The Role of Recreational Fishing in Environmental Conservation

With the spring season upon us, the excitement to venture outdoors has struck many nature enthusiasts in full force.

Of the countless ways Canadians choose to enjoy the outdoors, recreational fishing serves a dual functionality. It is a great way to get outside and promote environmental conservation as well as achieve good health and wellness at the same time.

While at first, recreational fishing may appear contradictory to environmental conservation, I believe it has the potential to be an impactful ecological tool when conducted responsibly.

The question can be asked: How is fishing, which has the potential to harm the animals, and impact their populations, beneficial to the aquatic environment?

Let’s examine the situation from the perspective of defending native fish habitats.

Inland waters such as Upper and Lower Lake Dalrymple, in Carden Township, Ontario, have experienced the introduction of invasive/ non-native fish species in the late 1900s. This lake will be examined as a case study. These non-native species of fish include northern pike and black crappie.

 

Both of which pose direct threats to the reproductive success of native fish species in Dalrymple such as muskellunge and walleye. Spawning periods of non-native and native fish overlap and the invasive pike often outcompete the muskies for their breeding grounds. The black crappie prey on young walleye shortly after they have hatched, lowering their survival rate.

Not coincidentally, on August 6th, 2014, I caught and released my first muskie! That’s another story on its own!

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has recognized this problem, and addressed it by altering the fishing season for northern pike and black crappie. Beginning in 2010, an open year-round fishing season was introduced at Lake Dalrymple (Fisheries Management Zone [FMZ] 17) in an effort to alleviate some pressure on the native fishery. This brings increased fishing opportunities to local anglers. Ice fishing becomes involved and more attention is drawn to the lakes in FMZ 17 on an annual basis.

Realistically, there are several options to perhaps consider with respect to the issue of non-native species in Lake Dalrymple and how fishing can play a positive role in overall lake health. I will outline some suggestions that I think are important to consider:

Target the invasive [fish] pike and crappie, removing them from the ecosystem;

Go fishing to indulge in the outdoors, to help yourself and others better appreciate nature; and;

Fish for native species with the intent to release them, strengthening their populations

Although some may view fishing as a negative impact to ecosystems, I believe it is important to outline the various positive environmental and human health benefits from the activity.

Overall, recreational fishing is a tradition that provides outdoor enthusiasts an escape from urban life. Other hobbies and interests can easily be discovered through recreational fishing. Personally, it has served as a gateway to my nature photography, which in return attempts to promote conservation awareness. I have dropped my fishing rod several times in order to capture magnificent scenery and unique wildlife sightings with my camera.

By considering the suggested options, ones choice of wetting a line through the sport of fishing can actually influence the ecosystem to achieve an equilibrium closer to its natural balance. The choice of allowing the invasive species completely take over the classical ecosystem, becoming a “novel” or new ecosystem, serves as a second option to the above suggestions. This system would be a Northern pike-dominated community. I don’t currently view this as necessary.

Using the example of the inland waters situation above, you can understand the benefits and drawbacks of fishing with respect to sustaining the ecological health of natural areas.  If considered, anglers might see more success on the water in the long-term.

This article is opinion of the writer and all facts have been learned through word of mouth and through some consultation from https://www.ontario.ca/ministry-natural-resources-and-forestry.