Catch and Release Fishing: Rules and Regulations Explained

Fishing is a beloved pastime for many, and catch and release fishing is a popular way to enjoy the sport while also helping to ensure sustainability. But what are the rules and regulations that must be followed when it comes to releasing fish after they have been caught? In the United Kingdom, whitewater anglers have been catching and releasing fish for more than a century to prevent target species from disappearing in heavily exploited waters. It is illegal to return fish to the water if they exceed the minimum size requirements and are not a protected species or are in the closed season. Those who oppose capture and release argue that fish are highly evolved vertebrates that share many of the same neurological structures that in humans are associated with the perception of pain.

Studies show that, from a neurological point of view, fish are very similar to higher vertebrates and that blood chemistry reveals that the hormones and blood metabolites associated with stress are quite high in fish that fight against the hook and line. Fish caught in deep water can suffer from barotrauma, an accumulation of gases in their bodies that makes it difficult or impossible for them to swim again. To avoid internal damage caused by intestinal attachment, when using live or dead bait, try to place the hook immediately; with natural bait, there is less movement; the fish's immediate reaction is to swallow the bait. Effective catch-and-release fishing techniques avoid excessive times of fighting and handling fish by using sufficiently strong tackle and hooks without barbs, avoid damaging fish skin, scales and layers of drool due to nets, dry hands, and dry, hot or rough surfaces (which leave fish vulnerable to oomycete skin infections) and avoid damaging the ligaments of the jaw and vertebrae by suspending fish from their jaws or gills for weighing or handling.

Using catch-and-release fishing methods helps ensure high-quality fishing opportunities today, tomorrow and for years to come. Conservationists have advocated capture and release as a way to ensure sustainability and prevent fish stocks from being overfished. Releasing native fish caught in a national park will help ensure that the enjoyment of this recreational opportunity lasts for generations to come. In Florida, for example, saltwater anglers made some 24 million fishing trips in 1997 and caught 141 million marine fish, of which 71.5 million were released.

The fishing season at the Quabbin Reservoir generally begins on the third Saturday of April and ends after the third Saturday in October. These methods include a rectangular net that does not exceed 36 square feet of net area, a circular or annular net that does not exceed six feet in diameter, or a fish trap with openings that do not exceed one inch.

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