Catch-and-release in fishing is one of the most widespread trends in an increasingly conservation-conscious society.

But if it ends up being a question of catch-cut-up-and-release-it-to-die-later, then it’s not so helpful. And proper catch-and-release techniques are executed less often than you’d think, say the fishermen at the Coastal Conservation Association Maine chapter.

“We’re not saying fishermen are deliberately harming fish, but they harming fish more than they realize,” said Duncan Barnes, president of CCA-Maine.

This is why CCA-Maine teamed up with Mustad hooks to put together educational brochures that CCA members will give out at boat launches this summer. The CCA folks also will hand out proper circle hooks and educate anglers on the fish conservation, regarding these “safer” hooks.

Bruce Joule, the marine fisheries recreational coordinator at the Maine Department of Marine Resources said there are many myths about proper fish handling out there.

Just a few include the belief that it’s OK to hold a fish out of the water for more than several seconds; the belief that it’s OK to hold a fish up by the tail; and the popular practice of wrestling a hook out of a fish in the boat.

All of these common practices, Joule said, hurt fish.

“I hate to think how many times I’ve seen fish thrashing in a boat, losing scales,” Barnes said. “It’s so simple to take the hook out in the water. It’s just a mind-set. But not all people have it.

“There are still too many fishing shows on TV where they just drop the fish in the water without reviving it.”

Mustad, which has been a leader in hook manufacturing since 1877, has worked on conservation projects and education outreach before, so the hook company was eager to fund CCA-Maine’s educational program.

It gave CCA 4,000 proper circle hooks and paid the $4,500 cost of the educational brochures, which show a proper circle hook with enough of a bend in the hook to safely catch the fish in the mouth, rather than the gut.

“If a fish fights and you let the fish eat the hook, if the circle hook is more than 90 degrees, it will catch in the mouth. It greatly reduces the chance of soft tissue getting torn (in the guts). It’s not hooking anything vital,” said Jeff Pierce at Mustad.

But using a circle hook instead of the generic J-hook is only part of good catch-and-release approach, Pierce said.

“When I watch those fishing shows and they’re holding the fish by the gills, I want to reach into the TV and yank the camera out of the cameraman’s hands,” Pierce said.

Over at DMR, Joule agreed. He said the myths about proper fish handling are as plentiful as big fish tales today.

“What I tell people is don’t hold a fish out of the water for longer than you can hold your breath. If they could stay out that long, they’d live on land,” Joule said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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