The Old DaysI remember many a trip where we would have a substantial number of fish at the dock, so many that the thought of having to clean all of them became staggering. We fished Flamingo in the Everglades National Park a lot, and before bag limits were instituted, it was not unusual for us to have 75 to 100 fish to clean.
They would include mangrove snapper, trout, redfish, some occasional snook, and almost always a jewfish of some size. It wasn't that we were that good, although we did do pretty well, but more that the fish were so plentiful.
Wasted FishWe often got so tired of cleaning fish while fighting all the mosquitoes, that we took short cuts, or gave fish away, or even left fish on the cleaning table. Nothing ever crossed our mind to tell us that the huge numbers of fish we were catching would ever go away.
SurveysWe became a little angry when the Park Rangers began taking surveys at the ramp of our catch. They wanted to know numbers, species, size, and where they were caught. Suspicious of the intent of these surveys, we usually did not report the whole catch, and certainly did not tell them where they were caught.
Limits ImposedAnd then the limits hit. First came the ten fish per person limit, no more than five of which could be of the same species. Then the jewfish (Goliath Grouper) was placed on a protected list, where it still remains today.
Redfish had disappeared so fast that they were completely protected for a few years.
Reality Sets InWe were stunned and angry that our fish had first of all been taken away from us and second of all had been depleted so badly. We began to realize over time, though, that we had been a part of the reason for the depletion. So, we sat back and waited and watched to see whether limits would work. We told ourselves that the numbers of people ignoring the limits would prevent any kind of conservation effort from working.
A Slow RecoveryOver time, redfish were placed back on the catch list, where they are today. Florida has a two fish per person limit, nothing under 18 inches and nothing over 27 inches. And I must admit, the redfish story has been more successful than I could ever have imagined. At the time of the ban, you could not find a redfish. Today, Florida's redfish stocks are doing extremely well. Jewfish are recovering and smaller ones now take lures and jigs in the mangroves that are intended for snook or redfish.
But Does It Work?But, has all the conservation worked? Does the fact that we keep a few and release the rest mean that fish populations are growing? I have to look back and think about what we were some years back. Then I have to make a judgment call about the wisdom of many Fish and Game departments. I have realized that the five fish, or 2 fish, or whatever the particular species limit is, is more than enough for me to have fresh fish to eat. I wonder now at our selfish desires to show off our catch. I now look at catch and release as the primary task of every angler.
Bottom LineCatch and release has caught on with the savvy angler in a way that will allow future generations to enjoy the sport with quality catches if we all pay attention. The days of hauling meat back to the dock have long since become the politically incorrect thing and simply the ethically wrong thing to do. Oh yes, there will be those anglers who break the law, who think they are better than the law, who don't think about tomorrow. But overall we are practicing catch and release, and stocks of fish should be growing for future generations.
How do you feel about catch and release? Does it work? Are we fooling ourselves? Tell me about it or post on the bulletin board page. Got a favorite recipe, or fish story? Let me know by sending me an Email.