Top 5 Sustainable Fishing Practices

A love of fishing and environmental awareness can work hand in hand.

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Top 5 Sustainable Fishing Practices

Even though recreational fishermen enjoy catching fish, they're also deeply concerned about protecting them. That may seem like a paradox, but when you stop to think about, it only makes sense. After all, fishermen go out into nature, where they're able to observe firsthand the damage to marine ecosystems that the rest of us only read about in newspapers or see in TV documentaries. They see with their own eyes the effects of pollution, commercial overfishing, habitat destruction and other threats to aquatic life. And they're keenly aware that these problems endanger the pastime to which they're so devoted.

The good news is that a love of fishing and environmental awareness can work hand in hand. If you fish for pleasure, there's plenty you can do to protect fish and other aquatic animals and the marine environment -- from practicing catch and release to reducing the amount of carbon that you put into the atmosphere. (Remember, next to commercial overfishing, climate change is one of the biggest menaces to the life in our rivers, lakes, bays and oceans.) Read the following five sustainable fishing tips.

Watch your carbon emissions.

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5: Practice Carbon-conscious Fishing

As we mentioned previously, climate change presents a major threat to many forms of aquatic life. For example, a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that droughts caused by global warming will harm streams and cause significant loss of trout habitat in the southern Appalachian Mountains. And another study shows that half of the 36 fish species in the northwest Atlantic Ocean have been shifting northward over the last few decades in response to rising ocean temperatures.

You can do your part to combat these dangerous trends by reducing the amount of carbon that your fishing boat puts into the atmosphere. Replace your propeller with a new stainless steel one, which will reduce drag. And install an electric fuel meter so that you can closely monitor fuel consumption and find the most energy-efficient cruising speed. Keep up with the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule for the engine. And learn to go easy on the throttle. If you're really into being carbon-neutral, try surfboard fishing, which is entirely human-powered.

Lures containing lead are toxic to fish.

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4: Use Lead-free Tackle

Anyone who remembers the horror stories about kids getting brain damage from eating paint chips knows that lead is toxic to most living things. What you may not realize is that although lead isn't in gasoline anymore, it's still an ingredient in most fishing jigs and sinkers. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, fish exposed to enough lead can exhibit a wide range of problems, including muscular and neurological degeneration and destruction, stunted growth, reproductive problems and paralysis. Worse yet, lead also kills loons and eagles, who sometimes are unlucky enough to eat a fish that's swallowed a lead sinker. Fortunately, you can order lead-free fishing gear. And you should.

Throw it back, unless it is doing more harm than good.

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We probably don't have to preach to you about the wisdom of throwing back fish, particularly the big, robust prize catches. If you throw them back, you give them the chance to live, mate and produce equally robust progeny. Be sure to learn the techniques espoused by catch-and-release experts, such as using a circle hook, which is less likely to catch a fish's gut and improves its chances of survival upon release.

But there are some instances when you can help preserve or improve the aquatic ecosystem by not throwing back certain fish. We're talking about invasive species, which have become a major problem in some waterways, gobbling up food and displacing native species. For example, if you're fishing on the Delaware River in New Jersey and you hook a nonnative flathead catfish, don't release it. Fish and game officials ask that you inform the state Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries, which is working with federal wildlife officals to track and prevent the invasive species' spread.

Don't be a litter bug.

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People leave all sorts of junk behind on coastlines and in the water, and it causes problems. The California Coastal Commission warns that debris in the water can wrap around boat propellers, causing engine damage, and that trash like cigarette filters and grocery bags look like food to animals. Once ingested, they cause suffocation or starvation. The point is, be fastidious about bagging all your detritus and bringing it home with you -- for recycling and composting, if possible. If you're really committed to protecting the environment, pick up somebody else's trash as well.

Catch and compost.

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OK, so you like a good fish dinner. You took your catch home, cleaned it, cooked it and ate it. But chances are, unless you're a shark, you probably didn't eat the whole fish. Don't throw the rest away. We're not suggesting that you make jewelry out of the bones. Instead, compost the fish parts with plant waste such as sawdust, peat, wood chips, leaves or bark. Microorganisms in the pile will feed on the waste, and over the course of several months, convert it into rich humus that is great for growing plants. Don't worry about the smell because heat from the microbes will pasteurize the pile, eliminating the odor, as well as any disease organisms.

On Behalf of Fish

Recreational fishermen are often the ones who protest the commercial fishing industry's environmentally destructive practices and press for more stringent government regulation on everything from fish farms to the use of entangling nets. One of the most active groups in protecting the marine environment is the Coastal Conservation Association, a nationwide group of 100,000 sport anglers. The World Wildlife Fund is another organization that works to protect fish.