Some of you might remember Kuba from episode 12 of the podcast where we talked about his hand-made fishing lures. We ended that episode teasing about Kuba’s planned cycle through the Sahara desert to reach his bucket list fishing destination. Well, Kuba is back and in this episode we talk about that cycling and fishing adventure. It is really great to hear his stories from exotic countries. The cycle was also a fundraiser for aware.ie, a voluntary organization which aims to assist people whose lives are affected by depression. Please go and donate without hesitation!
A very special episode with a very special guest. Carrie Zylka is a fellow podcaster and also an avid hunter and angler. She hosts a number of podcasts but, for us, her Hunt Fish Travel podcast is especially interesting. Some of you might remember that I made an appearance on the Shark Week special of Carrie’s podcast. There are also other reasons why this podcast is special. It is the first episode of the Tommy’s Outdoors podcast recorded over the Internet and it is the first episode where my guest is an American. So it was a great occasion to talk about the specifics of hunting and fishing in the United States. We discuss the tag system, sheep hunting, anti-hunters, the issue of CWD in deer and many other topics. Also don’t forget to subscribe to her Hunt Fish Travel podcast!
This is a big one. Our guest, Pádraic Fogarty is the Campaign Officer at Irish Wildlife Trust and an ex-editor of the Irish Wildlife magazine. Protection and conservation of the natural world should be of the greatest importance for all outdoorsmen. For that reason, I was really excited when Pádraic accepted an invitation to the podcast. If you care about the environment, tune in and listen. We are talking not only about key conservation issues but also how to get involved and make a difference. This is not tree hugging stuff, this is a practical and down to earth discussion about the protection we all owe to Mother Nature. Also, check out Pádraic’s book “Whittled Away – Ireland’s Vanishing Nature”.
While recording episodes of the podcast I get to meet and speak with people involved in the outdoors. Most of them are interested in the use and preservation of the natural environment. Among those people two distinct groups stand out the most: sportsmen, most often represented by hunters and anglers, and ecologists as in conservationists and environmentalists. In theory, they should represent one consistent front for protection of the natural environment. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Oftentimes representatives of these groups are involved in a counterproductive confrontation with each other. So, let’s dive into this issue and try to understand some of the reasons why this is happening.
For starters, let’s look at the common ground they share. Genuine ecologists are usually research scientists or employees of governmental or non-governmental bodies involved in the protection and management of natural resources. Of course we all know there are self proclaimed, shouty types, but I’m not going to talk about them here. Whenever I have an opportunity to talk to environmentalists I always ask the question, “Do you see sportsmen as allies in the efforts to protect the environment or as adversaries?” Based on the responses so far, I gather that sportsmen are mostly recognized as important stakeholders. Ecologists also recognize that they are an invaluable source of information about the state of the environment. It is because hunters and anglers spent lots of time in the outdoors and have an opportunity to observe nature and the changes it undergoes over time. They are often referred to as the boots on the ground.
Sportsmen also recognize the important role of ecologists as a source of information about wildlife and the environment. They also recognize that ecologists work to protect the resources they interact with. Wild game and fish. And here is where the tension starts. Ecologists often feel that sportsmen repeatedly engage in practices aimed mainly at their own interest, to the detriment of conservation. For example, when engaging in catch and release, they place more importance on taking a trophy photo with the fish over promptly releasing it back to the water. On the flip side, on many occasions sportsmen consider some of the regulations as limiting their activities unnecessarily.
It is not my intention to judge which side is right. Each case is different and everybody makes mistakes. Unfortunately, as the result of these tensions, the opportunity to create a combined, strong and environmentally minded front is lost. Sportsmen are often reluctant to engage in conservation initiatives worried that their interest won’t be recognized and they will find themselves on the wrong side of the equation. On the other hand, ecologists are reluctant to reach out to sportsmen for support, being afraid of a backlash.
It is my strong belief that true hunters and anglers are also environmentalists and conservationists. It is in their own interest, after all, that the waters are full of fish and the woods are full of wild game. In fact, there are many people who belong to both groups. It is not unheard of for a game and wildlife officer to also be an avid hunter or angler. These days, the natural environment is under more pressure from human activity than ever before. Only combined efforts to protect it can be successful. Sportsmen, ecologists, environmentalists and anybody else to whom nature is dear, should pull together. They should bury the discord about the way they intend to use it, and work together to protect it. Otherwise there will be nothing left to use anyway.
It’s shark week! And it is no secret that I have a pretty intense, brief history as a shark angler. Some evidence of that can be found in the gallery and video sections on this website. So, I was stoked to be invited to the shark week edition of Carrie Zylka’s Hunt Fish Travel podcast. Go ahead and listen to Carrie and me talking about shark fishing in Ireland, shark tagging programs and shark conservation issues. Of course as a long standing member of The Shark Trust I couldn’t fail to mention this respectable charity which does so much great work for shark conservation.
The practice of catching a fish for sport, with rod and line, and then releasing it back to the water is known as Catch and Release. It has been discussed countless times in books, magazines, face to face conversations and on the Internet. Before writing this piece, I asked myself a question, “Does the world need another blog post about Catch and Release?”. My own approach to the practice has changed over time. That change has been due to personal experiences and to opinions expressed by respectable outdoorsmen. As a result, I decided to write about that change and hopefully challenge a few ossified opinions.
On many occasions, Catch and Release (C&R) is discussed from the perspective of an “ethical angler”. Proponents of the practice, quite often, unrelentingly criticize fellow anglers who take fish for the table. While I was certainly guilty of the latter, it was always my strong opinion, that C&R cannot stand on the grounds of ethics or morality. After all, we are sticking sharp hooks into a living creature and putting it through a torturous fight. Then, we remove the fish from the water and, while it is in a state of agony, we take photos of our grinning selves next to it. All that for our own enjoyment. Claiming moral high-ground for not killing it at the end is a bit hypocritical. C&R is purely a conservation measure, designed to protect fish as a renewable resource, while not completely denying anglers an opportunity to pursue their passion.
From the beginning of my journey as an angler, I could have been described as a hard-core C&R practicioner. It was because I realized that fish can be removed from the wild faster than they can reproduce. The evidence is easy to find. C&R was to me more of a matter of self interest than of ethics. I wanted to be sure that the fish would be there for my children and grandchildren. At that point in time, I refused to even consider killing a fish for any reason. And then… I was introduced to sea fishing.
Any discussion about sea fishing, commercial sea fishing in particular, and conservation measures can quickly get political. Since this article is aimed at recreational anglers I will skim over issues of overfishing and commercial exploitation of fish stocks. Let’s just say, that the number of fish removed from the sea by recreational anglers is miniscule compared to the amount taken by the commercial fleets of the economic powers of the world. Therefore, releasing a fish into the sea, from the perspective of conservation, is meaningless. In addition, many species of marine fish suffer from barotrauma, the injury caused by being pulled up to the surface from the depth of the ocean. This makes successful recovery of the fish, after it is released, doubtful. Given both facts, the responsible sea angler can either stop fishing altogether or keep the fish for consumption.
It is important to mention, that there are species of saltwater fish, like the european sea bass, which are particularly vulnerable even though they are not targeted by commercial fishermen. In such cases C&R still makes sense as a conservation measure.
After experience with offshore fishing and analysis of its place and impact my non-negotiable position on C&R was somewhat relaxed. A few years later, I put my hands on the book by a famous hunter, outdoorsman and environmentalist Steven Rinella. Although the book is a collection of hunting stories, it has a chapter dedicated to Catch and Release. To my surprise, this conservation minded author was not fond of C&R. That initially surprised me or maybe even made me a little bit angry. I even recorded an episode of the podcast reviewing the book. Spoiler alert: the review is largely very positive. After reflecting on what I read, I came to the conclusion that Steven might have a point. In his opinion, angling like hunting, was primarily a way to get food. As human hunter-gatherers became less dependant on hunting thanks to the invention of agriculture, the role of hunting and fishing started to shift. It is somewhat bizarre, according to him, that we still practice fishing but somehow try to distance ourselves from its original purpose. It has even become unacceptable to fish for certain species in certain ways!
Hunters, unlike anglers, don’t have an opportunity to “shoot and resurrect”. Every animal has to be dispatched as quickly and humanely as possible and the meat taken care of. Conservation measures are implemented by means of closed and open seasons. The number of animals that can be harvested, as well as the time and duration of open seasons for particular species of game, are decided based on scientific data. Factors like the carrying capacity of an area, the breeding capacity of particular species, food availability, the harshness of winters and the presence of predators are all taken into account. Application of these conservation principles to angling makes more sense to me. Especially because the mortality rate of fish caught and released can be significant.
In conclusion, it is my opinion that Catch and Release has its place in modern sport fishing. It is a useful conservation tool but it’s significance shouldn’t be overestimated. If the numbers of fish are dwindling, before we impose C&R we should first look at habitat issues and commercial exploitation. If an angler engages in C&R he must take extremely good care of the fish that he releases. Yes, that means no trophy photos, unhooking the fish while still in the water and using barbless hooks.
As an angler, I have arrived at the point where I am okay to stop fishing when I have reached my bag limit. If conservation of the fishery is a priority, there are better ways to tackle that problem. For example, working with authorities to establish sustainable bag limits and closed seasons based on scientific evidence. This will be much more beneficial for protecting fish stocks and ensuring that we can still enjoy the taste of a just caught, fresh fish.