Angler Education (or lack thereof)

Every US state requires some sort of certification prior to issuing a hunting license. Most do the same for a trapping license as well.  But nothing of the sort exists for obtaining an angling license. As much as I enjoy seeing a kid walking/biking to the local river to fish, it causes me to wonder if they know what they are doing?

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This kid obviously knows what he’s doing. After all, he lives under the same roof with a Fly Fishing Guide/Tree Hugger.

The Oregon Department of Fishing & Wildlife does an outstanding job of promoting the sport of angling. They put on numerous seminars and clinics around the state introducing kids (and adults) to the sport. They have a huge network of volunteers that receive instruction and certification. The ODFW provides basic instruction on the various fishing methods and opportunities in each area. They also have “free fishing days” and family fishing events. It’s a great program in most respects.  But there are a few things missing, at least as far as I’ve seen when attending and/or assisting with various events.

Some of the areas I would like to see expanded on are:

  • Species Identification
    • Differences between hatchery raised and wild fish
    • Identification of Endangered Species
  • Playing, Landing, Handling and Releasing methods
  • Rules and Regulations
  • Conservation

Most of those items are all clearly discussed within the Sport Fishing Regulation books, but let’s be honest, a huge percentage of the population does not read the entire regulation book. They look for open and close dates, bag limits, and that’s about it. Spend a little time in the summer months at a local, county, state or federal park with fishing access, and within a few minutes, you’ll witness any number of violations of the Oregon Fishing Regulations. Most of them are simply ignorance of the rules, but some are blatant disregard for them.

The Oregon State Police are charged with enforcement of Oregon Fish and Wildlife regulations. I do not envy the position they are in.  There are not enough officers to cover the entire state and those individuals that could care less about the rules know it.

Simplification of the regulations (which is underway) will help, but I feel that more can be done. Is it time to start an Angler Certification process similar to Hunter Education/Certification?  I realize that sounds pretty extreme.  But when uneducated anglers are heading for waters that contain ESA listed species, they should know what they’re likely to catch and what they should do with it if they do.

Wild fish advocates (myself included) like to point to Harvest as one of the keystone problems facing wild fish, but generally we’re talking about commercial offshore harvest (US and International Fleets) that use gill nets and seines to indiscriminately catch tons of ESA listed fish each year.  But indiscriminate harvest happens in our rivers and streams too.

Northern Pikeminnow from the Snake River- NOT an ESA listed species!

I caught, kept and marked my tag with my first Steelhead from the North Santiam River in June 1992. To this day, I couldn’t tell you with absolute confidence whether it was a wild or a hatchery fish. Back then, I didn’t know the difference. Chances are pretty good that it was a legal fish, being mid-summer, but the point is, I was uneducated when it came to anadromous species.

To be a licensed fishing guide in Oregon, you’re required to provide proof of liability insurance and hold valid CPR/1st Aid Certification.  You also need to attest that you haven’t been convicted of violating any fish and wildlife regulations or had your privileges revoked for any reason. That’s pretty much all there is too it, oh, and pay the fee.  Shouldn’t guides, at least, be required to prove they understand the regulations?

With what we’re just beginning to learn about steelhead, I think it’s time to take things a little more serious.  A small percentage of steelhead adults create the largest percentage of juveniles.  Resident Rainbow Trout fertilize a large percentage of steelhead eggs.  Those two facts alone should tell us that every wild fish is important to the survival of the species.  The wild female steelhead that someone illegally knocks on the head, could be the female that was destined to produce 5 times more the amount of viable eggs than all the other females in that particular run.  Same goes for the male resident wild trout – he could have been the male that fertilized thousands of eggs next spring, if he hadn’t been gut hooked and drug up on the bank.

We can’t stand in our rivers inland and point the finger of blame at those nasty gill netters out in the ocean anymore.  We contribute to the harvest issue as well and we could all stand a little more education.

Tight Lines, Keep ’em wet,  and if you don’t know – let ’em go.

Dave

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