Often it is necessary to release a fish because it is too small to keep, illegal to keep, under the length limit, not a species you are targeting or one you do not wish to take home to eat. In these cases, releasing fish unharmed is a conservation measure which contributes to fish populations, rather than decreasing them. But good intentions are not enough, because improper care before releasing a fish can reduce its chances of survival. With a little care and by following these simple guidelines, you can give released fish a better chance of survival.
- Release the fish as quickly as possible. The shorter the time the fish is dehooked and released, the better its chance of survival.
- Whenever possible, minimize the amount of time the fish out of the water.
- Handle the fish gently with bare, wet hands. Do not squeeze the fish, put your fingers in the eyes or gills or cause scale loss.
- Remove the hook as quickly as possible using needlenose pliers. If the fish is hooked in the stomach or throat, cut the line and leave the hook. The hook will dissolve without harming the fish.
- Wet your measuring board before measuring the fish.
- Hold the fish in an upright position and move it gently back and forth so water runs over the gills. This will aid in the fish’s revival. Face the fish upstream when in a current. Release the fish when it begins to struggle and is able to swim.
- Hang a non terry wash cloth from your belt when fishing. Wet the cloth and use it to grip any fish you intend to release. This allows you to get a firm grip without apply excessive pressure on the fish’s internal organs. Moistening the cloth minimizes the amount of protective coating the fish loses.
Again, releasing fish unharmed is a conservation measure which contributes to fish populations, rather than decreasing them.