In a move aimed at inspiring fishermen to go beyond merely following the regulations, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has created a list of angling ethics which it plans to share with the public.
According to the FFWC, angling ethics is about common sense and courtesy, and it contributes to every angler’s safety, success and enjoyment, as well as the future of the sport.
In recent years, fishermen have had to adapt to a growing number of regulations placed on the sport by various government agencies, leaving many of them frustrated with having to abide by so many restrictions. The FFWC maintains, however, that embracing an ethical code is in the best interest of everyone, including fishing guides, tourism destinations, marinas, tackle shops, anglers and boaters.
Most people, they state, “share an abiding love for aquatic resources and the role conservation stewardship plays in keeping our natural resources pristine.” According to the FWCC’s list of ethics, the following are traits honored by an ethical angler:
• Promotes, through example and mentoring, an ethical use of aquatic resources.
• Values and respects the aquatic environment and all living things.
• Treats other anglers, boaters and property owners with courtesy and respect, including removing boat trailers promptly from active launching areas, watching wakes around other boaters, and not crowding other anglers.
• Avoids spilling and never dumps pollutants, such as gas or oil.
• Properly disposes of trash, including worn lines, leaders and hooks.
• Recycles whenever possible and keeps fishing sites litter-free.
• Purchases required fishing licenses and permits.
• Learns and obeys angling and boating regulations and can identify local fish to adhere to the rules.
• Keeps no more fish than needed for consumption.
• Carefully handles and releases all fish that are unwanted or illegal to keep, minimizing harm to the fish.
• Takes measures to prevent spread of exotic plants and animals and does not use diseased or nonnative baits.
• Participates in conservation efforts such as river cleanups, vegetation transplanting, tagging studies and creel surveys.
• Practices safe angling and boating by following the laws and using common sense to prevent injury to himself/herself, others or property.
• Protects the environment from boat damage, including prop-scouring of vegetation, wake damage to shorelines, power-loading problems at ramps, or striking animals such as manatees or sturgeons.
• Conserves energy and water, knowing both affect local fish and wildlife.
“Releasing larger bass is one of the best contributions anglers can make toward the future of Florida’s bass fishing,” says Tom Champeau, director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.
It’s common sense, though, that not everyone will release larger fish simply because it’s a good thing to do. That’s why the FFWC has created an incentive: the TrophyCatch program, which rewards anglers for releasing trophy bass with prizes donated by the fishing industry.
Other points of note mentioned by the FFWC in their list of angling ethics include the following:
- Fish caught on live baits or artificial worms often swallow a hook, thus reducing their chances for survival. Biologists recommend setting the hook immediately after a strike, which increases the chance of hooking the fish in the mouth.
- Barbless hooks contribute to easier and quicker releases. If you don’t have a barbless hook, simply pinch down the barbs with fishing pliers. Remember: Smaller hooks do less harm than larger ones; single hooks are better than trebles; and circle hooks are best of all.
- Don’t use rough or knotted landing nets that cause abrasions as a fish thrashes about and scrapes its mucus, that slimy coating that serves as a primary defense against disease.
- When releasing bass, be gentle. Grip it by the lower jaw and, if possible, keep it in the water when removing a hook.
Don’t drop or throw a fish back, advises Champeau. Instead, lower it gently into the water so it can swim away.
The FFWC goes on to mention a variety of other measures that will contribute to better mortality rates for fish.
If a fish is taken from the water to measure or photograph, for example, avoid touching its eyes and gills. Support a heavy fish’s body with your other hand if you must lift it out of the water. One of the most crucial rules is to avoid keeping the fish out of water for more than 30 seconds at a time (approximately as long as you hold your breath). So have your camera, scales and measuring tape ready to go.
You can place the fish back in a livewell or dip it over the side to let it breathe if you need to reset for another photo. The livewell should be aerated, at nearly the same temperature as the lake water and, if desired, you can use uniodized salt to stimulate slime production (0.5 pounds salt per 10 gallons of water). Never place fish in chlorinated tap water.
Commercial de-hookers, long-nose pliers or hemostats reduce stress. If the fish is hooked too deeply, simply cut the line and leave the hook. The fish’s digestive juices will erode the hook.
The FFWC hopes anglers everywhere—and not just in Florida—will further embrace the idea of angling ethics, in turn making the waters a more productive place for everyone.