Catch-and-release developed in North America but spreaded fast on the other side of the ocean.
Although game fishing originated in Scotland's lochs and rivers, it quickly became popular in North America. As a result, practices developed on the other side of the Atlantic returned to Scotland. 'Catch-and-release' is prime among these. Catch-and-release is the standard elsewhere in the world, but it has not yet established a following amongst Scottish anglers. The reasons for this are based in the Scottish anglers' 'mind set'. We have long held the belief that we catch fish to kill, then eat. We have held the view that fishing was not solely for enjoyment, but that it was primarily a necessity; the trout or salmon caught at the waterside was for the table. Now this was true elsewhere in the world, of course, but in Scotland the traditional reason for fishing is to obtain 'something for the pot'. Elsewhere, the purpose of going fishing began to drift progressively towards enjoyment, and this was enhanced by the need to conserve vulnerable fish stocks. In some ways, we have fallen behind the rest of the world in relation to catch-and-release.
Until fairly recently, Scottish fish stocks had been sufficiently secure to avoid radical conservation measures; but in the last few years, our native fish stocks have shown significant decline. As a consequence anglers have become acutely aware of the growing need to conserve. However, Scots have not wholeheartedly adopted catch-and-release, at least, not yet. Certainly, there are more fish now caught and returned, as more Scots are convinced of the need to retain sustainable numbers of adult fish. Nevertheless, there is, among many anglers, still a degree of reservation. These misgivings are a product of a system of beliefs passed down through the generations. Some hold an almost religious view that to deliberately introduce a wire hook into a fish's mouth, then stress it by 'playing it', only to let it go, is a violation of an animal's right to freedom from persecution. For them, it is more acceptable to catch that fish with the main aim of using it for food, even though this clearly involves deliberately killing it. To repeatedly hook, play, and release a fish is less acceptable in a philosophical sense, than to catch it and kill it as humanely as possible.
It is a matter of extent. For most, to return fish which are undersized or in poor condition is not a difficult decision; it presents no moral dilemma whatsoever. Where the problem arises is when the fundamental objective is to deliberately catch-and-release. It is the aim rather than the activity that is the issue. The problem is solved, however, when the decision is left entirely to the angler - it is not compulsory to return a fish, nor is it mandatory to kill it - it is a matter of personal choice. But this in turn leads to huge problems with regulation and control.
Scottish coarse anglers, and their sea angling counterparts, have adopted the practice of catch-and-release without any apparent problems. So why is it that most Scottish game anglers have such difficulty with it? One reason is that coarse fishing and sea angling do not have such a high price tag; some game anglers feel almost obliged to catch and kill something to partially justify and recoup the cost of the permit. Others feel there is a problem with returning salmon, for when they carefully release a fish it may swim into the next beat and be killed by the next angler who catches it. It seems to make no sense for them to put it back if it is to be captured again and killed. In this instance, they ignore the fact that each angler may return a proportion of the fish they catch and therefore in practice it does not matter which fish are returned, just as long as they are returned in good condition.
However, if you are going to release the fish there is absolutely no point in releasing it if it has been fatally damaged. If we are to return a fish, the less it is handled the more likely it is to survive. This means that, if possible, we should not touch the fish, because we remove some of its protective slime coating through handling. This allows bacteria to penetrate its protective barriers and infections to gain a foothold. Do not net the fish, as this also results in the removal of slime and scales. It is better to get a hold of the line and try to gently remove the hook, while the fish is still in the water. This is straightforward if the barbs have been removed or if barb-less hooks are used. Take great care not to damage the gills, they are fragile and prone to bleeding if roughly handled.
When releasing a fish we must treat it in a humane and sensitive way. We must be firm, to bring the release quickly to hand, but gentle as though we were handling something very fragile and precious, and the reason is that we are.