As individuals, there are a host of changes or decisions that we can make to improve sustainability of the natural world for the benefit of people and nature. Individuals can chose to use energy more efficiently, conserve water, decrease use of plastics, and source locally produced products. What about when it comes to offshore recreational fishing for dolphinfish? Aside from engaging in the practice of tagging and releasing small individuals for science, there is another less often contemplated decision and it relates to the following question: How many schools of dolphin do you interact with during your offshore fishing season while bailing (casting to dolphinfish with live or cut bait from a drifting or slowly moving boat)? Based off of this question, our decision as offshore anglers should be to minimize the incidence of negative interactions when encountering schools of dolphin while bailing by utilizing ethical angling methods such as the use of non-offset circle
hooks, dipnetting small fish if suspected to be below a specific minimum size, and decreasing the use of drop-back methods that can result in fatal injuries to dolphin. In ongoing research to educate anglers about the opportunity we all have to minimize negative interactions with dolphin while bailing, we examined the last three years of tagging data associated with the Killin’ Time II fishing team, a vessel in which we have also
collected vessel tracking data for every offshore outing (n = 65)
during that time period. Over that time period this fishing team tagged 3 or more fish in 98 separate schools while bailing. Above is the frequency of size in terms of fork length (FL) for all of those schools. Visually, you can see from the plot that it appears that the size composition of most of the schools encountered were fish less than 20” FL (white dashed line). Numerically, 38.7% of the schools had a size composition per school less than 20” fork-length but 53.9% of all individuals encountered across schools were less than 20” FL. On average, 4 size classes were present per school with a range from 1 to 8 size classes per school. What this means, if you assume your fishing style is similar to the Killin’ Time II fishing team i.e., you start to fish when you see birds, something floating, or travel along a weedline, the likelihood is higher that you will encounter small dolphin so you should be prepared with an arsenal of tools e.g., non-offset circle hooks or non-offset circle hook jigs, a dipnet or sling, a towel and gloves, and an ethical angling mentality to ensure the smallest individuals you encounter are caught and released with the least amount of injuries. In doing so, you can also safely and effectively land the size classes that you prefer to bring home for table fare and release the size classes that you would like to continue to grow and spawn and contribute to a healthier dolphin fishery. For video tips on how to properly handle and tag and release small dolphin check out the video below.
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