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The ethics of catch and release in angling: human recreation, resource conservation and animal welfare

Mejdell CM, Lund V. The ethics of catch and release in angling: human recreation, resource conservation and animal welfare. In: Sustainable food production and ethics. Eds Zollitsch, Winckler, Waiblinger, Haslberger. Wageningen Academic Publishers. 2007; pp 489-92

A form of angling where fish is first caught and then released back into the water, is known as “catch and release”. While hobby fishing in the sea is rarely regarded as a threat to fishing stocks, recreational fishing in rivers and lakes may involve considerable drain on some fish populations. In several places in the world catch and release fishing has gradually become the normal procedure. This allows fishing to continue as a sport while ensuring that a vulnerable fishing stock is not overtaxed. Thus, this is perceived as a compromise that takes into consideration both the interests of the anglers and the environmental interests to preserve a threatened resource. And the fish likely prefers life to death and is believed to be “happy” when released. So what is the problem?

The main problem is that in order to release the fish, it must first be caught: the good deed (release) depends on a preceding bad action (catch). The fighting against hook and line results in an immense stress reaction in the fish. The fish may become totally exhausted and the post release mortality may be considerable. Probably fish has the capacity to experience pain and fear and thus suffer.

The interests of the parties involved: human (joy of anglers and income for property owners); animal (life and welfare); environment (safe-guarding of biological and genetic resources, and biodiversity); as well as societal values and attitudes (respect for life and resources, educational aspects, and tradition) are discussed.

NVI authors

Mejdell Cecilie Marie

Forsker, fagansvarlig dyrevelferd