Does Catch and Release Really Work?

I got into a discussion recently with a fellow that challenged vehemently whether catch and release was a viable conservation measure. In his words, releasing fish was simply a “feel good” for fish huggers who would eventually succeed in taking away his right to keep fish. “They’re all going to swim away and die later,” he told me. “You’re just encouraging people to waste fish.”

Of course I disagreed and tried to do so as politely as possible. When it became clear he wasn’t interested in my opinion on the matter, I wished him continued good luck in his fishing endeavors and bade him farewell. You can’t win them all.

The conversation remained in my thoughts several days and I wished I had been quicker on my feet when I had him on the phone, so I’ll do it here. Perhaps he will read this.

One of the finest examples of catch and release success can be found in the popular CCA Texas STAR Tagged Redfish Division. Those sixty redfish CCA releases along the Texas coast each year do not grow STAR tags on their own. The tagging team catches them and applies the tags. They are then transported to release sites and turned loose for lucky anglers to catch again. Anyone who is registered in STAR and abides by the rules can win a brand new Ford F-150 pickup truck towing a brand new boat, motor, and trailer. CCA manages to give away as many as five such packages every year, so it evidently works.

In this issue we have a tale from Eric “Oz” Ozolins of a lemon shark he landed in the Padre Island surf. The saga began in April 2018 with Oz landing, tagging, and releasing the large male lemon. Two weeks later, barely two miles down the beach, the same shark was recaptured by another angler. No way to fake the story, he had the number of the tag Oz had attached near the base of the lemon’s dorsal fin. Sounds pretty convincing, huh? Well, there’s more!

Fast forward to April 2019. Almost a year to the day, Oz was back down the PINS beach fishing for sharks with charter clients. As amazing as it might sound, they succeeded in recapturing the same lemon and releasing it successfully for the third time. Oz says it swam away, again, as if nothing ever happened.

Now some might say redfish and sharks are heartier than speckled trout, especially in summer when water temps are elevated. All I can say is any who believe this haven’t referenced Dr. Greg Stunz’s release mortality studies. Dr. Stunz conducted a study more than fifteen years ago during late summer on the Upper Laguna. Trout were captured by a variety of methods and placed in holding pens where their survival could be monitored. Even with trout that had been caught on live shrimp with treble hooks included in the study population, the overall survival rate exceeded 80%.

What more proof do you need?