There's more to angling -- also known as "sport fishing" -- than knowing how to tie a nail knot or trick a trout into biting a Marabou Muddler. Like most of the good things in life, angling comes with responsibilities.
Children fishing for minnows with a string and bent pin soon come to realize that their fun comes at the expense of an animal's freedom, and possibly its life. Knowingly or not, they develop a sense of right and wrong, a simple code of ethics.
In today's fast-changing world, with growing threats to fish habitat and increasing demands on fisheries, a code of ethics is an absolute necessity.
The ethics of fishing for sport have evolved over thousands of years. While opinions may differ on some aspects of angler behavior, the following list contains the gist of what most anglers would probably include in a personal code of ethics.
The ethical angler:
knows about and respects the fish and their habitats
respects private property
respects other anglers
uses tackle accepted as "sporting" for the fish and the water involved
may give away fish, but doesn't sell them
keeps no more fish than can be used, and stops fishing when fish can't be harmlessly released
promotes ethical fishing
knows and observes the law in both letter an spirit
Take the first entry on this list, the one that says we ought to know and respect the fish and its needs. Without knowledge and respect, we can unknowingly destroy the very thing we claim to love, as we have often demonstrated. For example, studies have shown that overhanging grass and bushes provide vital food and cover for rearing Kenai River king salmon. Other studies have shown that intensive fishing, such as happens during sockeye salmon runs, kills streamside vegetation and contributes to bank erosion. The knowledgeable and respectful angler fishes from a boat, or while standing in the water, on gravel bars or on a fishing platform.
We don't think about it every day, but our ethics constantly evolve with the changes around us. Population growth equates to more people on the water, forcing us to learn and abide by the "rules of the road," which can vary with time, place and tradition. Realize it or not, we change with the times.
After fishing for nearly seven decades, I've concluded that everyone has a fishing code of conduct. In an Internet for "fishing ethics," Google came back with 2.7 million hits.
Like tackle boxes, our credos occasionally need to be dumped out, cleaned up and restocked. What's in yours?
Les Palmer lives in Sterling.
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