Don't Throw Back Those Baby Fish (Discover)

Posted on by Brendan Borrell

Should fish only be caught after they've matured and reproduced, or does that harm the ecosystem?

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Fish should only be caught as adults, after reproducing.

CONTRARY VIEW: Catching only adult fish harms ecosystems.

Fishermen call them keepers: the mature fish above the legal minimum length that end up in the ice chest, as opposed to the small fry that get tossed back. Size regulations apply to everyone from a retiree hooking a sturgeon (minimum length: 43 inches) on Oregon’s Columbia River to a trawler pulling up cod (minimum length: 22 inches) off some of New England’s coast. Ignore the rules, and you’ll be fined.

The rationale is that young fish should be left in the population until they can mature and breed—and, besides, larger fish make for better fillets. The problem is that selective harvesting has been counterproductive, altering natural ecosystems and creating evolutionary pressures that end up harming fisheries.

Read the rest in the March issue of Discover