Why anglers should limit their catch, not catch their limit
How do you define a successful day on the water? Is it catching and keeping a limit of fish every outing, or is it catching enough fish for an occasional meal and letting the rest go? When I first started fishing 55 years ago, it was all about bringing home limits of fish to to eat. That was the way my dad grew up, and how he taught me. In his era, anglers fished for food, not for entertainment or relaxation—success was measured by limiting out, and by how long it took to do so.
Over the years, my views on fishing have evolved, and I know I’m not alone. According to the most recent Survey of Recreational Fishing conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the average number of fish kept per angler in Canada dropped from 45 in 1990 to 20 in 2015. Even though the average number of fishing days stayed consistent over that time, the percentage of kept fish dropped from 56 per cent to 34 per cent. With more than three million anglers in Canada, however, that still represents a lot of retained fish nationwide.
Fish can only be a renewable resource if populations are properly managed; if they’re overharvested in a particular waterbody, population levels will fall dramatically. Unless fisheries managers step in and implement reduced harvest limits, or start stocking efforts, the fishing in such waterbodies will never improve. At the same time, angler attitudes need to change to help avoid problems in the first place.
FISHING ISN’T JUST FOR FOOD
While I still really enjoy a fish fry from time to time, I no longer fish just to eat. Rather, I fish for the sights, sounds and fresh air. I enjoy the camaraderie and conversations with fishing partners, and the thrill of trying to figure out where the fish are biting. Throw in the excitement of a fish smashing my offering and the ensuing fight, and I’ll go fishing whenever I can.
With all the advancements in fishing gear and electronics—and my collective knowledge of fish habits and habitats—I also catch more fish these days than ever before. And by spending much of the open-water season at my lakeside cabin, I have more opportunities to fish. If I kept a limit every time out, I could damage future fish populations.
What’s more, I’d never be able to eat or store all those fish before they went bad. Besides, health authorities tell us many of our native fish species contain mercury, and we should therefore limit our consumption in the first place to avoid becoming ill.
These days, I’m happy to limit my keep, and I’m never disappointed when I come off the lake without a full livewell to prove my efforts. On most outings, in fact, I practise catch-and-release, only bringing home memories of the day and some photos.
SET YOUR OWN LIMITS
On those days I do keep fish to eat, I only retain those that fall within a certain size limit, even though the regulations in my home province of Saskatchewan allow me to harvest larger fish. Walleye are among my favourite fish to eat, for example, but I only keep those that are between 14 and 18 inches in length, despite the rules allowing me one fish over 22½ inches. I release any fish on either side of my self-imposed size range.
I practise this selective harvest for two reasons. First, smaller fish just taste better than bigger fish. But more importantly, I know that releasing larger fish is good for the resource—studies show that the bigger the fish, the more eggs they will produce. As well, bigger fish produce larger eggs than smaller fish, and those larger eggs result in bigger fry, which have a higher survival rate than smaller fry.
I choose to limit my keep and not always keep my limit because I feel doing so will help ensure there are healthy fish populations for years to come. If you haven’t thought about your own reasons for fishing in a while, start with this critical question: Just because the law says you can keep a limit of fish, should you? You might just come up with the same answer as me.