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Doug Leier: Addressing fish waste
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Doug Leier: Addressing fish waste

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State wildlife officials are urging anglers to keep only the fish they will use, to reduce waste.

Food waste is a hot topic with an effort to raise awareness of the changing mindset from allowing food to rot, spoil or in some cases even just taking more than you need or will eat.

For many here in the Midwest, it’s hard to understand a heritage dating back to our ancestors using every part of a butchered pig. “Everything but the squeal,” as my dad’s generation would say.

In a similar message, there’s a sign at some North Dakota fishing destinations, reminding anglers of the value of the resources they are about to pursue.

The message is simple: “Fish Responsibly. Only Keep What You Will Use. Fish Are Too Valuable To Waste.”

“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. “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.

“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. “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 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 game fish are caught from water at depths of more than 30 feet. The deeper the water, the less likely a fish caught will survive if it is released 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.”

Doug Leier is a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

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