The Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety (VKM) has on request from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority assessed welfare implications of catch and release fishing compared with traditional angling and killing.
The Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs and The Norwegian Environmental Authorities have expressed a wish of assessing whether catch and release as a management principle should be acceptable for Norwegian salmonid fish in rivers with depressed population density.
The Norwegian Food Safety Authority has accordingly requested VKM to conduct an assessment of the welfare implications of catch and release compared with traditional angling and killing for the anadromous life stages of the following native salmonids: Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), sea trout (Salmo trutta) and Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) in Norwegian rivers.
Based on the review of literature, the panel concludes that catch and release has the potential to harm the fish. During playing and handling of the fish, it will be subjected to stress and other disturbances that may impair the fish’s welfare.
These have the potential to cause damages leading to increased mortality (fish with excessive injury and low likelihood to survive should be killed and not released), secondary infections and impacts on reproduction.
However, for the anadromous life stages of the species in question (virtually no information for trout and char), available and published scientific literature does not indicate catch and release has any long lasting welfare implications after release. For example, catch and release of Atlantic salmon in rivers at water temperatures less than 17-18 oC have been reported to result in low mortalities (0 - 6 %).
The numbers of reliable studies conducted under natural conditions at high water temperatures are few, and to determine reliable mortality levels for catch and release at water temperatures above 17-18 oC more studies should be performed.
Given that the catch and release procedures involve subjecting fish to significant stress and other disturbances it is likely that the fish’s welfare is impaired.
Welfare issues including survival can be improved by selection of correct fishing tackle, handling procedures, and training of anglers and guides.
The VKM Panel on Animal Health and Welfare has been responsible for this opoinion.