As our society becomes more ecology conscious, we are starting to examine what impact our daily activities have on our planet.
The things we do at work in the office are difficult to trace back to the ecosystem we live in. What about the things we do in the great outdoors?
Does fishing in a lake harm the environment?
The answer is yes, lake fishing has harmed the environment in the past. And it still can.
And the answer is also no. Fishing practices have improved and the environments in our lakes have as well.
First, a little about the past. In the past, in recreational and commercial fishing, overfishing was common, blasting less so.
Overfishing harms the environment by depleting fish populations.
Overfishing is when a fisherman would catch as many fish as they could. This would feed their family with plenty left over to sell for cash. Or they would do this for fun. When many fishermen do this, the fish in the lake are removed faster than they can reproduce. The fish population declines or collapses.
An example is the collapse of cisco (Coregonusartedi) in the Great Lakes in the 1920’s. When that happened, fishermen switched to the next species down in the food chain, then lake whitefish (Coregonusclupeaformis) collapsed in the 1930’s.
Blast fishing harms the environment killing all organisms in the concussion zone.
Blast fishing is done with explosives that kill fish with concussion. It is very indiscriminate, killing all fish and all species. It often destroys underwater habitat.
Commercial blast fishing makes more headlines, but individual “fishermen” have been committing this environmental crime since the 19th century.
In 1894, John Tickwich threw several sticks of dynamite into Binnewater Lake in New York State. He killed several hundred fish. He was arrested while trying to get them into his boat. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison.
There are many more harmful fishing practices, but most of them are done in marine environments, like trawling with big nets, cyanide fishing, and more.
Sustainable fishing is the new policy of enlightened countries.
Before we get into specifics on sustainable fishing techniques, let’s contrast Mr. Tickwich’s techniques with techniques used by indigenous people in the Philippines.
The Tagbanua people fish for specific species at specific times of the year (by tides and moon). They designate certain areas as no fish zones. The fish population is able to replenish itself.
The Tagbanua fish with hook and line. This ensures that they catch only what they need for themselves and the community. They only catch the fish they will eat. No other species are harmed.
At its most basic, sustainable fishing harvest fish no faster than the fish can maintain a steady population.
Here are sustainable fishing techniques:
1. Buy a fishing license and Outdoors Card (in Canada).
These fees fund conservation programs for our inland and marine fisheries. These restore, improve and maintain fragile water body ecosystems.
2. Know and follow the fishing regulations where you fish.
Each state in the US and province in Canada has an agency responsible for managing fish populations. They employ scientists; biologists, hydrologists, and the like, who determine the health of each population. They set how many fish can be harvested each season.
Each angler is required to know how many of each species they may keep. Also, the regulations may specify minimum and maximum sizes per species that may be kept.
This makes sure that enough juveniles reach maturity to reproduce. It also makes sure big fish are able to prey on bait fish to get those populations at levels that are healthy for the lake. It also gives every angler an opportunity to catch (and release) a trophy fish.
3. Practice Catch and Release.
Keep the fish you will eat, within your legal limit. Release the rest. Do your best to make sure these fish survive.
· Use barbless hooks.
These cause less damage to mouth parts. They are easier to extract for the fish and from yourself, if you get hooked. It allows you to release the fish back into the water faster. They are proven to reduce mortality in released fish.
· Reduce the amount of time the fish is out of the water.
That fish can be out of water about the amount of time you can hold your breath. Two minutes.
· Land your fish quickly.
You will increase its chance to survive. The longer a fish struggles, the more toxins build up in the blood. This causes a longer recovery time.
· Use a rubberized landing net, or similar.
This will avoid injury to the eyes, gills, fins, and the natural coating of slime. They need the slime to protect them from infection.
4. Do not throw invasive fish species back into the water.
Your copy of fishing regulations will identify any invasive species in the lakes you are fishing. These fish are harming the ecology of those lakes. Often, they outcompete for prey the native fish need. Or, they introduce disease. Destroy them.
5. Use lead-free tackle.
The fish in the lake are food for other predators in the food chain. Loon, eagles, bears, and others eat the fish that swallowed lead hooks. The lead never goes away. Every time an animal eats another hook, the lead accumulates. Then they sicken and die.
6. If you bring something to the lake, bring it back out with you.
It is a crime (literally and figuratively) to spoil the beautiful natural environment we fish in. It is often dangerous for wildlife as well.
When anglers practice sustainable fishing, the ecology of our lakes improve. So does the rest of the environment.
At Wildewood on Lake Savant, sustainable fishing helps us maintain the best walleye and trout fishing in Ontario.
Make a reservation online here.