David Haynes Column for Reel Life Jan 2019

  • 30/01/2019


For all fisheries other than Taupo, it seems that catch and release has become the norm for NZ. The story seems to be that our wild trout are too beautiful and our fisheries too fragile to end up in breadcrumbs and, despite the fact that our 12 Fish & Game regions all stipulate the size and number of salmonids that can be taken from each fishery legally, it seems killing your catch is now synonymous with smoking and smacking children – IT JUST ISN’T THE DONE THING.

So, is catch and release a good thing and if so, why?

We turn to scientists for the answer, as a white laboratory coat is now the equivalent of a cassock in the 21st century. There are but six research papers on catch and release (C&R),* one from our own Roger Young, which is a review of overseas research, one from the Environment Agency in the UK and the rest from North America evaluating the impact of C&R on trout and Atlantic salmon.  Here’s what the ‘people who know’ came up with:

Physiological Impact – condition, spawning success and mortality are affected by the temperature of the water, how quickly the fish is played, where it is hooked and how little time it is handled and held out of the water.  Other than some fish with extensive mouth scars having poor condition factors, there is little data to indicate C&R has any impact.

Fish Population Impact – there is scant data to determine if C&R affects fish populations. Generally, C&R has no impact on fisheries with low numbers and may cause high fish fisheries to have higher numbers of smaller fish over time – i.e. the fishery will reach equilibrium in respect of food and shelter.

Fish Behaviour Impact – there is good evidence to show that C&R fish go off the feed of up to three days (brown trout in particular), may hide more during the day and change feeding patterns. Dominant fish have been shown to move away from the prime feeding position (e.g. head of the pool) after being caught.

Social Impact – C&R fisheries tend to attract greater angling pressure in the US in particular, presumably as anglers believe there are more fish present and hence there's a greater chance of hooking one. Animal welfare bodies are agitated by C&R as is it perceived as frivolous cruelty. C&R is banned in some parts of Germany as a result of animal welfare lobbying.

There you have it, a compendium of the bleeding obvious perhaps, but, more to the point, there is no data to support the notion that C&R is a good thing and unless everyone who practices C&R hooks, plays, lands and releases the fish perfectly the balance of data indicates that C&R does more harm than good.


  • Young R. (1999). Catch and Release: a review of overseas research and implications for New Zealand.  Cawthron Institute paper.
  • Pope, K. L.; Wilde, G. R.; and Knabe, D. W.(2007). Effect of catch-and-release angling on growth and survival of rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss. Nebraska Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit -- Staff Publications. 72.
  • Bartholomew A., Bohnsack J.A (2005). A review of catch-and-release angling mortality with implications for no-take reserves. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 15: 129–154.
  • Cooke S.J., Wilde G.R. (2007). The Fate of Fish Released by Recreational Anglers. By-catch Reduction in the World’s Fisheries, 181–234.
  • Canadian Fisheries & Oceans Dept (1998). Effects of hook-and-release angling practices.  DFO Science Stock Status Report D0-03.
  • Cowx I.G., Angelopoulos N., Dodd J.D., Nunn A.D.(2017). Impact of catch and release angling practices on survival of salmon. Environment Agency (UK) Report

David Haynes

Email: david@outdoorsparty.co.nz

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