by John Nelson
Though catch-and-release is often and loudly touted as the epitome of ethical fishing, is it really just animal abuse in disguise? To answer this question, we must clearly define c&r. Catch-and-release is fishing without the intent to keep any fish caught.
Catch-and-release is not letting a fish go while fishing for food—that is selective harvest. Releasing a pink salmon while fishing for cohos, or returning an undersized trout are examples of this practice. Fishing with no intent to keep any fish caught is catch-and-release. The critical distinction between c&r and selective harvest is intent.
Both fishing for food and c&r kill fish; both intentionally and unintentionally. Some fish take the hook too deeply; some are subjected to too long a struggle; some are held out of the water too long while taking photos. Such mortality associated with c&r is unintentional, but it inevitably happens.
If a fish dies after being returned to the water by an angler fishing for food, that fish represents the inescapable waste associated with mans’ use and harvest of natural resources. If a fish dies after being returned to the water by a c&r angler, that fish died to gratify the angler’s desire to deceive and dominate the fish . . . and that is precisely why the morality of c&r is very fishy indeed.
C&r proponents claim it is a good thing because it keeps anglers “involved” with the resource. But what is the nature of the involvement? Author Ted Kerasote sums it up:
“Because we’re nice to the fish, releasing them ‘unharmed,’ we can receive both psychic dispensation and blessing. Needless to say, if you think about this relationship carefully, it’s not a comforting one, for it is a game of dominance followed by a cathartic pardons, which, as a non-fishing friend remarked, ‘is one of the hallmarks of an abusive relationship.’”
The Moral Law encompasses the moral rules and prohibitions that have been understood by all men in all places and at all times. All men, everywhere, have always understood they are morally obligated to perform certain duties toward their children, parents, elders, and posterity. All men, everywhere, have always understood the moral obligation to be just, to be honest, and to be generous toward others. And all men, everywhere, have always understood the moral prohibition of cruelty to animals.
The Jewish/Christian scriptures enjoin the compassionate treatment of animals in Proverbs 12:10: “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” Buddhism also urges compassion toward animals: “Because he has pity on every living creature, therefore is a man called ‘holy’”—Buddhism Dhammapada. The Qu’ran strictly forbids cruelty to animals as well: “"There is no man who kills [even] a sparrow or anything smaller, without its deserving it, but Allah will question him about it [on the judgment day],"
The prohibition of cruelty to animals doesn’t necessarily infer that animals have any right to our compassion. As the Catholic Encyclopedia states: “In order to establish a binding obligation to avoid the wanton infliction of pain on the brutes, it is not necessary to acknowledge any right inherent in them. Our duty in this respect is part of our duty towards God.”
The Moral Law forbids animal abuse, not because animals have rights, but because we have responsibilities to God for our treatment of animals. Fish supposedly don’t feel pain, but that is not the point. Catch-and- release fishing puts the animal’s life at risk; killing some, maiming others, and subjecting all to a life-and-death struggle.
Does c&r satisfy any reasonable need on the part of the angler? That is the question for every man’s conscience. As I see it, catch-and-release is an abusive, degraded and demeaning exercise of man’s power over animals.