Some considerations for those who want to enjoy recreational angling.
‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and you lose him for the weekend’. So the saying goes, but what exactly does that angler do on the weekend away?
A little R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
As ever-greater numbers of Indians benefit from rising standards of living and the ensuing freedom that fewer working days brings, they find a need for a hobby. Many of them, quite rightly, want to head out of cities and explore the wild spaces that are still to be found within a few hour’s drives. Taking up angling is a perfect excuse to visit these wild places and allow the troubles of a working way to be lifted as the mind drifts. But, having access to some of the most fragile environments on the planet for selfish, privileged reasons does bring with it responsibility. Not that it needs to be a burden. Rather, it should be that a respect for the environment that gifts a safe place to carry out the sport is recognized and encouraged by all ‘brothers of the angle’ (not wishing to exclude sisters, or course!).
It should go without saying that anything taken on a fishing trip that is not fully biodegradable is taken home again and disposed of carefully. As mentioned before, the right to go fishing as a hobby is a privilege and not one to be ruined by the mindless few who leave litter. Fishing line and hooks can be very dangerous for wildlife and local people if left lying on a bankside, or wrapped around a branch. Make sure you don’t leave any.
A little bit of thought before starting to fish is in order to ensure the day is a success and the fish can be treated with care.
- First, always only fish from a place where the water can be reached comfortably. This ensures the safety of the angler but also means hooked fish can be landed and unhooked quickly and without them having to be out of the water for more than a few seconds.
- Carrying a decent set of unhooking tools will help this process. A landing net of an appropriate size for the fish expected makes it a lot easier to bring the fish ashore, and hold it in the water while preparing the unhooking tools. Strong pliers, especially those with long handles, are better for removing large hooks and treble hooks. Anglers’ forceps are okay for hooks between size 8 and 14, but cannot exert enough pressure to do a quick job on the sizes of hooks often used in India.
- If you want a photo, and let’s face, it is one of the reasons many go angling, and can also be a valuable monitoring tool as well as an inducement to others to get out and enjoy the sport, learn a few basics.
- Keep the fish in the water as much as possible. If there are drips coming from the fish in the photo, you’ve probably done it right.
- Try to not hold the fish too tight, it will struggle more if you do. Keep your hands under the belly for support.
As with all angling, make sure all the kit is ready before you start, then you won’t panic and are more likely to get good pictures.
Read More: Fishing 101: Tips for New Anglers
Get ‘em young
One of the easiest and most satisfying ways to help protect freshwater environments is to introduce kids to angling. Over the years, thousands of youngsters have been shown the basic skills of angling, including best fish handling practices and ideas about the wealth that freshwater brings for us all. By getting these messages across when young, there should be many more people who have the best interests of freshwater at heart. Kids often take these messages home to older members of the family, who may not have had the access that modern working life allows.
All India Game Fishing Association ¹ is one of the leading groups in the country for organizing meetings between anglers and setting up coaching camps for kids. Take a look through their website to find out who is the organizer closest to you. They have an official for each state, who will be up to date with activities and opportunities.
Membership of angling clubs is on the rise, and wherever possible, joining such and taking advantage of the spread of information and the chance to help create a strong network of angling excellence is to be encouraged. Not only can clubs help with training, they can also negotiate with controlling authorities to ensure only those with membership can fish on a venue. This ensures that only those with the best interests of the local environment are allowed to use the facilities. Anti-poaching patrols can be organized, but the simple fact that there are concerned anglers on the bank should help to deter those who would illegally net or poison a water. Alongside the licensing of angling, clubs often organize competitions and should also host regular meetings, where matters of governance can be raised and discussed.
You want more fish?
Anglers, not surprisingly, are always keen to find new places to fish, preferably with excellent stock levels. It should follow, therefore, that pristine, wild rivers, where fish are well protected, would be an ideal angling destination. Maintaining rivers in prime condition is the first step to ensuring top quality sport.
Many consider stocking fish for sport is a priority, and, indeed, this is the case in many countries where angling is a large, popular sport. However, there are considerations about the ethics of stocking that we should all understand before calling for ever larger amounts of fish being thrown into lakes and rivers.
Among the dangers of stocking ², transfer of disease and adverse impacts on existing local populations are the most important for anglers to understand. It has been shown that not only can some very dangerous diseases be spread by moving fish to new waters, there is also the potential for anglers to inadvertently spread them by moving water from one destination to the next, either in containers used to store live fish or even on wet nets. Awareness of such possibilities, and taking simple steps like fully drying kit in between fishing trips, will help to protect against disease. Anglers should never move fish between waters because of the implications for existing stocks. Predator-prey imbalances are a cause for the potential collapse of entire ecosystems, and the introduction of new stocks to an open system, like a natural river, has to be undertaken only after very careful study. For closed systems, like an artificial lake, a stock can be actively managed, but this still requires oversight, preferably from an authority, or commercial interest. Anglers should not be moving fish according to their own whims.
For those wishing to be involved in stock management, or those who have contact with others who are in a position to influence fish stocks, reading the IUCN guidelines ³ on stocking is essential.
But the threats to India’s rivers are many, and it would be a great help to overall freshwater biodiversity if anglers were to take seriously their role as guardians of the water.
Monitor the dangers
It is well recognised and accepted that there are four principle areas of concern for the quality of freshwater ⁴. Changes to the landscape within a river basin is one. Alteration of the river channel in such a way that it impacts on the normal flow rate or pattern is another, of which building dams is the most obvious example. Two of the important areas where anglers can have an impact is in monitoring pollution and sand mining. recognized and accepted that there are four principle areas of concern for the quality of freshwater.
There are very few people who spend hours next to a river simply watching. Yes, I could have said hours doing nothing, but let’s hope that is not the case! This long-term view of a river, whether over the course of a day or for long periods of time over repeated visits, allows those who fish to notice small changes. Keeping a log of river conditions will help show up details that are not only useful for best catching periods, but also for reporting problems of pollution, changes in flow rates, or other environmental disturbances like increased weed growth or insect population explosions. All can give good clues to those who need to research water quality.
The ‘racket Rajas’ who control the sand and aggregate extraction Mafias, who inflict untold damage on fragile environments and merciless suffering on the populations who rely upon stable river function, must be called out for what they are: terrorists. Through threats, intimidation, actual violence and murders, they inflict a deliberate reign of terror to cow or control local officials and ensure compliance from the local populace.
While there have been some very serious implications for those who stand up to the sand miners - and I would never suggest direct action, or even trying to communicate directly with sand miners - anglers can play a part by keeping records of places where mining is underway. Note down the location, use GPS if possible. If equipped with a camera and long lens, a few stealthy photos will also come in handy.
It may well be that there are already people trying to alert the authorities to these illegal activities. The best suggestion is that attempts are made to find whoever controls the angling on the venue, and work with them to pass on details to the police. Certainly, there are enough stories about police involvement with sand mining to mean that an individual should not try to insist upon their involvement. Leave it to a recognized body so that there is no direct recognition of individuals complaining, and, therefore, less associated risk to any individual person.
Read More: Prepare For An Invasion
To the future
There has been plenty of research carried out into the effects of angling over decades, with interest mainly concentrated on how angling helps to protect fish stocks, and on the impacts of angling on local economies. Not surprisingly, there is also a high level of interest in gaining a better understanding of the ethics of angling, especially from within animal rights groups.
It is important that all anglers become better informed about current ideas with regard to all of these issues, so that the status of angling can be understood and argued or defended, depending upon the situation currently in place. Given the recent situation in Uttarakhand, where angling appears to have been banned in Protected Forest Areas because of a stated belief that catching fish causes pain, there is clearly a pressing need for anglers in India to be able to present clear, coherent statements to protect the sport.
Most scientists accept that fish do not have the capacity to feel pain in the same way that humans do. It has been demonstrated with mahseer that their lifestyle involves the ability to withstand substantial physical trauma, although, clearly, there is a difference between intentionally inflicting such trauma through mishandling by humans, and the everyday rough-and-tumble of life in a fast flowing river, bouncing off rocks and eating crabs.
Enjoy your sport, but please do so in a sensible way, after taking the time to learn how best to treat both fish and the environment. And, consider your role in how waters used for fishing are best protected if you want your sport to continue. Learn to understand the issues, and help to spread this learning, in that way, angling will continue to grow and help to save some of the most fragile places on earth for future generations to appreciate.
About the Author
Steve Locket, Angler, Conservationist, Education, and Outreach Officer at Mahseer Trust
Read More: Study, Fish, and Conserve - Steve Lockett
Title Image - Steve with his angling buddy, fishing in pristine waters of Nagaland
- ¹ http://www.aigfa.org
- ² http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/fish-stocking_reform/index.html
- ³ https://portals.iucn.org/library/efiles/documents/2013-009.pdf
- ⁴ Dudgeon, D. (2000) Large-Scale Hydrological Changes in Tropical Asia: Prospects for Riverine Biodiversity: The construction of large dams will have an impact on the biodiversity of tropical Asian rivers and their associated wetlands. https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/50/9/793/269546#
- ⁵ Michel, M. (2018) Fish and microchips: on fish pain and multiple realisation. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11098-018-1133-4
- ⁶ Bower, S. D., et al. (2016) Rapid assessment of the physiological impacts caused by catch-and-release angling on blue-finned mahseer (Tor spp.) of the Cauvery River, India. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/fme.12135