There's a new sign at some North Dakota fishing destinations this summer, reminding anglers of the value of the resources they are about to pursue.
The message the signs impart is simple: "Fish Responsibly. Only Keep What You Will Use. Fish Are Too Valuable To Waste."
Game and Fish put signs into place at some of the state's higher-use boat ramps on the Missouri River System, Devils Lake and elsewhere.
"The message is intended to get anglers to think about the value of our fisheries and natural resources that belong to everyone and are enjoyed by everyone," said Greg Power, Game and Fish Department fisheries chief, in an article in the May 2018 issue of North Dakota OUTDOORS magazine. "If the fishing is great all summer, do you really need to keep 50-100 walleyes when you are going to only use 20? We are trying to call attention to the sometimes unknowing waste of fish."
This waste goes beyond freezer-burned filets that were stored too long. One particular report from last winter raised a lot of eyebrows. Game and Fish staff investigated a report of a pile of northern pike that were speared and then dumped in some cattails on the way off the lake, a clear violation of the state's wanton waste rules.
"If you put in the effort of buying a fishing license, loading your gear and wetting a line, you should have a plan in place when you catch fish," Power said in the OUTDOORS article. "Anglers can't set the hook first, then worry about what they are going to do with the fish later. We don't want this valuable resource tossed in the weeds or freezer-burned."
Scott Gangl, Department fisheries management section leader, also said in the article that this mentality needs to be aimed at all fish, no matter the species.
"One step in getting people to think about all of this is by putting some value on the fish, be it a walleye, pike or catfish," Gangl said. "It doesn't matter what you catch because all fish have value."
One related issue that is particularly relevant this time of year is when gamefish are caught from water at depths of more than 25 feet. The deeper the water, the less likely a fish caught will survive if it is release because of extreme changes in pressure from the depths to the surface, which can cause swim bladders to expand. A fish under these circumstances can no longer control its balance in the water column.
Gangl said the message to anglers fishing in these situations is that they should plan to keep what they catch. And if anglers want to simply fish for recreation and have no interest in keeping anything, they should target fish in shallow water.
"We want anglers to understand the effects of catching fish from deep water," Gangl said. "The key to catch-and-release fishing is that you need to release fish unharmed. This is often not the case from fish caught from those depths and then released."