The fishing effort in Florida has increased dramatically over the
past decade and is still on the rise.
Fishing effort in Florida has increased dramatically over the past
decade, and it is still increasing. Fishing is a favorite pastime
of Florida's residents and visitors, and in 1997, anglers made
about 24 million fishing trips and caught 141 million marine
fishes, 71.5 million of which were released. Florida's resident
population of 14.7 million increases daily by about 1,000 people,
and more than 40 million tourists, most with coastal destinations,
visit the state annually.
Managers of Florida's fisheries use a combination of traditional
measures to control harvests and protect fish stocks. These
measures include bag limits; minimum and maximum sizes; closed
seasons and areas; and in some cases, no harvest is allowed unless
a special permit is purchased. Bag limits reduce the number of fish
that are harvested and allocate the catch over time so that the
year's total harvest is not taken in one season. Aggregate bag
limits are sometimes applied collectively to a complex of species
such as grunts and snappers, so that the community is not
overfished. Minimum and maximum sizes or "slot" limits protect
sexually immature fish and may be imposed to create a "trophy"
fishery, i.e., a fishery that produces extremely large individuals.
Closed seasons and closed areas protect a species during spawning,
especially when fish return yearly to known locations to spawn. The
"no harvest" rule is implemented when a stock, for example jewfish,
is severely over-fished. To succeed, Florida's fishery management
strategies of size limits and closed seasons depend on the survival
of fish that are caught and released. In this article we outline
some steps anglers may take to increase the chances that the fish
they catch and release will survive.
"Limit your kill; don't kill your limit!"
Fish die for a variety of reasons after being caught and released
by an angler, but usually they die from the physiological stress
caused by the struggle during capture or from injuries caused by
the hook or the angler. Some fish may die even though they appear
unharmed and despite efforts at revival. Fish that struggle
intensely for a long time during capture are usually exhausted and
stressed from the accumulation of excessive amounts of lactic acid
in their muscles and blood. Severe exhaustion causes physiological
imbalance, muscle failure, or death. Therefore, use the proper
weight-class tackle, land your catch quickly, and when possible
leave the fish in the water while you release it. Bringing an
exhausted fish out of the water is like placing a plastic bag over
the head a marathon runner-the fish needs oxygen to recover!
Hook wounds may appear minor to anglers, but damage to the
gills, eyes, or internal organs can be fatal. If the fish is hooked
deep in the throat or gut, research shows that it is best to cut
the leader at the hook and leave the hook in the fish. Prolonged
attempts to remove the hook often do more harm than good. Fish are
capable of rejecting, expelling, or encapsulating hooks. Steel and
bronze hooks are less toxic and are rejected or "dissolved" sooner
than are stainless steel and cadmium- or nickel-plated hooks.
Studies on striped bass, spotted seatrout, and snook have shown
that in most of the cases of hook-related maortality , live bait
was used. Artificial lures are generally in motion and the hook is
set before the lure can be swallowed. Likewise, if you are using
hooks with live or dead bait, try to set the hook immediately to
avoid internal damage from "gut" hooking. If you allow the fish to
run with the bait, the chances of gut-hooking the fish
Survival rates for some Florida fishes
Controlled studies have shown that most fish released after
hook-and-line capture survive. Researchers working in Boca Grande
Pass tagged 27 tarpon with sonic transmitters and found that 26 of
these hook-and-line-caught fish survived. The one fish that died
had been lifted from the water for a photograph before release.
Scientists repeatedly caught bonefish held in a large pond in the
Florida Keys and found that 96% survived capture. A few of the
bonefish that ultimately died had been caught 5-10 times each,
which suggests that bonefish hooked and released in the wild
probably have an even higher survival rate. Angler-caught snook
held in large net-pens throughout Florida had a 98% survival rate.
Most of the snook that died were caught with live bait, consistent
with studies showing that fish caught with lures generally survive.
Spotted seatrout caught in Tampa Bay had a 95% survival rate. Hook
position affected survival rates; trout hooked in the gills or gut
had lower survival rates than those hooked in the mouth. Redfish
survival rates range from 84% in Georgia waters to 96% in Texas
waters. Like seatrout, hook position affected survival rates; more
than 50% of the throat- or gut-hooked fish died. These studies
demonstrate that catch-and-release fishing works-most fish that are
released survive; however, by following a few simple guidelines,
anglers can maximize survival rates.
Guidelines for Catch-and-Release
The most important actions an angler can take to ensure a
successful release are to hook and land the fish as quickly as
possible, leave the fish in the water while removing the hook, and
release the fish quickly.
These are additional tips to improve survival
Decide beforehand which fish are to be kept and
immediately release all others.
Do not engage in a prolonged debate over whether or not to release
the fish after the fish has been landed. Never place fish in your
live well intending to release them later if you catch a larger
one. Once you make a decision to keep a fish, stick with it. The
fish you release from your live well has a decreased chance of
Avoid the use of gaffs and never remove large fish such
as tarpon from the water.
Large fish can injure themselves and the crew and should therefore
be treated with respect. Take a photograph of the fish in the water
and turn it loose.
If the hook is difficult to remove by hand, use
long-nosed pliers or a hook-removal tool.
Do not tear additional tissue in removing the hook-back it through
the original wound. If this fails, cut the leader and pull the hook
through the injury. Cut the leader close to the hook when releasing
large jewfish, tarpon, sharks, and other fishes that are gut hooked
that you do not plan to keep. Do not lift a gut-hooked fish out of
the water by the leader; this can increase the damage.
Try fishing with barbless hooks or crimp and remove the
Catch rates using barbed and barbless hooks are not significantly
different. The advantages of using barbless hooks are that they are
easier to remove and they cause less physical damage to the
Wet your hands or gloves before handling the
Do not injure the eyes or gills. Placing the fish on a wet towel
will help keep the slime that protects it in place. To keep the
fish still, place it on its back or cover its eyes with a wet
towel. Control the fish at all times! If you drop the fish, the
chances of it dying increase.
If your fish is in good shape, put it back into the
If it doesn't swim or is lethargic or erratic, some
"resuscitation" may be needed until the fish can swim off on its
own. Revive exhausted but otherwise healthy fish by first placing
one hand under the tail and holding the bottom lip with the other.
If the fish is in fair to good shape, merely hold it headfirst into
the current. If it is severely lethargic, depress the bottom lip to
cause the jaw to gape and gently move the fish forward. Moving the
fish in an erratic back and forth motion will just induce more
stress. At the first sign of the fish attempting to swim away-let
it go. Prolonged attempts at resuscitation will be stressful to the
Large pelagic species such as sharks and tarpon should
be brought alongside the boat within 20 minutes of being
If you are consistently landing exhausted fish that require
extensive efforts at resuscitation, you should consider using
Practice and share these techniques! Teach your children
and inexperienced anglers these few simple procedures to help
ensure abundant fish populations for the future.