Catch and Release Kills Stripers

There has been a low buzz heard around the lake recently regarding an article posted on a local web site regarding a study conducted at the Texas Tech Department of Range, Wildlife, and Fisheries Management.

The study conducted by Researchers at the Texas Tech Department of Range, Wildlife, and Fisheries Management and recently published their conclusions in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management on the hooking mortality of some 1,200 striped bass caught and released from across the southern U.S. They also pulled information from previous hooking mortality studies done in North and South Carolina, Maryland, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas.

Dr. Gene Wilde led research looking into how bait type and water temperature affected the survivability of striped bass caught and released. The study essentially asked: Are fish caught on natural baits more apt to die from injury than one caught trolling a crank bait?

Dr. Wilde and his team of researchers concluded that regardless of bait type, 29 percent of striped bass caught and released died within three days. But compared between bait types, it was higher for fish caught on natural baits, at 42 percent compared to a much lower 25 percent mortality rate for artificial baits.

The study also concluded that bait type alone didn’t explain this variation. Water temperature was concluded to prominently affect whether or not the fish will survive. The warmer the water, the more likely a released striper is to perish, regardless of size. With water temperatures climbing into the 80s, nearly 70 percent of stripers caught on natural baits and 57 percent caught on artificial lures perished.

According to Dr. Wilde, the exact implications of his findings to striper populations will vary from water to water, but to him, one thing is clear. "Our results do call into question catch-and-release fishing, especially in summer," said Wilde. "Catch and release is viewed as having little effect on populations, but when more than 30 percent of fish die, even in cooler water, I have a hard time justifying releasing fish. Instead, requiring anglers to keep all fish captured, up to their bag limit may be better."

The Coastal Conservation Association lead a study to find ways to reduce the death rate of stripers released by recreational anglers in reply to a Maryland study indicating that catch-and-release fishermen may be killing as much as 16.4 percent of the stripers they hook. The highest death rates occur when the water is warmest.

The study was prompted because "a substantial recreational catch-and-release fishery for striped bass has arisen along the Atlantic Coast because of high population size, high minimum lengths, and low creel limits," wrote researchers Rudy Lukacovic and Ben Florence. "Releases rose from 38 percent of the catch in the early 1980s to 93 percent by the early 1990s."

The highest percentage of fish caught in the Maryland study were between only 18 and 20 inches long. Anglers in the study were instructed to use single-hook artificial lures, but some treble-hook lures were used. Medium-action spinning and casting rods with 10- to 15-pound line were standard. Maryland scientists conducted the study in the upper reaches of Chesapeake Bay, where water salinity is very low. When the fish were caught, they were transferred to oxygenated tanks and scientists transported them to pens on the Susquehanna Flats. The pens were checked for dead fish every three days.

"As water temperature rose through the period of the study," the scientists said, "the mortality rate of all fish caught rose from .15 percent in mid-April to 4.2 percent in early May to 16.4 percent for late May. "The overall death rate for the study was 5.06 percent.

Bill Krueger, a scientist from the University of Rhode Island criticized the Maryland study’s structure. He said that the Maryland researchers should have included "control sample", stripers that were caught in a trap, netted, and then transferred to the pens as the hooked fish were. That would have provided more accurate data on how many fish die because of the hookup, fight, and release.

Looking at another estimate from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Brad Burns said, "We’ve got a situation where the (catch-and-release death rate) of striped bass is equal to 40 percent of the entire recreational catch (the fish that recreational anglers keep). Some people are talking educational programs but I’ve been hearing about educational programs since I was a kid. I think there’s some stomach now for outright regulations such as the kind of gear anglers could use, such as flies and jigs, and circle hooks for bait fishing–terminal tackle that usually hook bass in the mouth only".

Wilde says one alternative to striper management is seasonal closure. While it would afford some protection to stripers, Wilde admits its not likely to happen with many striper fisheries. Instead, Wilde thinks a seasonal relaxing of length limits might be better. Anglers might just go ahead and keep what would otherwise be an undersized fish, given minimally a third of released fish would perish anyway.

It is the position of the Recreational Fishing Alliance that the release of recreationally caught fish in marine fisheries should be, in most cases, the ethical and moral prerogative of the angler and that attempting to impose "catch and release" exclusivity is a fishery management tool of the last resort. Voluntary catch and release of undersized fish or those fish not being utilized by the angler has been firmly established as ethical behavior in books, the outdoor media and well promoted by the sportfishing industry with extraordinary results. Read their paper "Catch and Release: Too Much of a Good Thing".

From our friends at the web site Stripers 24/7 , "If you intend to release the fish that you catch, there are important steps you can take to improve your chances of releasing a fish that will live another day. Landing the Fish. Over-exertion/exhaustion will kill many of the fish you release, so use common sense. Using extremely light tackle will prolong the fight and delay the landing of your catch, and in certain conditions it can result in death to the fish. The first key to proper release is to play the fish quickly." Read this very good page at "Catch and Release Your Fish".

Our thought is that until this is settled one way or the other, just use your common sense. If the fish you catch isn’t moving or looks like it won’t make it then it probably won’t. And don’t throw it back if it is BLEEDING. IF you have gut hooked it or gill hooked it, it isn’t going to survive.

Your friends here at the Lake Texoma Striper Fishing Blog will keep you up to date on anything we hear on this issue. If you have any ideas or more information please be sure to let us know.


Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment