Finsights #5 – “I saw the fish swim away so it must be fine” - Part 1

The "grey ghost" Alex Filous photo.

The "grey ghost" Alex Filous photo.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an angler say, “I saw the fish swim away so it must be fine.”  And I’ve certainly hoped for the same on countless occasions; that when I release a fish that’s vigorous and darts out of my hands it will be fine.  The scientist in me, however, knows that this statement can be false for a number of reasons.  

Sometimes the fish we catch and release get injured or die.  There is no getting around that fact and there is only so much that is in an angler’s control.  However, by better understanding the processes that can lead to negative outcomes for fish, we anglers can adjust what is in our control to ensure that more fish live to be caught another day.  

This post is the beginning of a series addressing what can happen once we release a fish.  This particular post addresses post-release predation, and (in full disclosure) a paper authored by me.  Despite the fact that using this paper makes the introvert in me want to hide under the bed, I chose it because it is a fairly straightforward study with results that have a clear application to the catch and release best practices for bonefish.  

What did we do?
    •    Bonefish were caught using fly fishing.
    •    Measured angling time (hooking to landing), handling time (landing to release), air exposure time (cumulative), the presence/absence of blood from hooking, and total length of the fish.
    •    Also noted whether or not the bonefish was able to maintain equilibrium at the time of release.  Having equilibrium = fish that swim away. Lost equilibrium = fish that rolled over or nose-dived and couldn’t readily swim away.
    •    Before release, we attached a small float to the bonefish so that we could follow it (this tracking method was previously tested on bonefish and there was no impact of the float on fish movement and predation)

Post-release predation on bonefish by a shark,  Robert Lennox photo.

Post-release predation on bonefish by a shark,  Robert Lennox photo.

What did we find?
    •    Bonefish that lost equilibrium were over 6 times more likely to suffer predation, either by sharks or barracuda
    •    Longer air exposure and handling times were the biggest contributors to loss of equilibrium
    •    Predators killed most of the bonefish within 20 minutes of release, but not necessarily close to or within easy viewing of the release location.

Why is this study important to anglers?
    •    Air exposure isn’t good for bonefish
    •    Lots of handling isn’t good for bonefish
    •    Catch and release angling in locations with predators (even if you don’t see the predators) can greatly decrease the chance of survival for fish.

Read the full original report here.

Happy Fishing!
Sascha Clark Danylchuk

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