BoatUS ANGLER: RecycledFish Stewardship Tips
Fish to Your Heart's Content
Fall is upon us here in the United States. As the days cool, the fish eat voraciously in preparation for winter. It is a good time to fish.
Many states have implemented slot limits to help selected fisheries. A slot limit is a certain size of fish that must be released. Most often, but not always, a slot is between seventeen and twenty-five inches. Every fish caught in this “slot” must be released immediately.
The theory behind slot limits is to protect the midsized fish, the fish in the slot, and allow them to grow for a few more years. At one time, the thought was that releasing the small fish would create a better population. After all, the small fish could grow into bigger fish. However, many lakes can only support so many fish. The total biomass that a lake can support includes both the big fish and the small fish. If small fish are overrepresented, then the population of big fish may suffer. By releasing the fish in the slot, you help to build the population of bigger fish in the lake.
It also helps to remove the smaller fish from the population. If you catch fish that are shorter than the slot, say fourteen inches, it benefits the fishery to keep that fish for the freezer or the table.
Rainy Lake, on the Minnesota/Ontario boarder, is a premier walleye lake and a good example of how slot limits have helped to steward a fishery.
In 1994, the Minnesota DNR implemented a slot limit of seventeen to twenty-five inches on Rainy Lake. Anglers could keep one fish over twenty-five inches but had to release all fish in the slot. The limits were enacted in response to poor catch rates. Years of overharvest by recreational and commercial anglers had decimated the walleye population.
The slot limits were successful. Shortly after the regulations were enacted, catch rates increased from one walleye every 4.5 hours of fishing to one every 1.5 hours.
When you are out on the lake this fall, fish to your heart’s content. Find a lake in your area that has slot limits and fill your freezer with fish that are smaller than the slot. Release those fish that are in the slot. Let 'em swim to and fight another day. You will be helping to steward your local lake and will have a hand in creating a population of "more and bigger fish."
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