Don't fall for catch-release line

Posted: Monday, July 07, 2003

Fishing season is here in earnest, and with fishing season come the inevitable fish stories. The biggest fish story being told on the Kenai this year is not "the one that got away" or "you shoulda been here last week."

The biggest fish story going around is that catch and release conserves big Kenai kings. That is not true. Catch and release kills big Kenai kings.

The only way to conserve fish is to not kill fish, and catch and release kills fish. One of every 12 kings caught and released dies the first time it's caught, and one in every seven kings is caught more than once.

The simple truth is that catch and release under any name slot limit, release a hawg program, whatever doesn't conserve fish. Catch and release conserves fishing.

Catch and release conserves fishing because while it's true that catch and release kills fish, it kills them more slowly than does an unrestricted harvest fishery. Instead of being killed the first time it's caught, catch and release allows a Kenai king to be cycled past 12 fishermen before

it's killed. Said another way, catch and release kills every 12th king caught the first time it's caught. A fish that can be caught 12 times before it's killed provides much more fishing than does a fish that can be caught only once.

More fishing translates into more fun for some and more dollars for the sportfishing industry. More fishing means more dollars for guides, more lodges full of sports, more tackle sold, and more license dollars for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Sport Fish Division.

It's all about fun and money.

Moreover, it has been suggested by members of the sportfishing industry that our Kenai kings are something more than meat, that the fish could serve some higher purpose than just being eaten.

Former Gov. Tony Knowles, however, said that the most important salmon is the one on Alaska's dinner plates. Even the Kenai River Sportfishing Association agrees there is no better use of Alaska's salmon than for personal and family consumption.

What then is a salmon if not meat, and what higher purpose can the salmon serve than being eaten? Fun? Money? Thrills?

No, the salmon is meat and can serve no higher purpose than being eaten. As meat, the salmon reminds us that we live in a world where everything dies so that something else might live.

As meat, the salmon reminds us of our place in the created order and of our interdependence on other living creatures. Salmon are much more than toys or a resource to be exploited for fun, thrills and money.

Environmental writer and poet Wendell Berry says it best: "We can not live harmlessly or strictly at our own expense; we depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration ... in such desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want."

Anglers would do well to keep their first two legal kings, eating them in gratitude for their and our place in the web of life, and forgetting catch and release.

It's a fish story.

John Nelson, an avid sportsman, is a Soldotna resident and a member of the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee.

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