Catch & Release or Catch & Kill?

Here is our opinion on this sensitive subject. Regrettably some billfish do occasionally die during the fight. There are no arguments about taking a dead fish home. We can understand people wanting to keep their first sizeable or possibly record-breaking fish; we used to do the same. But to hang your umpteenth sailfish or marlin from a gantry…? Unfortunately, some countries remain opposed to catch and release anglers. Facing up to crews or boat-owners is not everyone’s cup of tea. Marlins can usually be released unharmed after a half-hour fight without hesitation; after an hour things get critical. Regrettably, big marlins frequently die during or after the fight. Sailfish are very easy and quick to release: grab them by the bill, out with the hook, stabilize them in the sea and slow ahead until you can see the fish is frisky again.

Marlins and sailfish are not great culinary treats. Hardly any sharks are suitable for human consumption. Tuna must be properly bled, butchered and prepared; not everybody likes sushi. Our favourites are wahoo and dorado. Normally we keep enough fish for a single meal, two at the very most. The best “refrigerator” is the sea itself! In poorer countries the locals often have trouble finding fresh fish which is why we keep fast-growing species such as wahoo, dorado, tuna, kingfish and the like for them – but only if we’re sure there will be takers.

“Duals between man and fish”… gladiators of the seas… noble billfish… -all well and good but the fish has a hook in its mouth and is fighting for its life. Its death struggle usually reflects its inborn natural movements (fleeing and hunting). To the best of our knowledge nobody has yet examined or quantified fish pain levels. The angler will just suffer from aching arms, legs and back. He is not likely to die as a result of a few grazes or blisters; normally there is little threat to life or physical condition. From an objective standpoint no fish is nobler.

What gives us this urge to put to sea again and again? In many cases it is even an addiction or a bad case of compulsion. Apparently it has something to do with our Darwinist development. For a period which is infinite in proportion to our “civilization phase” we wandered through the wilderness as hunters and gatherers. Is “fish-hunting” more deeply and firmly ingrained in our sub-conscious?

Hunting mammals is of no interest to most fishermen at all – so that puts paid to the “hunter theory”. Is it perhaps better to distress fish rather than one’s fellow-men? Unfortunately, there are also anglers who like doing both. Let’s leave it at that. It’s simply the way it is. What alternative do we have – give up fishing? We think that a fair share of self-control, perhaps a bit of a guilty conscience and respect for other creatures are necessary and won’t do any harm, but tormenting self-doubt and a sense of guilt are out of place. We anglers only avoid or put a stop to discussions if our counterpart links our fishing passion to the so-called “evil”, the “dark corner” of the human soul or dares to call it abnormal. It is such a shame that so many people think this way nowadays. To those “non-anglers” who just like sounding off or stirring things up: Most people shudder at the thought of having to slaughter their next “meal” themselves, but nevertheless eat meat and other animal products with great gusto. In these parts there is little interest in how fish are caught and killed by commercials on long-lines, in trawls or drift-nets Repression of such thoughts takes over … but the evil anglers. Any further comment is superfluous.

On the Subject of Light Tackle and Saltwater Fly-Fishing

We have frequently experienced that fish hooked in this manner – due to the low pull exerted by the line – take off on longer and more frequent runs (with the boat chasing them), literally “run themselves to death” and then freeze in a state of shock – easy prey? Fishing with ultra-light tackle is not to our liking. As a matter of principle we disapprove of quickly chasing after fish with the angler looking on as the wireman tames the fish with the leader, releases it or kills it as a possible record-breaker. In our humble opinion this method has very little to do with angling. At the end of the day, every angler must make up his own mind on how he fishes and whether or not he kills a fish or gently returns it to the sea unharmed.

Tagging and Releasing Fish

The Billfish Foundation propagates tagging programmes and monitors catch reports. Tag sticks and the necessary equipment can be obtained from this organisation, please refer to the “IGFA Contact” link.