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FINSIGHTS #15 THE POINT OF HOOKS

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The point of hooks

By Sascha Clark Danylchuk

Hooking damage is the the number one cause of mortality for fish that are caught-and-released. That’s not a surprising statement since hooks are the only commonality for all fish caught by recreational anglers. But what that statement doesn’t address is how and why fish die from hooking damage. If every fish that is landed has a hook wound, what is it that makes some fish die and others live? How much damage do hooks actually cause? Does it matter what type of hook you use? What other factors come in the play to determine if a fish lives or dies after being hooked?

This paper looks at hooks and specifically hooking mortality in many different studies. It’s called a meta-analysis, which is a statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple scientific studies. It’s also a great introduction to Dr. Robert Arlinghaus, our newest science ambassador. Robert’s work is often based a social-ecological systems approach, which means that he looks at fisheries issues through the lens of both fish ecology and social science. You can learn more about Robert here.

What did they do?

Looked at hooking mortality studies for fishes that are important in European freshwater recreational fisheries. All species in a genus were included, even if the species were not found in Europe. Studies conducted anywhere in the world were included in the study.

• 107 studies on 8 European species and an additional 10 species from the same genus.

• Extracted what caused mortality from each study:

Water temperature

Fish length

Hook type (singe vs. treble)

Existence of a barb (barbed vs. barbless)

Type of bait (natural vs. artificial)

What did they find?

Across all studies and species:

• Mean hooking mortality was 15.9%, with a range of 0 to 88.5%.

• Half of the studies reported hooking mortality of less than 10%. Only a few studies reported mortality levels over 50%.

• Factors that are important for hooking mortality:

  1. Water temperature (higher water temperatures lead to higher mortality rates).

  2. Bait type (average mortality for artificial baits was 11.4%, average mortality for natural bait was 25%)

  3. Existence of a barb (average mortality for barbless hook was 8.2%, average mortality for barbed hooks was 14.6%).

For Salmonids:

• Results for trout and salmon species was similar to the overall results.

• Factors that were important for hooking mortality:

  1. Water temperature (higher water temperatures lead to higher mortality rates).

  2. Bait type (average mortality for artificial baits was 11.6%, average mortality for natural bait was 27%)

  3. Existence of a barb (average mortality for barbless hook was 8.6%, average mortality for barbed hooks was 15.1%).

Takeaways:

• The good news is that most of the reported hooking mortality rates were very low (less than 10%).

• High mortality was most often due to deep hooking or when fish were caught at high water temps.

• There are several reasons why barbed hooks could lead to higher mortality rates than barbless hooks: barbed hooks have been known to cause more injury and bleeding, they also take longer to remove which often increases handling time and air exposure (both things known to lead to worse outcomes for fish), and either or both of these could increase stress levels in fish which also leads to poorer outcomes for fish after release.

• Despite the fact that in this study hook type (single vs. treble hooks) did not turn out to be significant, the authors think that hook type is a species specific issue and likely dependent on hook size as well as the mouth morphology of the fish, and the type of fishing. All these factors could not be teased out in the present study, but are likely important on a species by species basis.

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What Did They Say? Translating Presentations From the BTT Symposium Part 3

What happens to bonefish when there are sharks around?

Presentation by Robert J. Lennox
Carleton University

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My happy place is wading a tropical flat for bonefish.  The subtle complexity of flats ecosystems fascinates me and the diversity of catchable species means that there could be another fish just beyond my sight line.  The predators that are often found on flats also keep things lively, but makes fishing and practicing catch-and-release a much more dangerous game for the fish.  

While there have been several studies examining the rate of mortality/predation of bonefish in the Atlantic, this is the first study to look at post-release predation in the Pacific on Albula glassodonta.  It’s also the first study to look at post-release predation in an area that is very sharky (why yes, that’s a technical term).  The small atoll in French Polynesia where this study was conducted has a huge abundance of blacktip reef sharks.  They follow anglers on the flats like puppies and it’s not uncommon to see over a dozen sharks on a single flat.  Understanding how bonefish fare in this type of situation is essential for our understanding of the impacts of catch-and-release.  

What did they do?

  • Study 1: caught bonefish and air exposed them for either 0, 10, or 30 seconds.  Released the fish with a small visual tracking bobber similar to those used in FINSIGHTS 5.  
  • Study 2: caught bonefish and either released them right away or placed them a recovery bag (originally developed for Atlantic salmon, and tested on bonefish in the Atlantic) for 30 minutes to let them rest after angling and see if they could reduce post-release predation rates.

What did they find?

  • Study 1: bonefish with no (0 seconds) of air exposure were much less likely to be attacked by sharks than those with 10 or 30 seconds of air exposure.  Bonefish (regardless of air exposure duration) were vulnerable to sharks for at least 20 minutes after release.  
  • Study 2:  Recovery bags did not help reduce the chance of post-release predation for bonefish.  
  • The authors hypothesize that the recovery bags were not effective because, despite the fact that the bonefish inside them were able to rest and be protected after angling, the sharks were still able to “smell” the bonefish and were attracted to the area.  Previous studies have shown that angled bonefish excrete stress hormones and that sharks are attracted these hormones.  

Why is this study important?

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  • This is the first study to show that even 10 seconds of air exposure can significantly impact the post-release predation rates of bonefish.  
  • Despite the lack of effectiveness of the recovery bags used in this study, the idea of finding a way to help fish recover from angling, especially in areas with a lot of predators is definitely worth pursuing and could lead to the development of new techniques for the best practices for catch-and-release.   

Acknowledgements

A special thanks to Ed Anderson who donated the artwork accompanying these summaries. Thank you to the presenters and their collaborators for the work that contributed to these presentations, and for allowing us to represent them in these summaries.  Thank you as well to Natasha Viadero, Alora Myers, and Jordan Massie who provided assistance during the symposium.

 

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What Did They Say? Translating Presentations From the BTT Symposium Part 2

Keepemwet Fishing and Bonefish & Tarpon Trust have teamed up to make the science that was presented at the BTT Symposium last November accessible to a wider audience.  A selection of presentations have been summarized and “translated” into non-technical language that is easily understood by non-scientists.  Several of the translations are below and more are available in the latest issue of the BTT journal.

What is in an angler’s control? Best practices for the catch-and-release of bonefish, tarpon, and permit

Presentation by Dr. Andy J. Danylchuk
UMass Amherst

Catch-and-release is commonly used a conservation tool for fisheries.  Whether it’s mandated or voluntary, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that putting fish back in the water means that there will be more fish to catch tomorrow.  However, catch-and-release is only effective if most fish survive and are left with no permanent impacts.  Using best practices can help anglers achieve this goal.  

Keepemwet Tarpon by Ed Anderson

Keepemwet Tarpon by Ed Anderson

Best practices are actions that are often simple, and you have probably heard of many of them already, but together they have the potential to create better outcomes for fish that are caught-and-released.   You can think of best practices as catch-and-release version 2.0.  

Often when fisheries scientists study catch-and-release they look at the varying aspects of an angling event and how each contributes to the overall impacts of catch-and-release on an individual fish or a population.   Many parts of an angling event are in the control of an angler (e.g. hook type, duration of air exposure, how a fish is handled), while others anglers have less control over (e.g. water temperature, size of the fish).  The science on catch-and-release has not been conducted for all species and all aspects of angling, so while we can sometimes apply general best practices across species, it’s also important to acknowledge that species specific and location specific difference do occur.  

What do we know and what do we need to know?

While there are over a dozen studies conducted on bonefish (nearly all on Albula vulpes) catch-and-release, there has only ever been one study on tarpon and none conducted on permit catch-and-release.  

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Table of the studies that have been conducted on catch-and-release (Sci) for bonefish, tarpon, and permit, elements of the angling event, and their priority for future research (P).  Darker shades represent a higher priority.  Some studies covered multiple elements of the angling event.  De-predation refers to fish being attacked/eaten while on the line during the fight. 


From these studies we are able to form some specific best practice guidelines for bonefish such as:

  • Bonefish that roll or nose dive (called loss of equilibrium) are six times more likely be killed   by sharks or barracuda after release.  Air exposure is the main cause of loss of equilibrium.
  • Air exposure is more detrimental to bigger bonefish and at higher water temperatures.
  • Multiple studies on bonefish have shown that longer handling times increase stress levels in fish and can lead to poorer outcomes after release.  
  • Fish barbless hooks.  If a bonefish is deeply hooked cut the line instead of trying to remove the hook.  
  • Don’t use lip grippers on bonefish.  A study found that they can cause significant damage.

Until more science can be done on tarpon and permit, it behooves us to use some of what we know from bonefish and other species when fishing for tarpon and permit, such as:

  •  Reduce/eliminate air exposure
  •  Minimize handling
  •  Rethink the “Hero Shot”

Eventually, filling in the gaps in our understanding about how tarpon and permit respond to catch-and-release will enable us to create best practices for all flats fish. 

Acknowledgements

A special thanks to Ed Anderson who donated the artwork accompanying these summaries. Thank you to the presenters and their collaborators for the work that contributed to these presentations, and for allowing us to represent them in these summaries.  Thank you as well to Natasha Viadero, Alora Myers, and Jordan Massie who provided assistance during the symposium.

 

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FINSIGHTS- TRANSLATING THE SCIENCE OF FISHERIES REPORTS #6

Finsights #6 – “I saw the fish swim away so it must be fine” - Part 2

Golden dorado pondering the outcome of it's next meal.  Dave McCoy  photo.

Golden dorado pondering the outcome of it's next meal. Dave McCoy photo.

My last article aside, we assume that most of the fish that we catch and release actually live. But, does catching and releasing a fish have any impact on it?  Maybe.  Does an angler have any control over what these impacts are?  Sometimes.  

The slew of possible impacts of angling on fish are called sublethal effects. A lot of catch and release angling science has to do with minimizing or explaining the sublethal effects, so it’s important to understand what those can be and how different aspects of angling can have different sublethal effects.  

Fig. 1. from  the linked paper.  Conceptual diagram outlining the immediate and long-term effects of escape or release from commercial fishing gear and how it relates to each level of biological organization. Question marks (?) denote areas for which no primary literature exists, and present future avenues of research.

Fig. 1. from the linked paper. Conceptual diagram outlining the immediate and long-term effects of escape or release from commercial fishing gear and how it relates to each level of biological
organization. Question marks (?) denote areas for which no primary literature exists, and present future avenues of research.

For this post, I’m focusing on one figure from an article.  Don’t be put off by the fact that this article deals with commercial bycatch and not recreational angling – the issues for released fish are the same, and this paper is widely referenced in the recreational fisheries science literature (not to mention that several of the authors work on recreational fisheries too).  

So, here it is, a rundown of the potential sublethal effects of angling:

Immediate Sublethal Effects
This deals with the acute effects of angling on fish and are most obvious to fishers.  
    •    Physical Injury.  Hooking wounds are what usually come to mind, but don’t leave out blood loss, foul hooking injuries, and injury that occurs during handling and hook removal.
    •    Physiological responses.  Physiology deals with the functions of an organism or it’s systems/parts.  A physiological response occurs when an event (such as angling) causes an animal to function beyond its “normal” activity levels.   This is most often measured via a blood sample in fish (see Finsights #4 for more details).
    •    Reflex impairment.  This is most easily thought of in human terms – when you’ve had one too many and can’t walk a straight line, you have reflex impairment.  For fish, this could include the loss of equilibrium (see Finsights #5), or lack of coordinated movement between the mouth and gills.  

Testing the reflex impairment of golden dorado on the Rio Juramento, Argentina. Tyler Gagne photo.

Testing the reflex impairment of golden dorado on the Rio Juramento, Argentina. Tyler Gagne photo.

Delayed Sublethal Effects
If the immediate sublethal effects are severe or last long enough a fish could end up with these.
    •    Behavioral impairment.  This could include anything from spawning to swimming behavior.  
    •    Altered foraging efficiency = altered ability to find, compete for, and capture food.
    •    Growth and wound healing.  Animals that must spend energy on wound healing can have decreased growth.
    •    Altered energy allocation has to do with how a fish apportions energy (e.g. energy derived from food) to the life traits of growth, reproduction, and survival.
    •    Immune function and disease development & offspring quality, performance, and survival & reproductive success.  All of these have to do with the point above; when more energy is needed for one of the three life traits, one or both of the others get less energy.  

All of the sublethal effects above only refer to what happens to an individual fish.  It’s possible that these individual level effects can also impact the entire population.  For example, if enough fish experience decreased reproductive success, this could lead to less fish in subsequent generations.  

It’s this step - moving beyond what happens to one fish to the population - that is particularly challenging for the field of catch and release science.  In part, this is because it’s a really hard thing to do - to show, definitively, that sublethal effects at the individual level can have cascading effects on an entire population or community.  In future posts, I will dig into some of the studies that have begun to chart this course.  

As anglers, the more we can do to decrease the sublethal impact of angling on individual fish, the less likely there are to be higher-level effects.

Happy Fishing!
Sascha Clark Danylchuk

 

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