Is It Ethical To Fish On Spawning Beds?

Food for thought as the upcoming spawn ramps up!
Lloyd5: Is It Ethical To Fish On Spawning Beds?
It is that great time of year for fishermen, spring. Quite probably the absolute very best greatest time of the entire year for fishermen. The water is warming up, the air is warming up, things are turning green, the fish are warming up, and the fish are biting. Great stuff all around. Especially the fish are biting part.

This is also the time of year that presents some fishermen with one of the most exciting forms of fishing - spawn beds. It can also be a controversial type of fishing, with some being passionately against it. Here are some of the arguments I've heard (usually over a beer) from the two sides:


The health and well being of the fishery relies in large part on the reproductive cycle of the fish. The odds of each fry living to be a big fish are incredibly small under the best of circumstances, and interfering with the spawn fish reduces those odds further. Removing a fish from the spawn bed can interfere with the laying and fertilizing of eggs and/or the parent fish's defense of the recently hatched fry from marauding fish.

Even with catch and release the stress placed on the fish by the fisherman harms the viability of the egg laying and fertilizing process. Perhaps even more dangerous to the fish is that with the parent fish gone from the bed the fry are defenseless against the marauding fish the parent fish was there to stop. An entire school of fry can be wiped out in the short time between catch and release.

With the parent fish "stuck" on the bed in defensive mode the act of catching one is less sportsman-like. This is a time when the fish is most vulnerable to fishermen, has little or no choice about being in the location it is at for several days, has a set of hard-wired reactions to anything that comes within its territory that makes catching one almost a lead pipe cinch. In other words, not much of a challenge for the fisherman.

It's a bad public image for fishermen and gives ammo to those that would ban the sport.


If fishing spawn beds was detrimental to fish populations we'd have seen a reduction in fish populations over the past decades. This has not been the case. Contrary to the decimation theory what we are seeing is better fishing than ever. When a theory is not backed up by observation, then the theory is wrong. Therefore fishing on spawn beds does not damage the fishery.

Catching a fish any time of the year puts some stress on it, yet nearly all catch and release fish survive the encounter. This is true during the spawn also. A caught and released fish retains its eggs or milt and does not stop the reproductive process.

The number of fry eaten by predator fish while the parent fish is off the nest will be made up for by survival of fry from nearby nests that didn't have a parent fish removed. In any given year there will be only so many fry that can survive, that the fishery can carry - and the large number of excess fry in the entire fishery more than makes up for any localized deficits caused by fishing. It's this system that fish have for species survival, an extremely high number of redundant fry, and it is a system that works well.

Catching fish off of beds isn't always as easy as some make it sound. There can be a great deal of persistence required to get a fish to strike. Many times they can't be made to strike. It is therefore as sportsman-like as any other fishing technique.

Spawn bed fishing is often sight fishing. Sight fishing doesn't happen much the rest of the year. Sight fishing is a rare treat, and spawn bed fishing is generally the best time to get to do it, for a lot of fishermen it's the only time they get to do it. There is something especially intriguing about casting to a fish you can see. There is also something most extraordinarily exciting about watching a fish take your presentation. Once experienced it becomes a type of fishing you want to do as much of as you can.

Both sides can find statistics and theory to support their assertions. Like politics and religion, it sometimes may be more of a passion than a reasoned or logical position. One side wants to protect fish, the other side doesn't think the fish need that particular protection. It's a discussion that will likely never end and will sell a lot of beer in the local pub.

Which side do you fall on? I'm kind of partial to Corona myself.


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