Some 7,000,000 recreational fishing trips are taken in the Chesapeake Bay annually, and if only one fish is taken per trip, the catch quickly mounts. If only half of those fish are either too small or out of season, then a minimum of 3.5 million fish have to be released each season.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has initiated the Careful Catch Program, through which it hopes to teach anglers how to catch and handle fish so that those that must be released have the best chance of survival.
"It is not a program to make anglers release everything they catch," said CBF's Bill Goldsborough. "We believe in the tradition of catching fish for the table.
"We just want to be sure there will be fish to catch in the future."
Toward that end, the Careful Catch Program held workshops in April and early May and recruited and trained 25 volunteers to spread the word on how anglers can minimize their impact on fish populations while still enjoying the resource.
The program is simple: volunteers are trained, outfitted with a bucketful of equipment and information and asked to spend some time during the summer talking to other fishermen about the benefits of responsible fishing, such as the use of barbless hooks.
On Tuesday and Monday, June 29, the CBF will hold two more workshops at its office on Prince George Street in Annapolis. Both meetings will begin at 7 p.m., and the CBF hopes to add 50 volunteers to its program.
The CBF's goal is to reach 10,000 anglers this summer through the efforts of these volunteers.
"It is not part of our plan to require barbless hooks or anything else by regulation," Goldsborough said. "We want to help in the development of a conservation ethic for the Bay."
According to the CBF, under the right conditions, a good fisherman can guarantee that more than 90 percent of the fish released will survive.
The factors that most control a fish's chance of survival are: Exhaustion, which can upset a fish's chemical balance; loss of slime, the covering that cloaks a fish and seals out infection; time out of water, when a fish can neither breathe nor restore its proper chemical balance; and wounds from hooks, gaffs or improper handling.
Wounds can be minimized by using barbless hooks, artificial lures rather than real bait, using a dehooker for troublesome hookups and handling the fish in the water whenever possible.
Exhaustion can be minimized by using heavier line, which will land the fish more quickly and get it back in the water with far less stress, if it is undersized or out of season.
Damage to the protective slime coating can be lessened by handling the fish while still in the water or by wearing wet cotton gloves when a fish must be handled out of the water. When out of the water, it is best to hold the fish on its back with a towel over its eyes to calm it.
There are other catch-and-release tips available through the workshops and incentives for volunteers who reach certain numbers of fishermen through the summer. The workshops are open to the public.