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Published March 6, 2008 05:14 PM

Recycled Fish: Anglers as stewards of the resource

By Teeg Stouffer
How do you recycle a fish!? That’s a question we are asked often at Recycled Fish, and it always makes us smile. The short answer — you let it swim!

Recycled Fish is the non-profit organization of anglers as stewards of the resource. One of the most tangible things we anglers can do is to release our catch. That’s “Catch and Release” fishing, and it’s caught on! Over 80 percent of Americans now release their fish most or all of the time. But the “catch and release” conversation is still a good starting point for how those of us who fish can be stewards of the fishery, and our name “Recycled Fish” speaks to that.

And yet, there is so much more! What we do off the water can actually impact fisheries as much as what we do on the water — so there’s opportunity to steward fisheries directly, even if you don’t fish! But first, if you’re a non-angler trying to wrap your head around why someone who sets out to catch fish would want to hook them — and then let them go — let me offer some insight.

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As thrilling as it is to have a fishing rod come to life in your hands with a fish at the other end, it’s yet more electrifying when you’re hooked up to a really big fish! To achieve that with any consistency, we’ve learned that we must let some of our fish go so they can grow.

Another reason it makes sense to practice catch and release is that the sport value of a fish is greater than the food value of that fish. Sport fishing in America is a $41.5 billion industry. If you were to divide up the average angler’s annual spending on sport fishing per pound of fish delivered to the table, you’d have some very, very expensive protein!

Fishing is about more than catching fish. In our time, as in time stretching back for generations, our lakes, streams and seas inspire exploration and discovery. Outdoors, we unload life’s burdens and receive a fresh outlook. On the water we connect with one another and something greater than ourselves. Our most basic needs of life — air, water, food and shelter — are met when natural places thrive. At Recycled Fish we’re safeguarding these places and this legacy with reverent stewardship, carrying forward a caretaker ethic in partnership with anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Those of us who fish have a strong stake in the environment and a unique understanding of it, since we spend our free time studying and interacting with it. Not only that, but there are a lot of us. More Americans fish than play golf and tennis combined. We’re a large and passionate group, and we’ve got a tangible connection to the resource. But while we’ve “caught on” to catch and release, that alone won’t solve the problems that face our fisheries.

Recycled Fish takes the message to the next level. We get individual anglers the information they need to be stewards in their everyday lives as well as on the water. Whether it’s installing a low-flow shower head, changing how we maintain our lawns, where we wash our cars or what kind of bait or lure we tie onto the end of our line, Recycled Fish is helping anglers lead by example in stewardship, because the solution to healthy fisheries begins beyond the lake.

Healthy fisheries are important even if you’re not particularly impressed to pursue these finned denizens of the deep. Our waterways are a “canary in the coal mine” for our environment on the whole. Water is to earth as blood is to the body — and just as a doctor can take a blood sample to determine your health, our water can suggest what’s going on with our planet. Right now, our waters are declaring that there are some real challenges. The time to act is now, and people in all walks of life are responding in this current wave of the “green movement.” Anglers respond to this movement in part through Recycled Fish, and you can too.

Visit our Web site at www.RecycledFish.org and take our “Sportsman’s Stewardship Pledge,” which nets you a free membership to our organization, and gives you a new way to stand up as a steward.

Make sure to find time to get on the water this year, too — and take a kid with you! Ensuring that our kids are getting outside helps overcome this “nature deficit disorder” that is developing among our young people. Together, we will see that not only our lakes, streams and seas -- but also the land stretching beyond them -- is stewarded well. With your help, this gift that’s been given all of us to be caretakers of will be yet more beautiful when it comes our time to pass it on.

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