Releasing Fish – Your Responsibility
  |  First Published: July 2009

Releasing fish properly is becoming more and more important as closed seasons, protected species, size limits, slot limits and bag limits restrict what anglers can take. We all know how great it is to take a photo of that fantastic fish: Your first metre-plus barra, a massive cod caught offshore or even a flathead over 75cm in Queensland. All of these fish need special care to ensure that when you release them, they survive the experience and can give other anglers a great thrill or continue to contribute to future fish stocks.

At QFM we see many pictures from readers and writers of sensational fish caught and released. Unfortunately some of these fish are clearly not being taken care of for release. A classic example these days is the common gold spot estuary cod. This fish now has a maximum size limit and many reef and wreck fishers come across a specimen that is over the legal limit and must be returned to the water. I am all for taking a photo of the fish, but that cod really needs to be held properly and treated properly if it is to survive release.

Gently Does It is a program that teaches anglers how to release fish properly. It is supported by a fantastic and informative website that can be found at www.recfishingresearch.org. If you have web access take a good look through this site and you will find all sorts of tips and tricks to make sure what you let go survives.

So let’s get down to a few simple tips everyone can do when releasing a fish due to regulations or simply angler desire.

Looking at oversized fish first as these are the ones that are most commonly held up for a photo before release. Landing the big fish is the first important step to releasing it successfully. Landing a big fish can be as simple as bringing it to the side of the boat, removing the hooks and letting it go. This is the ideal way to treat a big fish as the water supports the fish’s entire body and weight. But what if you want a photo of the fish? Easy.

Use a strong and supportive landing net that does not have knotted netting. There are plenty around these days that will do the job, but the Dave Irvine Environet was probably the first widely accepted large net that allowed for better catch and release fishing. After the fish is safely in the net, try to remove the hook while the fish is still in the water before bringing the fish aboard. Once aboard you can quickly secure the fish, then hold it up for a photo.

But this is when a lot of problems start. Many anglers still hold big fish up by the bottom jaw and this act is known to decrease the chances of post release survival. The evidence is clear and a little known fact is that a barra that measures around 95cm on a flat surface will measure almost 3cm longer when measured vertically and when held by the jaw. This amazing stretching causes untold damage to stretched vertebrate and is believed to be one of the main problems associated with holding up big fish for a photo by the jaw. Barra and big cod are often displayed this way in photos with captions suggesting the fish was successfully released. We now know that many of these successful releases turn into untimely deaths a few days later.

The best method of taking a photo of your prize catch is to support the fish horizontally with your arm and hand while supporting its head with your other hand. Alternatively you can jump in the water with the fish (given it’s safe to jump in the water) and never actually have to remove the fish from the water. This last method is perhaps the best method of all if at all possible.

There are countless tips on tackle choice, handling and releasing of fish on the release fish website. With the ever-increasing obligation to release fish and a still growing number of catch and release anglers, it is your responsibility to know how to best release the fish you catch.

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