Barbs and Backlashes

Some things to think about by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
June 3, 2009, 12:40 pm
Filed under: Fishing | Tags: ,

I love it when anglers/outdoors folks take time to discuss and think about some important issues.  I have been following some discussions on the Nebraska Fish & Game Association forum recently and if I may let me add some comments.

First of all, on the topic of catch & release fishing or selective harvest, this article originally appeared in NEBRASKAland magazine (June 2008).  If I may be so bold, I would suggest that should be required reading for any angler in today’s world.

Secondly, a related article just appeared in the June 2009 NEBRASKAland .The title of that sidebar article was “MSY versus OSY” and here is a copy of it:

“Any population of fish in any body of water is capable of supporting a certain level of harvest.  That harvest could be expressed in pounds of fish harvested per year or if you will, “yield”.  Some species in some waters will be capable of a higher yield than perhaps the same species in another habitat, but each population will have a maximum yield that can be supported over a period of years without the population being endangered.   That would be the maximum sustainable yield or “MSY”.  There are many fisheries in the world managed for the maximum sustainable output of fish flesh; fisheries that are being managed with an MSY management philosophy.

When fish populations are managed under an MSY philosophy the goal is simply the sustained harvest of fish, and that typically is obtained by allowing those fish to reach sexual maturity and then harvesting as many as possible.  Under an MSY philosophy no consideration is given to producing bigger or older fish or managing the fishery for any other qualities.  As long as the population maintains itself, “catch all you can, and can all you catch.”

A more recent fisheries management philosophy is Optimum Sustainable Yield or OSY.  In contrast to the MSY philosophy, an OSY philosophy emphasizes some other quality of the fishery besides the maximum harvest of pounds of fish fillets.  For example, under an OSY philosophy a management priority may be to provide bigger fish, or high catch rates or even an attractive location where folks want to fish.  You can see that the OSY attitude is one that largely applies to recreational angling.  Most of our recreational fisheries in Nebraska and elsewhere are managed with an OSY philosophy.  Or are they?

In today’s world almost all of us fish recreationally.  Now I believe it is very important that we maintain a tradition of harvesting some of our catch, but the truth is very few us fish because we have to put protein on the table.  One would assume that in recreational angling today most of our fisheries are managed with OSY values.  After all, we go fishing to enjoy the time in the outdoors, be with friends and family, get away from the hassles of work, and maybe catch a fish or two while we are at it.  We are not out there to harvest the maximum amount of fish that body of water is capable of producing.  In spite of that, many of our recreational fisheries receive enough pressure from numbers of anglers that we are in fact managing those fisheries at or near a level of maximum sustainable yield!

Overharvest of fish populations can be observed in a couple of ways.  In the worse case, fish populations can be harvested to the point where they cannot maintain themselves—too few adults are left to maintain the population.  Rarely does harvest reach that level in any recreational fisheries, and even under an MSY harvest philosophy, populations should not be harvested to the point where they are threatened.  But, overharvest can also be exhibited in populations where the fish are not allowed to reach their full growth potential.  Those populations may be producing a maximum sustainable yield and yet be capable of providing something more, capable of meeting some other management goal under an OSY philosophy.

Why is it important that anglers grasp this concept of MSY versus OSY?  I believe each angler needs to ask themselves why they fish?  What do they really want from a fishing trip?  How important is harvesting a limit of fish?  How important is it to have an opportunity to catch some big fish, some big specimens of whatever species we are pursuing?  Are we fishing to catch enough fish to “stink the skillet” or is it something more than that, some other quality that means more to us?

Fisheries biologists in a state like Nebraska are not charged with producing enough fish to feed the citizens of the state.  Our mission is stewardship of the state’s fisheries resources for the benefit of those resources and the people.  Our charge is not to manage at an MSY level, but to manage for an OSY based on people’s desires and recreational values.

I read a quote in In-Fisherman magazine this spring that really “hit the nail on the head”.  Gord Pyzer, a retired Canadian fisheries biologist said, “. . . it’s actually quite easy to produce quality walleye fisheries— or bass, muskie, and other fisheries for that matter.  The only two questions ever are how badly do anglers really want them-and-are they prepared to pay the price?”  Are we satisfied with fisheries that are managed at or near a level of MSY, or do we want more?”


Muskie Release

Muskie Release

1 Comment so far
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nice post 🙂

Comment by mark roselle

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