Catch-and-release is often used as a tool for the conservation of recreationally targeted fish, and this is certainly the case for steelhead. However, despite its iconic status, very little research has been conducted on wild steelhead to determine the fate of fish that are caught and then released – especially concerning impacts related to the duration of air exposure.
As a part of Native Fish Society’s “Keep ‘Em Wet” campaign, our effort to increase angler awareness about the negative effects of air exposure on wild fish, we’re partnering with Dr. Andy J. Danylchuk (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and Dr. Steven Cooke (Carleton University) to study the impacts of catch-and-release on wild steelhead caught and released in the Bulkley River in British Columbia.
Teams of anglers and members of the collaborative research team will conduct this study during the fall 2016 steelhead season. The study has intentionally engaged a broad constituency from British Columbia Fish and Wildlife, the Wet’suwet’en First Nations, the Bulkley River Lodge, Patagonia World Trout, the Freshwater Fisheries Society of British Columbia, Northern Branch of the Steelhead Society of BC, the Wild Steelhead Coalition and angling businesses including Oscar’s Fly Shop in Smithers, B.C.
Dr. Danylchuk’s and Dr. Cooke’s experience conducting similar catch-and-release survival studies on nearly a dozen sport fish species around the world has led him to a standardized, rapid assessment approach, that happens in collaboration with local and regional stakeholders. This collaborative approach is critical in our view, as angling behaviors are unlikely to adapt to the results of a study unless local and regional stakeholders directly participate in the research, and as a result, take ownership for and help disseminate the study’s results.
Deliverables from this type of research include scientifically generated best practices for catch and release, scientific papers, popular media articles, and outreach materials for anglers.
Steelhead are by far the most iconic salmonid in North America, if not the World. These incredible fish have great cultural value to First Nations, immense ecological importance to watersheds and are a key driver of recreation based rural economies. We believe that conducting this study will have a broad impact on the way that anglers handle steelhead during their catch-and-release, not only in British Columbia, but also in the lower 48 where most steelhead populations are protected under the Endangered Species Act, but regularly removed from the water during angling. As steelhead anglers, we all have a deep passion for these incredible fish.
With the help of this study we can ensure that as a community, our angling practices do as a little harm as possible, and ensure the life changing opportunity of catching and releasing a wild steelhead will be available for the next generation.