- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 1, 2009

Unless you’ve been away for an extended period of time, you probably know that Maryland watermen - the people who use nets to catch their fish - are not exactly in love with recreational anglers. They believe the fish-for-fun crowd gets in the way and perhaps catches striped bass that the netters could market.

I can see why a man who tries to make a living by trapping fish in a net would not support sport anglers, even those who don’t keep their catch - the ones who hook it, bring it to the boat, pier or shoreline, snap a photo, then let it go.

It’s one reason the Maryland Department of Natural Resources - and other fisheries offices on both coasts - sees nothing wrong with catch-and-release fishing, being aware that in most instances the fish are none the worse for the experience and will live on, perhaps to be caught again. Maryland even has a precise, area-defined Chesapeake Bay catch-and-release season that runs March 1 to April 17.

What I cannot fathom is why most of the hundreds of Maryland Charter Boat Association members - the very people whose incomes depend on hiring out to sport fishermen - would be against striped bass catch-and-release fishing in the Chesapeake Bay. It’s not a good idea to antagonize the recreational segment of the fishery.

A sport angler who attended the recent joint meeting of the Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission and the Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission in Annapolis, aimed at addressing the subject of catch-and-release fishing for stripers and questions about their survival rates, said, “There was quite a lot anti-catch-and-release sentiment by members of the Charter Boat Association.” The man asked for anonymity because he is known by many of the captains.

But there is no doubt about how charter fishing captain John Newton, who comes out of a Calvert County harbor, feels about sport anglers who simply want to hook a rockfish and then turn it loose. “Catch-and-release fishermen take away fish from charter boat captains,” he said a week ago while chatting with lower Potomac charter skipper Eddie Davis.

Newton apparently agrees with those who claim that a freshly caught and released striper has no chance of survival, hence reducing the captain’s chance of delivering one more fish for his customers. However, there is no scientific evidence to support such claims. Besides, when charter captains find limits catches of rockfish for their clients, they frequently continue fishing, doing the very catch-and-release thing they say they object to.

The DNR has been showing a great deal of concern about all this.

Physical injury of striped bass generally is caused when the fish is hooked deeply. The DNR guesses that the post-release mortality could be as high as 50 percent. (It didn’t say that the fish hauled in with gill nets and by other means die 100 percent of the time, every time.)

However, most rockfish that are caught on artificial lures are hooked shallow, meaning somewhere in the front area of the mouth, enabling a quick hook removal, release and survival.

Further, if a rockfish is caught in cool, salty water, it will not be dangerously stressed, but it must be handled gently, not slammed on a deck and otherwise mishandled.

As concerns catch-and-release practices, Davis said: “It all depends how you catch that rockfish. If it’s caught on an artificial lure, close to the boat and quickly let go, it will live. But if the fish is caught on a really long trolling line, I think it will be so stressed by the time it’s landed and eventually released [that] it probably won’t survive.”

Davis, who said he was born on the deck of an oyster boat 64 years ago, added: “I have nothing against catch-and-release fishing. And if the state stops it, it’ll just be another take-away. I don’t like the government looking to take away things we now have.”

Meanwhile, there is nothing wrong with the DNR’s sensible recommendations regarding striper releases.

The DNR would prohibit the use of stinger hooks and require barbless hooks. It would prohibit the use of bait unless it was done with circle hooks and asks that boats limit the number of lines in the water to six.

The Maryland division of the Coastal Conservation Association supports the DNR’s recommendations. So do I.

*Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Also check out Mueller’s weekend fishing report and his Inside Outside blog at washingtontimes.com/sports.

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