Don’t smile for the camera in New York; under some circumstances that could be an invitation for a visit from a conservation officer and a ticket.
As of April 1, it is illegal to photograph fish taken out of season. Obviously, nobody is going to ticket anyone who keeps the photo in one of those old-fashioned analog scrapbooks. But anyone who shares it online with all his Facebook friends could attract the attention of the law.
In New York and just about everywhere else, it is illegal to target a fish species during the closed season. Sometimes, though, the fish just can’t stop themselves from grabbing the hook.
New York’s fishing guidebook says, “Fish caught during the closed season must be unhooked and released immediately.” For anyone not certain what “immediately” means, it adds, “They may not be handled for any other purpose, including taking a picture.”
Someone caught taking a photo of an out-of-season fish – or who shares the evidence via Twitter – could be fined up to $250 or spend up to 15 days in jail.
A spokeswoman for New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation was carefully noncommittal about whether the department would be monitoring social media for illegal fish photos. Still, it would probably be a bad idea for someone to hashtag a photo “#NYsturgeon” because there is no open season for sturgeon in New York, where the fish is listed as endangered.
Despite PETA’s claims that catch-and-release fishing causes the fish psychic harm, it is an effective and valuable method for protecting fisheries. Not every released fish survives, although researchers calculate that between 80 percent and 90 percent do.
The single most important factor in whether a catch-and-release fish swims away is where it was hooked. Fish hooked through the lips will likely swim again. A fish that swallows a hook isn’t looking at a long future.
Other factors include use of natural bait, hook styles, water temperature and time spent landing and handling the fish. To return more fish to the water alive, avoid live bait, use circle hooks, fish in cooler weather, use the right gear to land fish promptly and learn how to unhook and release fish properly and quickly.
The first step in that is being prepared every time you go fishing with the proper tools – dehooking tools, rubberized nets, long-nosed pliers and landing gloves should all be in your tackle box.
Researchers say there is little difference in fish mortality from using barbless hooks. Instead, they recommend in-line circle hooks, which rarely result in deep hooking. Regardless which types of hook you use, it is better for the fish to use a dehooking tool because they’re quicker than pliers, meaning the fish is out of the water less and handled less.
If the fish is hooked deeply, do the surgery on your tackle, not the fish. Its chances are better if you cut the line near its mouth and let it swim away with the hook.
It’s usually best to leave the fish in the water if it’s going to be released. If you must lift the fish, do it with wet hands or wet landing gloves to minimize the damage to the fish’s slime coating. Hold the fish horizontally and support its weight with both hands. Treat it like a baby. You wouldn’t swing junior around by his lips, would you?
Do the same when you put the fish back in the water. Ease junior into the bathtub and ease that bass back into the pond.
Finally, if the fish doesn’t immediately swim off, it may need some resuscitation. Gently swish it in the current to move water over its gills and let it go when it perks up.
Later, maybe, we can catch it again.
Contact Michael Eckert at email@example.com, (810) 989-6264, on Facebook @michaeleckert or on Twitter @michaeleckert.