For those of you that have had the unfortunate circumstance of taking college statistics, first, my condolences.
If you survived, you might remember that sample size is an all-important variable. How many are you measuring--what's your sample size? The more data you have, the more meaningful your statistics. A stats professors of mine once jokingly said that a sample size of 10 was nearing infinity, and that the statistical possibilities were boundless. Real funny--more evidence that statisticians are accountants without the personality.
Joking aside, researchers at the Texas Tech Department of Range, Wildlife, and Fisheries Management recently published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management their findings on hooking mortality of some 1,200 striped bass -- a huge and quite meaningful sample size -- from fish caught and released from across the southern U.S. They pulled information from previous hooking mortality studies done in North and South Carolina, Maryland, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas. The findings could have implications to striper fisheries across the country.
Dr. Gene Wilde led research looking into how bait type and water temperature affected the survivability of striped bass caught and released. The study essentially asked: Are fish caught on natural baits more apt to die from injury than one caught trolling a crankbait? And temperature, the warmer the water the worse for wear? Here's what Dr. Wilde and his team of researchers found.
Regardless of bait type, 29 percent of striped bass caught and released died within three days. But compared between bait types, it was higher for fish caught on natural baits, at 42 percent. For artificial baits mortality was a much lower 25 percent.
But bait type alone didn't explain the variation. Water temperature figures prominently in whether fish will survive. Simply put, the warmer the water, the more likely a released striper is to perish, regardless of size. Climbing into the 80s, nearly 70 percent of stripers caught on natural baits and 57 percent caught on artificials, perished.
According to Dr. Wilde, the exact implications of his findings to striper populations will vary from water to water, but to him, one thing is clear.
"Our results do call into question catch-and-release fishing, especially in summer," said Wilde. "Catch and release is viewed as having little effect on populations, but when more than 30 percent of fish die, even in cooler water, I have a hard time justifying releasing fish. Instead, requiring anglers to keep all fish captured, up to their bag limit may be better."
Another alternative to striper management is seasonal closure. While it would afford some protection to stripers, Wilde admits its not likely to happen with many striper fisheries. Instead, Wilde thinks a seasonal relaxing of length limits might be better. Anglers might just go ahead and keep what would otherwise be an undersized fish, given minimally a third of released fish would perish anyway.
This year as you sally forth to partake of top-notch striper fishing, think about what's at the end of your line. If you belong to the secular church of catch and release, are you practicing what you preach? Is your quarry going to survive to be caught another day?
I can hardly think of statistics and not have Twain's famous "Lies, damn lies, and statistics" come to mind, but this evidence is convincing. When and how you fish for stripers could have a lasting impact to your sport. According to Wilde's research, you do have a choice.
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