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Wednesday, 03 August 2011 02:00

Conservation Can Be Hard

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Conservation Can Be Hard Photograph by Bill Howard

Ever since I was little I’ve always heard “It’s not always easy doing the right thing”, you probably did too. Standing up for what you believe is right can also be equally as hard. Debates can quickly turn heated and the true message you’re trying to get across gets lost. Talk about kayak fishing or fishing conservation on any angler forum and you’ll see what I mean. I recently had an encounter such as this on one of these forums.

BlackDrum2A video was posted of some really large Black Drum being caught at a local bridge. The Capt was then hauling the 40 pound plus fish over the rail of the boat with a lip gaff, and then hanging them by the lower lip for pictures. Now if these fish were to be consumed by the angler later, it wouldn’t be a problem, but Black Drum such as these are not kept and usually released, as were these.

I wasn’t shocked and out raged with the anglers or the captain of the vessel, disappointed maybe as I thought they would have known better, no my anger was pointed more at the website and its administrators who claim to be on the side of “Conservation”. I know that practices and beliefs are hard to change, especially if you have been doing something for a long time, as was the case here. The captain admitted he had been lip gaffing those drum like that for years. Doesn’t make it right, but in his eyes he has done nothing wrong. Has he done anything wrong? Legally no, ethically yes. We have learned a lot in the last 10 years on fish mortality and the proper handling techniques that help ensure a good chance of survival for large fish. It takes time to turn those old ways around.

By Ron Taylor, Florida Marine Research Institute

BlackDrum3“As to holding snook, or any large fish, in a vertical position is counter to the natural condition. Think about it! While the fish is in the water, the natural buoyancy of the liquid medium holds and supports the fish's organs in the correct position. By simply removing the fish from the water causes the internal organs to become stressed and somewhat displaced from their natural location. And now add to it the absolutely un-natural position of holding the fish vertical. I don't know of any hands on research that actually describes what happens to the stomach, liver, heart, and gonads of a fish being held out of the water in a vertical position.

So, when I posted my objections I was fully expecting the backlash I received. I wasn’t expecting to be pushed into a corner, but like I said fishing forums can get emotional and heated. I’ve had my share or internet arguments in the past and I’ll probably have a few more in the future. You see I’m a pretty stubborn person. If I think I’m right, even if I’m wrong but I think I’m right, I’ll argue a point till I’m blue in the face. I’m I right or wrong in this argument? Maybe so, it’s not for me to say. I think I’m right. After all, this website had written in black and white very specific guidelines for posting pictures on their Fishing Reports Section.

A few basic rules and useful techniques for fish pictures:

“Avoid holding fish vertically, especially larger fish, and particularly Snook and Trout. When using a 'gripping device', always support the fish's weight by placing one hand under its belly when it is necessary to lift the fish for a photo. Snook are especially susceptible to damage from being held by the lip.”

The intent is to have pictures that set the right example for others.

In the past pictures of fish held in the wrong way were quickly deleted. You have seen them; I like to call them the “Vulcan Death Grip”. It’s the shot you see an angler usually take when he or she is by themselves, so they hold the fish out at arm’s length and snap a picture. Anything held by the lower jaw would get deleted as well. But the hypocritical point for me was this; during a recent tournament this site banned the use of a landing net for Speckled Sea Trout. So the use of a net was found to cause harm to sea trout, but a lip gaff for a 40 lb Black Drum was ok? Do a search on the internet and you can find tons of information on the recommended practices for handling large fish.

From the Florida Wildlife Conservation


“Avoid the use of gaffs and never remove large fish such as tarpon from the water.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Image Guidelines for Fishing and Boating Scenes.


“Gaffs should not be used on any fish that may be released. Large fish should never be suspended by the jaw, not even to weigh them, if they are going to be released. The proper way is to hold the fish horizontally with its weight distributed as evenly as possible”

Standing up for right is difficult. The road can be hard. This is not my first conflict over conservation. I served on a local Sea Grass Task Force that was tasked with developing plans to protect our valuable sea grass here in Tampa Bay. Those meetings were heated, imagine one sometimes two lonely kayakers against a room of guides and commercial fisherman. Shortly after those meetings the nails in my tires started, not once but three times I came back to the ramp to find nails stuck in my tires. Do I have proof, not really but I do have my suspicions. So as I logged onto the site this morning, I was fully expecting to be banned. Surprisingly enough I wasn’t, but disappointed, I quickly found the video was still up. “As an example of not what to do”. Really?? Then why not change the title of the thread??

Taking the high road has no ending. Until next time…


About the Author: Bill Howard is a Pro Staff Member at Yakangler.com, as well as Malibu Kayaks. He is also on the Columbia Sportswear Pro Team. Bill is an avid photographer and writer, contributing to numerous websites and publications in the Tampa Bay area.

In 2008 he completed a 17 day, 129 mile trip around Tampa Bay raising nearly $4000 dollars for the American Heart Association. He is also a board member for the Tampa Bay Chapter of Hero's on the Water.

Read 8557 times Last modified on Tuesday, 02 August 2011 17:15


# littlemiamijeff 2011-08-03 08:29
Thanks Bill.
I "hear" you loud and clear. And in the heat of the battle and excitement will most probably hold a large fish vertically. Not trying to refute nor fight with you. Just say'n. The fact that it's "hard" to do and stand for what is right is an on-going scenario, Most of us think we are doing what is right. And there is a percentage, hopefully small, that just doesn't care. There is a scripture that says "My people perish/die for lack of knowledge/under standing" I would add to that, that fish, animals, cultures and nations perish/die for the same reason. Thanks for educating me/us. I/We have less excuse for killing C&R fish if we've read this article.
# Hammerhead 2011-08-03 09:31
Nice article Bill. Yes it is hard to do what's right some times.
# YakSushi 2011-08-03 13:02
Yes when I read this article I knew I was also guilty of the same thing! But the more and more we read and hear about, hopefully the easier it is to remember during the excitement of catching that huge fish!
# robchoi 2011-08-05 14:05
Excellent article. Well said Bill.
# coachjoe 2011-08-10 14:33
Excellent article. It is always harder to stand up for what is right then to just say nothing! WTG!
# Jbwest7 2012-02-12 22:37
I am not an angler, but the sport interests me and I am considering getting into it. I wasn't aware of these issues, and I am glad I read your article. Very enlightening for the soon-to-be-new- guy on the block. Thanks!
# hybridkayaker 2012-03-21 11:14
Nice article, I am glad I read it.

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