Marine Scientist Steve Shippee on Salt Water Catch and Release and Dolphins
Catch and release, a conservation program started by BASS to protect the large numbers of bass caught, has been applied to tournament fishing for crappie, walleyes, and catfish. To increase sustainability, (having enough fish so anglers can harvest them
every year), the National Marine Fisheries Service instituted catch and release in the Gulf of Mexico, but, did it work? The venting tool (a hypodermic needle inserted into fish to release the gas buildup as the fish reaches the surface), is no longer required by NMFS, because so many released fish were injured and killed. Anglers also complained that dolphins ate the undersized red snapper they released and often picked snapper off anglers' hooks.
Scientist Steve Shippee has researched predator attacks and the effectiveness of catch and release on saltwater fish since 2008.
“Dolphins, beloved by the public, have become nuisances for charter boat captains and fishermen,” Shippee explains. “In Orange Beach, Alabama, dolphins haven't been a problem at the piers. At the Okaloosa Island Pier near Destin and the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier in Florida, dolphins have preyed on pier-caught fish.
“From our studies, we've learned that:
- “Seventy-five percent of Gulf dolphins have markings, notches, nicks, and scrapes on their dorsal fins that identify them.
- “Dolphins live in communities with one group staying together in estuary areas, piers, bays, and inlets; another remaining around wrecks and reefs; and another along the continental shelf. I photographed dolphins living over the reefs and wrecks near Orange Beach and Destin. I learned dolphins didn't stay above the same reef all the time when I photographed a dolphin near Orange Beach I previously had photographed near Destin.
- “The dolphins attacking fish off the piers aren't the same dolphins eating fish thrown back by offshore fishermen. The pier dolphins have a significant economic impact due to dolphin watch boats and generally have a higher risk of being injured or entangled with fishing gear than offshore dolphins.
- “One-hundred dolphins that interfered with fishing activity at boats could be identified. After 75 offshore fishing trips, I realized 10 percent were chronic offenders. Dolphins would steal fish off anglers' hooks, depredation, or chase and eat fish thrown back by the anglers, predation. Anglers became upset as they tried to be conservationists and release fish, but the dolphins ate the fish. Panama City had a huge problem with dolphins eating fish thrown back, particularly red snapper, although dolphins ignored triggerfish. Only 10 percent of these 100 dolphins were taking fish off hooks.”
To reduce the number of fish eaten by dolphins, biologists recommend using descender devices with weights on them that will take caught fish back to the bottom quickly and then release them. Shippee reports, “If anglers get accustomed to this device, dolphins won't scavenge on released fish and perhaps won't follow fishing boats.”
For more information about Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, visit www.orangebeach.com/fishing, our easy to access fishing information pages complete with marina and charter captain listings. For any questions, call Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism's vacation-planning specialists at 1-800-745-SAND (7263). For a list of cook-your-catch restaurants, go to www.orangebeach.com/dining-nightlife/restaurants.