There are two sides to every story in life. One of the wonderful
things about our society is that we can actually listen to
both and make up our own minds. SCMO encourages all fishermen
to be active participants in the debate over billfish conservation.
So we are happy to present this thought-provoking piece from Marty Morris, Tournament
Chairman of the Marlin Club of San Diego. Post your comments
and opinions at the Marlin
During the 1996 Marlin Club Invitational Light Tackle Tournament
one of the participating teams hooked what appeared to be
a fairly large marlin. Attempting to be competitive and
fishing within the rules of the tournament they elected
to take the fish which weighed in at 186 pounds, significantly
more than the points allowed for releasing (130). But at
the peak of their exultation over their conquest and mixed
in with the usual congratulations from those in their immediate
vicinity came an anonymous voice saying, "There's another
dead marlin for San Diego." In effect, this unidentified,
self-appointed spokesman for Conservation was condemning
the taking of this single marlin.
Out on the high seas, individuals totally committed to
releasing have attempted to brainwash the fishing community
into believing it is almost a sin against God to kill a
marlin. No concern is being raised over halibut, bonita,
tuna and others. But, because of their size, beauty, wild
gyrations and photogenic qualities, marlin have been singled
out for the magical "R" word. Concern has been raised over
the conservation of species and scientific studies tend
to indicate that the worldwide stocks of many species are
probably declining. As a result, conservation is a matter
of concern to one and all. Thus, the releasing of one of
the major sportfishes, the marlin, has been taken up on
a worldwide basis, almost as a crusade. However, it is yet
to be determined whether the taking of sport-caught marlin
has any effect whatsoever on these populations, particularly
when compared with the far greater number of marlin taken
In the local Southland fishing community, as elsewhere,
we find many proponents of the marlin releasing program,
often almost to the point of hysteria. Many individuals
are virtual zealots when the subject comes up, with passions
reaching the boiling point. Most anglers have differences
of opinion about various subjects in the sport and can discuss,
even debate the topics in a gentlemanly fashion. But when
the subject of releasing marlin is mentioned, someone will
jump to their feet shouting, "Conservation!", rendering
calm, rational discussion nearly impossible.
In truth, there are several sides to the issue and no facts
to support any of them. Many released fish likely survive,
but it is impossible to determine what percentage actually
do. The actual percentage that do survive has a lot to do
with the condition of the fish at the time of the release
and the manner of the release. If the truth were known,
there are probably many fish in poor condition that should
not be released but are as a matter of convenience or to
inflate the numbers. "We're out for the weekend, and don't
want to run back in to drop the fish off", "we limited out
and couldn't keep another one", "it's a release tournament,
so we released it", "we're up for the High Release Boat
On the other side of the discussion are those who believe
it is not a sin against nature to kill a fish. Just as no
one thinks twice about eating tuna, halibut or dorado, they
regularly utilize marlin for the dinner table. If they don't
use the fish, they turn them over to individuals less fortunate
who are more than grateful for a valuable food source. And
is there anyone who believes that even if all the marlin
caught in Southern California were taken and properly utilized
that it would have any significant impact on the marlin
bio-mass? But if even one of those marlin is brought in,
weighed, photographed and then discarded then those who
advocate taking fish must sneak away with red faces, for
there is no defense for such an outrage. In addition, when
we see undersized fish being taken, we can only shake our
heads as to the judgment of those anglers. Can there be
any justification other than the condition of the fish for
killing a 55-pound marlin? Sadly, 1996 saw the Marlin Club
in San Diego weigh in 42 fish under 100 pounds and 6 of
70 pounds or less. Of course, some had legitimate reasons
- "we couldn't revive the fish", "it was hooked in the eye",
"it looked terrible".
A commonly heard excuse is "It was the angler's first fish".
The answer to this is complicated and goes back to the education
of new anglers. If a lot of fanfare is to be attached to
a first fish, then we are remiss in how we approach the
feat. Much can be added to the act of releasing (cannons,
photos, release boards, etc.), and eventually we will probably
see permanent fish mounts replacing the traditional dead
carcass. We must teach newcomers that a picture is a picture
whether the portrayed fish is a carcass or a true-to-life
mount. What is important are the individuals in the picture
and the board with all the details of the catch, and if
you take your children along you will have an invaluable
record of their growing up.
But there were other reasons as well - "it was a button
fish," or "it was the angler's qualifying fish". This would
be easy enough to eliminate by changing the club's rules
to permit releasing in accordance with established guidelines
to serve as such a "qualifying or "button" fish. But many
clubs still have requirements that demand the killing of
a fish to achieve active status or progress his standing
in the club. Most clubs have awards for released fish, but
they are minor compared to the list of buttons, trophies
and awards given for killing fish.
But when it comes to the promotion of killing fish, no
one does a better job than the International Game Fish Association.
Heralded throughout the world as leaders of the fishing
community, the IGFA has a poor record with regards to conservation
and promoting the releasing of not only marlin but all fishes.
In the Major Objectives of the IGFA, they mention "conservation
of the species," and their Philosophy mentions "conservation
practices." But do they practice what they preach? In their
annual publication, "World Record Game Fishes," they list
over 3500 records for all species, both fresh and salt.
Each record indicates the weight for the fish - and weight
means a dead fish. And every attempt to break a record means
another dead fish. The IGFA sponsors an annual tournament
that recognizes the three largest of each species - not
records, just the three largest. They also sponsor 5-1,
10-1 and 20-1 "clubs" which continue anglers to kill, kill,
kill more fish. 4 1/2 to 1? 9-1? 14-1? Try again. This is
how we promote conservation? And while the IGFA does list
a Worldwide Inventory of Tag and Release Programs for Marine
Fishes, there are no records or awards whatsoever for releasing.
So what's the answer? There isn't a clear one. The bottom
line is that the decision to either release or take a fish
will not have a significant effect on our Southland waters.
It is simply a matter of individual choice. There are areas
where the fishing pressure is so much greater (i.e. - Cabo)
that releasing must be an integral part of the fishing scene,
but our situation is far less critical. There are many fish
tagged in our local waters each year, but few are ever recovered
locally. Either there are so many fish present as to dilute
the numbers, or very few of the tagged fish are surviving.
But, again, nobody has the answer.
As far as "Catch and Release" versus "Tag and Release,"
the true conservationists feel that tagging helps study
the migratory patterns. Opponents to tagging feel that it
is harmful to the fish and that tagging studies help the
longliners track down the migrating species. I suspect that
the longliners have forgotten more that we will ever know.
The solution? Again, let your conscience be your guide.
Simply release your opponent and wish him "Vaya Con Dios."
If you believe in tagging and can do it quickly without
harming the fish, do it. If the fish appears to be in bad
shape and you know that someone will use it, don't feel
guilty. Slip it on the step and go get another one.
So when a fish is taken - when several fish are taken -
so what? The only real criticism is when fish are wasted
or anglers kill just for killing's sake. The taking of marlin
under 70 pounds is inexcusable. 55 pounds? That's sad.
And when some anonymous jerk who doesn't have the guts
to give out his name gets on the radio and declares, "there's
another dead marlin for San Diego," he ought to take a long
look at his own glass house and, if he must throw stones,
try throwing some of his club's buttons to the seals.