A lack of respect for fellow fishermen

Releasing salmon awakens a lot of feelings, as well as killing a salmon for food. I find it sad that the joy a fisherman gets from posing with a salmon, whether it’s killed or about to be released is overshadowed by negative comments and theories about what is right and wrong. As long as the rules and quotas set for Lakselva is followed, we encourage each and every one to respect your fellow fisherman and how they choose to use their catch.

A prime example of how a fish should be held before release. Photo: James Martindale

Why release?
We cannot hide the fact that we’ve had a large focus on releasing salmon, with a special focus on large female fish here in Lakselva. At the beginning of this century, some attentive people saw a negative development in the river, and catches then was way lower then what they have been the last years. As a consequence of this, a drift count was done after the fishing season of 2002. The results we’re alarming, and approximately a ton of female fish was counted (later, it’s been calculated that Lakselva has a spawning target of 3,4 tons of female fish). Following this, it was implemented quotas for fish larger than 80 centimeters, and in some seasons, all fish larger than 80 centimeters were protected in the month of August.

As catch and release gained recognition in Lakselva, we quickly saw more and bigger female fish in following seasons, and the catches all together increased. The return of many of these big fish seem quite obvious to be a result of catch and release. Another thing we saw, was that release also lead us into reaching the necessary number of spawning fish. Without the contribution of released fish, these targets would not have been reach in a number of seasons. That big henfish are tough individuals programmed for survival, reproduction and size is quite certain, and we see them as important “production species” important to protect.

Salmon is without a doubt good food, and there’s room for catching some of these meals during a season.

What do we know about survival of released fish?
Research projects in Lakselva (and other rivers), show a high degree of survival of released fish, and released fish stay on the spawning grounds with other fish in the fall. We know this, since we have tagged released fish, and visually spotted these fish on drift counts.

To ensure the highest chance of survival after release, it important to follow these rules (external link) when releasing fish. Salmon with bleeding wounds, especially from the gills, should be killed. Follow the guidelines in the link, and your salmon will most likely survive and be able to take part in the spawning.

Ethics and moral regarding release
The ethical/moral aspect of release is a returning topic in this debate. That a lot of this is based on personal conviction and feelings is without a doubt, but that is often the case with ethics and moral. I will not take the role in describing what is “right or wrong”, but I will say the following: deliberately breaking the rules and quotas is a selfish act, and an exploitation of a common good.

It’s also important to realize that sport fishing has a big aspect of play, regardless of releasing a fish or not. Killing a salmon could be justified by serving your friends a salmon meal. Releasing a salmon may be justified by fishing for the experience and that you want the fish to complete it’s task of spawning. I think it’s important to respect both these views. Regardless of catch or release, we are stilling fishing, and the salmon has the same experience regardless of what we plan on doing with it once we get it to shore.

As described, we know that catch and release works as a management tool, but we also welcome a sort of fishing where one can find joy in eating a self-caught salmon. Much because of the release of many big henfish and a solid number of spawning fish the last few years, we have a salmon population in good shape. Therefore it should be room for catching a couple of fish for the table – at the same time, we must remember that today’s good situation is much due to the restrictions we have implemented.

In a salmon river, there’s always somebody who fish more, and catch more fish that the average fisherman. With day- and seasonal quotas, more fishermen can harvest from the surplus, and we get a more even sharing of the valuable resource that our wild salmon stock is.

With these thoughts I wish you a continued good fishing season, and a respect for your fellow fishermen following the rules we’ve set for Lakselva.

Egil Liberg
Lakselv land owners association