Fishing: To kill or not to kill

By: John Willis

Whether you catch and release, or keep it as a feed for the family, it’s important to treat fish with care and respect.

To most travelling nomads the world is a far different place to when we were young. Attitudes have altered dramatically and environmental issues have replaced many of the blood-and-guts struggles of previous generations. In Australia we have led the way with management tools such as quotas, licensing, bag limits, gun control and seasonal closures. We have been forthright and in many cases we have led the world with our stocking and protection methods. We pump hard-earned money into stream restoration, fish ladders, artificial reefs, stocking programs and, yes, even that dreaded topic of marine parks, all to ensure fish will be available for our future generations.

Fisherman Holding A Fish

A happy face holding a healthy fish will create a long-lasting memory.

Environmental challenges

There have been many challenges for our fish stocks, including overfishing from both recreational anglers and commercials alike, pollution, development and environmental threats such as climate change (note that I didn’t say ‘global warming’). I reckon it’s pretty simple: climates have changed since the world began. It’s how much influence we humans have on the environment that’s in question. 

the south-eastern states are currently experiencing an unprecedented explosion in the numbers of southern bluefin tuna and mahi mahi (commonly dolphin fish) to our great delight. The SBTs have returned in great numbers after a long decline but previously mahi mahi were virtually unheard of in our waters.

Fishing and social media

There’s lots of news around the country regarding our tremendous fish stocks. But with our ever-changing environment comes greater scrutiny and responsibility. Social media has changed our world. The fishermen’s grapevine has always been much more efficient than the jungle telegraph, but now social media tells us in real time where, when and how to fish. It is a terrific tool for our busy lifestyles and a wonderful source of local information for travelling fishos wanting to find the best opportunities in a new region.

However, the net has some bad sides. All of a sudden those who disagree with our sport have constant access to images of dead fish as anglers proudly load the web with pictures of their latest catches and kills. Don't get me wrong, I'm the first to stick up for our right, yes right, to kill a fish for the table, but we don’t need to arm our detractors with images of bloody, injured fish.

Fisherman Lifting A Striped Marlin Out Of The Sea

This striped marlin was tagged and released.

Catch and release versus killing for food

Our catch and release, and our tagging programs, have served us well for decades, but we need to take it further. It’s no use putting an injured fish back in the water to die. Scientists such as Dr Ben Diggles, Dr Paul Hardy-Smith and Dr Julian Pepperell, have done volumes of work on not only fish-handling techniques for greater survival after release, but how to humanely kill our table fish and maximise their eating qualities.

The Japanese led the way in handling and preparation for the massive sushi and sashimi market. They taught us many years ago that leaving a fish to flap around on the deck, or to lie slowly dying in a kill tank, releases adrenalin and other hormones into the system, thus diminishing the eating qualities.

They use a more humane method that involves spiking the brain, ike jime, an ideal method for those who know exactly where to insert the spike. But it can serve an opposite purpose if not carried out correctly. A positive blow to the skull will stun a fish immediately. Follow this up by a spike to the brain, cutting the throat and for many species gutting immediately. The humanely killed fish should then be kept as cold as possible, preferably a few degrees above freezing. A slurry of 1:1 ice and water is ideal and you will be amazed at how much better the fish will taste on the table.

Taking responsibility

It’s about taking responsibility for our actions. We all love fishing but our latest tackle, technique and technology has made experts of a much larger proportion of recreational fishos. Combine this with a greater number of anglers, more demands on our waterways and greater scrutiny from animal welfare groups and we need to increasingly fish smarter and more humanely. When we do have success, by all means keep a great feed for the table, but care for your catch for better culinary results. There’s little point in releasing a salmon or tuna and then buying it in a can from the supermarket.

Learn how to take a good photograph and you will enjoy your success forever. An image of a happy face holding a beautiful fish will provide a lasting memory. An image of a happy face holding a beautiful fish just prior to a successful release feels even better – forever!

Have your say: How can we ensure fish will be available for future generations?