Should anglers keep more fish?
The buzz around the state this week revolves around comments made by representatives of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) that reflect a desire for anglers to keep more fish on many Utah waters to “improve” the fisheries and help grow larger fish.
Several officials of the UDWR have told me in conversation (in the past couple of years) that their theory is that too many anglers are releasing all the fish they catch which leads to overpopulation and “stunting.” Let’s take a look at this problem and open a discussion to see how you, the reader, feels about this ongoing concern.
Catch-and-release angling is in part caused by too many fishing regulations. Back in the 1960s, my dad taught me to release the great majority of the fish we caught because we fished Strawberry Reservoir several times each week during the summers and caught a lot of fish. The limit back then was 8 fish per person per day, and there were also limits on how many fish you could have in your possession, including in your home freezer and still are, by the way). Our family loved to eat fish, but even we couldn’t eat all the fish we caught so my parents bottled some of our fish for the winter. We were careful never to have more fish on hand than the regulations allowed, and we were actually checked one time by the UDWR based on a radio host sharing our family’s recipe for bottling trout. We were, however, well within our limits.
We had a choice back then: stay home and not go to the lake, or go to the lake but be very picky as to which fish we kept and which we released. I’ve had nearly 50 years of training in putting back fish rather than taking them home. Now I release over 99 percent of the fish I catch.
I guess I’m part of the problem.
However, much like the exploding numbers of state statutes and city ordinances controlling everything from the kind of vehicles we drive to what we can plant in our front yards, fishing regulations are confusing, frustrating and, quite frankly, inadequate. I have preached for years that every angler should carry a proclamation on each fishing trip to stay out of harm’s way. I used to be able to pass a stream, decide to throw a line in for a few minutes and move on. Now if I don’t have my proclamation it is nearly impossible to know if I am “legally” fishing on small streams, especially near and around Strawberry, Scofield, Utah Lake and even Flaming Gorge.
For me, it has been much safer to release the fish and not have to worry about whether the tail or head is still attached or whether or not I can identify the species. Added to that, I love to fish for warm-water species like large and smallmouth bass which have no stocking programs in our state, and therefore must rely entirely on natural reproduction to replace the fish taken from the reservoirs.
Here are a few questions I’d like to throw out and would love to hear how you feel:
1. Do you keep more fish than you release? What is the percentage?
2. Do you feel comfortable with fishing regulations as they stand today?
3. Do you worry about eating fish due to consumption warnings of lead, mercury or other toxins in the fish?
4. Are you catching more fish or fewer fish now as compared to a decade ago?
5. Should the UDWR increase the limit on certain species of fish in Utah?
Please take a look at these questions and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a response to all or part of them. We need to be proactive in our approach to fisheries management and this just might be a start down that path.