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FINSIGHTS- TRANSLATING THE SCIENCE OF FISHERIES REPORTS #10

Finsights #10 Lip gripping devices and your catch. Tiger fish. Dave McCoy photo.

Finsights #10 Lip gripping devices and your catch. Tiger fish. Dave McCoy photo.

Sport Fishing Magazine recently published an article on A Guide to Lip Grippers. The very last paragraph of the article touches on how lip gripping devices can impact fish and the author states “Many of the lip-grip manufacturers interviewed independently stated that they believe their weight scales do not cause physical damage to fish or inhibit future feeding ability — when the fish is hung vertically”.  I decided to dig through the scientific literature to see if anyone had looked at this at this and found only three studies that focused on lip gripping devices, each on different species.

 
Bonefish The first study looked at if lip-gripping devices caused injury to bonefish.  They compared bonefish held vertically in the air with a lip gripper to those held horizontally in the water with a lip gripper, all compared against a ‘control group’ where bonefish were handled only with bare hands   Bonefish held with a lip-griping device either vertically or horizontally were prone to injury – 90% of fish had at least minor injuries (which included holes through the tissue of the lower jaw where the lip gripping device was placed) and 35% of fish had major injuries (including broken mandible and separated tongue).  Conversely, only one of the fish held by hand had a minor injury and none had major injuries.  All fish survived for 48 hours after being handled, but the authors did not monitor for long-term survival or feeding ability.  

Injuries sustained to bonefish using a mechanical lip-gripping device.  Link to report.

Injuries sustained to bonefish using a mechanical lip-gripping device. Link to report.


Barramundi In 2009, a different group of scientists looked at how lip grippers compared to nets for holding barramundi (an Australian sportfish).  They compared barramundi held in a net with those held vertically by a lip gripper, as well as those held horizontally with a lip gripper and one hand supporting the midsection of the fish.  They found that all fish held vertically and 81% of fish held horizontally had holes in their lower jaws.  However, no fish had severe injuries as was seen with bonefish.  Furthermore, all fish resumed feeding within 3-5 days and all holes healed within three weeks.  The scientists also took x-rays of some of the barramundi to see if holding them with lip grippers had any effect on their vertebral alignment.  They found that holding barramundi vertically, and to a lesser extent holding them horizontally with the lip gripper causes vertebral separation.  None of the vertebrae separations recovered after three weeks. Being water dwellers where the water supports much of their body weight, holding fish in the air has the possibility of causing damage or separation to vertebrae.


Florida Largemouth Bass The most recent study on lip grippers was conducted on Florida largemouth bass and examined the differences between holding largemouth bass vertically with a lip gripper, by hand on the lower jaw using a tilted grip, and using a two-handed hold.  They found no difference in feeding behavior, survivorship, or rates of injury between any of the three methods of holding bass.  They did, however, find that largemouth bass that were held with the lip-gripping device took longer to recovery than other fish.


Why are these studies important to anglers?
    •    These three studies constitute a start to the much-needed research on lip-gripping devices, and given the diversity of these devises and the species they are used on, clearly there is more work to be done.
    •    What these studies do show is that there is a wide variation in how lip-gripping devices affect the incidence of injury on different fish species.
    •    What I could not find are any studies that examine repeated use of lip grippers, long-term affects on fish, or compare injuries from lip grippers to those caused by nets.  
    •    If tackle manufactures want to make claims that their lip grippers and other fish handling products do not harm fish, they should consider independent testing.

Happy Fishing!
Sascha Clark Danylchuk

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FINSIGHTS- TRANSLATING THE SCIENCE OF FISHERIES REPORTS #9

Finsights #9– How do you handle fish? Paul Moinester/Keepemwet Fishing photo.

Finsights #9– How do you handle fish? Paul Moinester/Keepemwet Fishing photo.

You’ve hooked up on a fish.  You fight it, reel it in, and get ready to land it.  Do you reach for a net? A lip gripping device? Or just stick your hands in the water?  And what do you do once you have ahold of the fish?  Does it stay in the water? Does it go in a boat or a livewell?  

How we choose to handle the fish we catch and release can have a huge impact on the health of those fish.  Some of the negative effects of handling on fish we can actually see (such as the loss of scales or equilibrium) but many we cannot, either because they are invisible to the naked eye, are internal, or occur after we release the fish.  

This study uses a clever way to examine some of the invisible injuries to fish and how different handling techniques impact the skin of fish. All fish are covered with an epithelial layer, which is on top of the scales and provides a barrier to pathogens, UV light, and desiccation (drying out). There is also mucus on fish, but the amount varies among species. Unlike with humans, the outer layer of cells on fish are living and a disruption to the epithelial layer creates a susceptibility to infection.

Fluorescein is a non-toxic dye that can be used to examine epithelial damage on fish (it is some of the same stuff used by detectives to look for blood at crime scenes). After being dipped in a solution containing fluorescein, areas on a fish with damaged epithelium with glow green under a UV light.   

What did they do?
    •    Used fluorescein dye to examine how different handling methods damage the epithelial layer on largemouth bass and northern pike.
    •    Handling techniques included different types of nets, a lip gripping device, and placing a fish on a variety of boat surfaces.
    •    Largemouth bass from a semi-professional live-release tournament were also measured for epithelial damage.
    •    After being subjected to the fluorescein dye, fish were photographed under a UV light and damaged area (seen as green on the photos) was measured using computer software.

A northern pike photographed under UV light after being exposed to fluorescein dye.  The green areas indicated epithelial damage from handling. Image from  linked  report.

A northern pike photographed under UV light after being exposed to fluorescein dye.  The green areas indicated epithelial damage from handling. Image from linked report.

What did they find?
    •    Northern pike had more epithelial damage than largemouth bass across all handling methods
    •    Largemouth bass from the tournament had the most epithelial damage. This isn’t surprising as they were often subjected to multiple handling methods, where the experimental fish were only subjected to one handling method.  
    •    Rubber, non-knotted landing nets caused less damage than nylon, knotted nets for pike. For bass, there wasn’t a difference between net types.  
    •    All fish placed on a boat surface had epithelial damage and those placed on indoor/outdoor carpet had more damage than those placed on a bare metal surface.

Why is this study important to anglers?
This study shows that different species can have different reactions to the same type of handling. This is one of the reasons the science of catch-and-release is so interesting and can be confusing, and why ‘one size fits all’ rules may not apply. Nevertheless, here are two generalities that we can uphold because they are supported by this study (and others) and follow the precautionary principle – the idea behind “better safe than sorry”.  

    •    This study confirms what many anglers have thought for a long time; that softer, rubber, non-knotted nets are better for fish.  
    •    Likewise, contact with boat surfaces (carpet or smooth metal) causes damage to fish and rough surfaces cause the most damage. I would argue that placing fish on any hard surface (rocks, logs, boats) either wet or dry has the potential to cause epithelial and internal damage to fish. Whenever possible, fish should be held over water deep enough for them to swim in. But remember, we also need to #KeepEmWet.

See the complete study here.

Happy Fishing!
Sascha Clark Danylchuk

 

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