by Ron Presley
What should you teach your kids about conservation?
To begin with, kids can understand, at a pretty young age, just what it means to conserve. In our efforts to teach them about catfish conservation we should first teach them what the word means. If they spend all their allowance on the same day they receive it, they know they won’t have any left to spend tomorrow. They must save some, or conserve some, for the future.
It is very similar with our ecosystem. We should teach our youth that if we keep all the catfish we catch, our rivers and lakes will run out of catfish. Proponents of catfish conservation regularly espouse a position of saving our catfish so their kids and grandkids will be able to experience the same opportunities that they have.
The catfish culture is divided into at least three distinct groups. There are those that fish to eat. That group is more likely than others to harvest everything they catch. This fish to eat group is likely to be practicing a way of life that they grew up with.
There are others who fish for recreation and the dinner table at the same time. That process is generally referred to as selective harvest. This group of anglers are practicing a learned behavior. They recognize that conserving our limit resources are important, but so is a fish for the dinner table. They also like to save their trophy fish memories in a photo, but they are not defined the same way as the final group.
A third group fishes for fun and returns everything they catch to the water. That group is generally referred to as Catch-Photo-Release (CPR) anglers. In the strictest sense of the phrase, this group of anglers are dedicated to recreational fishing only and see no reason to keep the fish they catch for fun.
Over time the trend appears to be moving away from the “fish to eat” group, toward the CPR group. Most anglers lay in the middle, taking some for the dinner table, but releasing trophy fish. In reality, what anglers do with their fish is a personal decision and limited only by current laws and regulations. The slow process of change is expected to continue as more anglers adopt more conservation minded methods of fishing while educating the masses on the benefits of selective harvest and CPR.
Selective harvest is a process of choosing which fish anglers decide to eat. It is offered by conservationists as a method to help manage our catfish waters without adding more regulations. Basically, selective harvest is keeping the mid-sized and smaller fish and releasing the much larger and smaller fish. Let the kids know you want the little ones to get bigger and the bigger ones to grow and have more babies. It is a personal choice that is easy to teach to your kids.
Some anglers make a defendable argument that 5- to 10-pound fish are actually better to eat anyway. Again, it’s a personal choice as to what size you choose for your family.
So, choose the size of the fish that you will throw back and let the kids know what it is. Then practice that choice when you fish. Different families choose different sizes. For example, I often hear the size of 15 pounds and above as the size of the bigger fish to throw back. Sometimes the smaller size is set by state law. If not set by law each angler/family should set their own lower size limit on the fish they will keep.
So, if you choose 10 pounds as the upper limit, when you catch a catfish heavier than 10 pounds, throw it back and tell the kids why. Let them know that you also enjoy catching the fish for sport and you want the fish to grow bigger.
If you catch a trophy catfish, educate the kids on the importance of the gene pool and how bigger fish lay more eggs and naturally grow to bigger sizes. Nothing will affect their future behavior more than the examples you set while fishing with them.
Anglers that practice CPR have a strong desire to conserve and protect the fish they catch. When your child catches a fish, and for kids it doesn’t have to be a big fish, he or she experiences a certain level of excitement. That experience can be captured in a photograph that will bring back the memory of that great time for years to come. And, the fish does not have to be killed. That is the essence of CPR.
Anglers need to use good judgement in fighting, landing, and caring for the fish after catching. Every effort should be made to complete the photo process while keeping the fish out of the water for as little time as possible. The fish should be resuscitated before release. Share this process with the kids so they too, can understand the goal of CPR.
The camera should be kept handy for easy access, not hidden deep in a storage area. If it is your camera you might want to instruct someone else on the boat how to use it. The key is to take the photo as quickly as possible and return to caring for the fish.
Sometimes the fish will require additional attention after returning it to the water. Don’t just throw them back, but maintain control of the fish until it is obvious the fish will swim off on its own. The quicker you get oxygen through the gills, the faster the recovery. Many anglers will place the catfish in a livewell to recuperate before releasing.
Action speaks louder than words. As your child or other kids see the care you take with returning fish safely to the water they will emulate that behavior. Your actions make it clear to them that you get just as much joy from releasing the fish as catching it. And, your words can make it clear to them that by releasing a trophy fish you have made it possible for another angler to catch the fish on another day.
CPR is a method of fishery management where the ordinary angler can have an impact on the future population of the catfish. All it requires is a desire to provide an opportunity for some future fisherman to catch a trophy fish and enjoy the same level of excitement as the person who originally caught the fish. That opportunity is created by taking care to release your fish in good shape and educating others on the importance of doing it.
Kids are Quick Learners
Use good judgment when fishing with kids. Keep it interesting and keep it simple at first. You can add more detail as they get older. They need to participate too. Let them help you catch bait; let them bait their own hooks; let them reel in their own fish; let them throw them back unless the size of the fish makes it dangerous. Use grippers if necessary, but let them be involved in the process of fishing, catching, and releasing the fish. If you talk to them about why you catch them and why you throw them back they will pick it up quickly.
Your actions and behavior can create conservation kids. If they understand what and why they are doing it, in terms of conservation, they will help pass it on to their fishing partners and the next generation as well.
What could be better than a whole new generation of catfish anglers experiencing the thrill of catching trophy catfish?