Catch and release not an ‘extreme’ sport

“Europeans are crazy!” Or so says the drummer in the Volkswagen commercial.

But unless you happen to have a secret bank account there, you may not be aware of what’s going on in Switzerland (even Germany) these days. But you should.

Taking effect next year, catch-and-release fishing will be banned there, thanks to the Swiss Federal Parliament. Thanks also go to animal rights activists here and around the world—and unwittingly, perhaps, some of that blame will even reach our over-zealous bassing crowd.

Animal rights zealots aren’t going away. Their extreme stance is almost a religion for those individuals and groups and putting a stop to fishing is just one of their “golden calves.” Yet bass fishermen continue to hold their own services in empty livewells.

We really haven’t helped the situation when it comes down to the core principle we should embrace: that catch and release is a fishery management tool to be used smartly with each specific fishery. It is not an altruistic lifestyle issue as so many have made it. It is not an issue of good and bad. It is certainly not a reason to brow beat recreational fishermen who want to take their bass home—at least some of them.

Catch-and-release, slot limits, closed areas or habitat introduction should be employed to maximize productivity in a given body of water. Such approaches accomplish certain things for reasons of management—they are not put in place so the bass fisherman can look good for his peers. Or think he looks good.

Obviously, catch and release is not a bad thing by design. That is not my point. I’ve lived through the era where tournament catches were paraded through town in the backs of pickup trucks. Good fishermen taking advantage of generous bag limits can and will over-harvest.

But taken to its extreme, pure catch-and-release policies ultimately end up with over-populations, stunted and stressed fish, and often, a sudden crash in bass numbers. Even worse, the concept of sport fishing among bass fishermen has actually helped the cause of anti-fishing attitudes and now, even international legislation.

And here’s how it happens. The extremists, facing the opposition by those with traditional subsistence practices found in so many cultures, cannot argue that fishing actually sustains life. It grates them, but they admit that some fish must be sacrificed for this necessity.

However, that’s where it ends for the animal rights advocates. As radical as it seems to us, they believe that if you really are concerned for the fish, you won’t just release them; you shouldn’t even stick a hook in their chops. And thus, when the bass guys bust the chops of some of the “take-home” guys, you reinforce the extremist view that there really is no good reason for fishing.

We say it can never happen here, but get this. According to the international fishing trade organization EFTTA, the wording of that new Swiss law says, “ is not permitted to go fishing with the ‘intention’ to release the fish.”

Trying to legislate against intent is pretty scary in itself. But it most certainly should alert us to be smart, not extreme, about our conservation views. Let’s not help the other side.