk and Andy Danylchuk.


Keep Fish Wet: https://www.keepfishwet.org/

Keep Fish Wet Principles: https://www.keepfishwet.org/tips#keepemwet-tips

Long Descriptions

Figure 10.2: Catching my own food (12%); Reliving my childhood memories of going fishing (12%); Experiencing excitement/adventure (14%); Experiencing solitude (14%); The scenic beauty (16%); spending time with family or friends (29%); catching fish (31%); enjoying the sounds and smells of nature (32%); being close to nature (33%); getting away from the usual demands (34%). Jump back to Figure 10.2.

Figure 10.3: Four quadrants. Low priority: low satisfaction and low importance. Possible overkill: high satisfaction and low importance. Concentrate here: low satisfaction and high importance. Keep up the good work: high satisfaction and high importance. Jump back to Figure 10.3.

Figure 10.4: Vertical axis= number; horizontal axis= age (years); decline in number of fish and increase in weight in an unfished and fished population over time. Jump back to Figure 10.4.

Figure 10.5: Bar graph with catch per day on the x-axis and proportion of anglers on the y-axis. No daily limit and daily limit both increase as catch per day increases. Jump back to Figure 10.5.

Figure 10.6: BOFFFF: 1) more eggs; 2) outlive unfavorable environmental periods; 3) offspring grow faster and survive better; 4) spawn at different times and places than younger females. This leads to enhanced fish population productivity. Jump back to Figure 10.6.

Figure 10.7: 1) Values; values are the hardest thing to change; 2) beliefs; facts alone do not change beliefs; 3) norms; norms are more flexible; 4) actions; example actions: best practices for recreational fishing. Emotions and thinking apply here: Values and beliefs. Jump back to Figure 10.7.

Figure 10.8: 1) Capability; do I have the right skills to do this?; 2) motivation; do I like it?; 3) opportunity; what do others think of this. Arrows from each question directed to behavior. Jump back to Figure 10.8.

Figure 10.9: Steps: 1) Selection; what behavior is targeted for change?; 2) intervention; credible local peers introduce the intervention; 3) evaluation; did the intervention change the behavior? If yes, evaluation leads to 4) dissemination; inform audience through policymakers and grassroots agencies. If evaluation leads to no, arrow back to 1) selection. Jump back to Figure 10.9.

Figure 10.10: Top line connects 1) evidence; air exposure experiments show stress, gill damage, and reduced recovery time and 2) claims; minimized air exposure will enhance post-release survival. Claims leads to 1) rebuttals and 2) counter arguments. Line in between 1) evidence and 2) claims leads to 1) logic; reducing stress from air exposure will enhance survival, growth, and eventual reproduction and 2) support; theory of homeostasis, that is, a body’s need to maintain internal states such as temperature and energy levels at stable levels. Jump back to Figure 10.10.

Figure 10.11: Steps: 1) when you grab a fish by the tail does it flex its body and attempt to swim away?; 2) does the fish right itself in water when inverted? If no, fail; if yes, then release. 3) are gill coverings opening and closing at a normal rate?; 4) does the eye track normally as you roll the fish side to side? If no, fail; if yes retain with minimal handling and reassess with 2) does the fish right itself in water when inverted? Jump back to Figure 10.11.

Figure 10.12: Normal distribution showing variation from innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%), laggards (16%) to show lag in adoption and diffusion of new behavior. Jump back to Figure 10.12.

Figure References

Figure 10.1: Two young recreational anglers using familiar spinning fishing gear. Florida Fish and Wildlife. 2012. CC BY-ND 2.0. https://flic.kr/p/bR2GSZ.

Figure 10.2: Positive attributes reported by recreational anglers in the United States. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0. Data from “Chasing the Thrill or Just Passing the Time? Trialing a New Mixed Methods Approach to Understanding Heterogeneity amongst Recreational Fishers Based on Motivations,” by Magee et al. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fishres.2017.11.026.

Figure 10.3: Four quadrants of management priorities based on importance to anglers and angler satisfaction with fishing experience. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Table 10.2: Benefits of fly-fishing and representative quotes by participants (from Craig et al. 2020). Data from “The Transformative Nature of Fly-Fishing for Veterans and Military Personnel with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” by Craig et al. 2020. https://doi.org/10.18666/TRJ-2020-V54-I2-9965

Figure 10.4: Theoretical comparison of number of fish in an unfished and fished age group through time. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 10.5: Frequency distribution displays the number of angler days resulting in differing catch per day for a hypothetical 8 fish per day creel limit and estimated change if creel limit is reduced to 4 fish per day. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 10.6: Hypothesized maternal effects of big, old, fat, fertile, female fish (BOFFFFs). Kindred Grey. 2022. Adapted under fair use from BOFFFFs: On the Importance of Conserving Old-Growth Age Structure in Fishery Populations, by Hixon et. al. 2014. https://sedarweb.org/documents/pw7-85-boffffs-on-the-importance-of-conserving-old-growth-age-structure-in-fishery-populations/.

Figure 10.7: Values, beliefs, norms, and action causal change of influence. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 10.8: Three questions that determine behavior intentions according to the theory of planned behavior. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 10.9: Steps in applied social marketing to change behavior of recreational anglers. Kindred Grey. 2022. Adapted under fair use from Applied Behavior Analysis and Social Marketing: An Integration for Environmental Preservation, by E. Scott Geller, 1989. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.1989.tb01531.x.

Figure 10.10: Structure of an argument supporting the premise that minimizing air exposure will reduce the mortality of released fish. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 10.11. Steps in determining the reflex response in order to minimize the risk of mortality of a released fish. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 10.12. Diffusion of innovations graph based on adoption-diffusion model. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 10.13: Combat fishing for king salmon near Montana Creek, Alaska. Frank Kovalchek. 2008. CC BY 2.0.

Figure 10.14: Sascha Clark Danylchuk. Used with permission from Sascha Clark Danylchuk. CC BY-ND 4.0.

Figure 10.15: Andy Danylchuk, PhD. Used with permission from Andy Danylchuk. Photo by Brian Irwin. CC BY 4.0.

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