Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 129-154

First online:

A Review of Catch-and-Release Angling Mortality with Implications for No-take Reserves

  • Aaron BartholomewAffiliated withNational Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Fisheries Science CenterAmerican University of Sharjah Email author 
  • , James A. BohnsackAffiliated withNational Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Fisheries Science Center

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Management agencies have increasingly relied on size limits, daily bag or trip limits, quotas, and seasonal closures to manage fishing in recreational and commercial fisheries. Another trend is to establish aquatic protected areas, including no-take reserves (NTRs), to promote sustainable fisheries and protect aquatic ecosystems. Some anglers, assuming that no serious harm befalls the fish, advocate allowing catch-and-release (C&R) angling in aquatic protected areas. The ultimate success of these regulations and C&R angling depends on ensuring high release survival rates by minimizing injury and mortality. To evaluate the potential effectiveness of these practices, we review trends in C&R fishing and factors that influence release mortality. Analysis of Marine Recreational Fishery Statistic Survey (MRFSS) data for 1981–1999 showed no statistically significant U.S. trends for total number of anglers (mean 7.7 × 106), total catch in numbers (mean 362 × 106), or total annual catch/angler (mean 42.6 fish). However, mean total annual landings declined 28% (188.5 to 135.7 × 106), mean total catch/angler/trip declined 22.1% (0.95 to 0.74 fish), and mean landings/angler/trip declined 27% (0.42 to 0.31 fish). The total number of recreational releases or discards increased 97.1% (98.0 to 193.2 × 106) and as a proportion of total catch from 34.2% in 1981 to 58.0% in 1999. Evidence indicates that the increased releases and discards are primarily in response to mandatory regulations and to a lesser extent, voluntary releases. Total annual catch and mean annual catch/angler were maintained despite declines in catch per trip because anglers took 30.8% more fishing trips (43.5 to 56.9 × 106), perhaps to compensate for greater use of bag and size limits. We reviewed 53 release mortality studies, doubling the number of estimates since Muoneke and Childress (1994) reviewed catch and release fishing. A meta-analysis of combined data (n=274) showed a skewed distribution of release mortality (median 11%, mean 18%, range 0–95%). Mortality distributions were similar for salmonids, marine, and freshwater species. Mean mortality varied greatly by species and within species, anatomical hooking location was the most important mortality factor. Other significant mortality factors were: use of natural bait, removing hooks from deeply hooked fish, use of J-hooks (vs. circle hooks), deeper depth of capture, warm water temperatures, and extended playing and handling times. Barbed hooks had marginally higher mortality than barbless hooks. Based on numbers of estimates, no statistically significant overall effects were found for fish size, hook size, venting to deflate fish caught at depth, or use of treble vs. single hooks. Catch and release fishing is a growing and an increasingly important activity. The common occurrence of release mortality, however, requires careful evaluation for achieving fishery management goals and in some cases, disturbance, injury, or mortality may conflict with some goals of NTRs. Research is needed to develop better technology and techniques to reduce release mortality, to assess mortality from predation during capture and after release, to determine cumulative mortality from multiple hooking and release events, and to measure sub-lethal effects on behavior, physical condition, growth, and reproduction.


aquatic protected areas bycatch marine reserve no-take recreational fishing release mortality