Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Preservation of our Steelhead Alley fishery regardless of Wild vs. Stocked fish

Preservation of our Steelhead Alley fishery regardless of Wild vs. Stocked fish

Steelhead Alley Angler has reached across the world and is becoming noticed.  What we say and what we do is being listened too and watched.  As anglers in steelhead alley, we skim the web for different bits of info to feed our passion for fishing, likewise anglers across the globe are doing the same and land upon steelhead alley websites.  On a recent outdoor sports talk radio episode that I was a part of the topic was related to “Wild Steelhead” and the handling laws they have in their part of the country. 

In the state of Washington I have come to understand that wild fish are not to be removed from the water.  Anglers have raised some concerns on the validity of such a law and realistic ability to enforce such a law.  While some anglers adhere to the law and never touch the fish upon landing, others will still lift a fish, leaving the tail in the water for a photo opportunity and be within the legal rules of their division of wildlife. 

Myself being an angler in a state that has no handling laws per say but rather common sense recommendations from our ODNR on how to handle steelhead, I found the discussion to be interesting and enlightening at the same time.  I had no dog in the fight when it came to their law, but rather I was looking at this topic from a different angle.  Washington State’s law I gather is for the preservation of the wild fishery they have, and I can respect that completely.  A few radio segments went along and I listened with interest of learning from anglers out west the challenges they face.

Soon it was my time to chime into the conversation and maybe point out a different view point.  I spoke about while the law may or may not be enforceable on the West coast, imagine a fishery that has no handling rules.  Yes I know that zipping of fish is illegal in Steelhead Alley, but rather it isn’t illegal to handle fish in other manners of which would be considered controversial in many anglers eyes across the country.  The first thing countered to my point by the co-host was “your fishery is stocked and ours is wild”. 

Yes I completely agree our fishery is stocked by our respective Division of Wildlife Offices.  The understanding is that while the fish will attempt to spawn, our tributary systems are not conducive to sustaining fry during the summer months.  While there is a reported small percentage of fish that appear to be wild in Steelhead Alley, without the stocking programs eventually our fishery would go away within 10 years in my estimation.  With the economic downturn, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if stocking program funding is cut in the future.

Regardless of handling laws, is it not the duty of an angler to be a Steward of their fishery? Is it not the common goal of all anglers that when releasing fish back to the WILD, they are given the best chance of survival?  With our fishery in Ohio, anglers have the opportunity to harvest a certain amount per day, though this doesn’t mean that all anglers do that.  Of those landed and harvested, many more are released back to the WILD to give other anglers the opportunity to enjoy in the future.  Land 20 fish on a good day, keep 2 if you so desire and release 18 fish that day.  Stewards of the fishery will release 18 fish back in the best condition possible.  Yes I know we may be spoiled on numbers of fish and that may be a topic for another day.

Without handling laws in Ohio, we see a variety of techniques being used.  All of which in the eyes of the common sense angler, would be viewed as inappropriate and not in the best interest of the fish.  Would a handling law in Ohio prevent this?  Nobody really knows, but surely it wouldn’t hurt to release fish in a manner that gives the fish the best chance for survival.  Punting the fish like a football, throwing a fish in midair and everything in between doesn’t quite qualify in my eyes as an acceptable release.  Then we have brilliant minds that think it is funny to make YouTube videos on handling methods of which we all know is intended to get under the skin of anglers who actually care about the fishery and it’s preservation.  If the state ever cuts the funding for steelhead stocking due to an economic downturn, it won’t be so funny then nor is it funny now.

So while we may never be able to change the East Coast vs. West Coast, Stocked vs. Wild fish and Bait vs. Fly beliefs and misunderstandings, it is my opinion that we all should be stewards of our fishery for the simple fact that if we as anglers do not do so, nobody else will either, and in essence my son one day might not be able to have the same great opportunities and memorable fishing experiences that I have had.  Fisheries sustained by wild or man should be respected so that future generations can enjoy it.  Education of other anglers new into the sport is critical as without education it is certain anglers will be their own worst enemy.

Until Next Time…
Fish Hard…Fish Often…

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