This page represents my ramblings on various topics affecting
marlin fishing and fishermen. Today's topic: ditch the first dead marlin flag ...
This is an open letter - and challenge - to any fishing club that presents awards for the first marlin of the season:
Ditch the first dead marlin flag.
Back in the days before much thought was given to billfish conservation, clubs gave out a "first fish" flag. Once the marlin reached our local waters, anglers headed out in search of battle. Those fortunate enough to succeed raced back to the dock, each hoping their marlin might be the first one caught by their club. Look at the walls of your clubhouse; I'm sure they're lined with historic photos of past anglers holding a first fish flag in front of their weighed catch.
Once the catch-and-release ethic took hold, however, anglers faced an ethical dilemma. Like all fishermen, conservation-minded anglers craved the recognition of the first flag. However, their ethical stance often meant a true first fish would be released, and the flag given to a subsequent weighed marlin.
Most clubs saw the inequity of this situation and sought ways to reward and encourage billfish release. The most common method was to allow released marlin to compete for the first marlin flag, and to create a First Released Marlin flag for those seasons when the first marlin of the season was weighed. This method method works well, and is in use by many fishing clubs today.
Unfortunately, some clubs have chosen the misguided - albeit logical - practice of replacing their First Marlin flag with two separate flags - one for first release and a second for first weighed. While this method might at first seem appropriate, it actually has the potential effect of re-creating the same ethical dilemma it sought to eliminate.
Let's say it's the first day of the season, and you're out to capture the flag. Just as you slide into your favorite spot, you watch a fellow club member hook and release a marlin, earning the first flag. But your club has both the first released and first weighed marlin flags, and not ten minutes later you hook up. What do you do - take the fish and the first kill flag, or release it, keeping nothing more than the experience. What do you do? Do you kill the fish just for the flag? The data shows that some anglers may ...
In 2003, the Balboa Angling Club presented their First Release flag on August 1st. Eight days later, they gave out the First Weighed flag. The next year, Los Pescadores' First Release flag went on August 8, followed 3 days later by the First Weighed. Now to be fair, it's possible the angler might have opted to keep these marlin even without the incentive of a flag. But I've spoken with enough anglers who have wrestled with this ethical challenge to know it exists.
The changes needed are actually minor - simply award the flags based on the situation of the particular season. If the first marlin caught by a club member is weighed in, so be it - present them with the First Fish flag. When sometime later, the first marlin is released, they get the First Release flag in recognition of their conservation commitment. If, however, the first marlin is released, that angler would receive the First Fish flag. There would be no First Release, since the angler had already been rewarded, and there would be no First Weighed, since there's no reason to reward a dead fish.
Once before, clubs tweaked their awards procedures to support conservation. The time has come to do so again. Who wants to be the first to step up?
Until next time ...
Tight lines and blind strikes,
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