Confessions of a Catch and Release Angler
Having fished Western New York waters for nearly thirty years, I can say with certainty that I’ve only kept 2 fish here. Given that I’ve caught thousands, I suppose that’s saying something.
I should preface this by saying I’m not against keeping fish. I don’t hold myself to an unattainable moral standard, nor do I dislike eating fish. I tend to be of the opinion that the keeper restrictions are there for a reason, and I hope that there’s a significant amount of thought that the DEC puts into them, based on good science and rational predictive modeling. So, following those guidelines should be sufficient in order to maintain my standing as an honorable angler.
On top of that, I used to keep fish when I lived in Maine. Smallmouth from the Penobscot River, and trout (Brookies, if memory serves) from the Shin Ponds up near Katahdin.
So I’m a catch and release fisherman because I want to be. There’s no outside pressure, and no inner dilemma.
So why only 2 fish in 30 years? And why write this piece now?
Simple. I’ve never had the desire to eat a local fish, until March 9th, 2013.
The Great Walleye Experiment
Since moving back to Western New York from Maine, nearly 20 years ago, I’ve caught trout, bass, panfish, and probably a dozen other species. In the back of my mind, I’ve probably always put too much emphasis on mercury and other warnings issued by the DEC.
While I don’t feel as though the purposefully overstate the contamination issues of our waterways, in some way I suppose the way they choose to WORD those warnings always makes it a little bit easier to slide a fish back into the water, rather than into a creel or a cooler. Here they are, in case you’re unfamiliar with them: http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7736.html
General Advisory for Eating Sportfish
The following recommendations are based on contaminant levels in fish and shellfish. The advisories are for the year 2006, but they may change from year to year based on new information. To minimize potential adverse health impacts, the NYS Dept. of Health recommends:
Eat no more than one meal (one-half pound) per week of fish from the state’s freshwaters, the Hudson River estuary, Upper Bay of New York Harbor (north of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge), Arthur Kill, Kill Van Kull, Newark Bay, Raritan Bay west of Wolfe’s Pond Park, East River to the Throgs Neck Bridge and Harlem River, except as otherwise recommended.
Women of childbearing age, infants and children under the age of 15 should not eat any fish species from listed waters.
Follow trimming and cooking advice.
Observe the identified restrictions on eating fish from listed waters and their tributaries to the first barrier impassable by fish.
So, one meal of no more than half a pound of fish every week.