The tiny little grasshopper fly lands near the water’s edge ever so lightly, it’s impact barely sending ripples through the calm water. Slowly but surely, an aggressive predator closes the distance. It comes to the surface and *Slurp*… It inhales the fly, and the fight is on.
The 3wt fly rod is almost not enough to keep the fish out of the mangroves. But after a lengthy and thoroughly enjoyable fight (for a fish it’s size), the fish gives in and is landed. What type of fish, you may ask?
The Mayan Cichlid…An exotic and invasive species.
These cichlids are loose throughout almost all of the canal systems in south Florida. A result of aquarium releases, these cichlids (along with MANY other species) have thrived and spread all over creation. In many instances, they out compete our native fish for resources, or even prey on these natives. But there’s another serious issue with them that I recently became aware of….
They’re a freakin’ hoot to catch. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.
We as anglers, are always pushed to practice conservational techniques. You know, things like not keeping more fish than you need for eating, letting big spawners go, and practicing CPR (Catch, Photograph, Release). And many of us swear by these things. We love to fish, we want to continue being able to fish, and in order to do this we must be responsible with the fish populations. But this is where I’ve noticed a problem pop up recently. What about the exotics/invasives?
I obviously won’t say “who” is doing this, but I’m beginning to see more and more examples of people practicing catch and release with our INVASIVE species. Photo’s of people holding Bullseye Snakehead and explaining how it’s “misunderstood” and hashtagging #CatchAndRelease on social media are springing up all over the place. And sadly, I get it. These fish are fun to catch. They’re an absolute blast. And anglers want to continue to have fun so they practice these responsible fishing techniques on fish that…well…don’t need it.
I know of a couple different guides who lead people for exotic/invasive fish (things like Oscars, mayan cichlids, jaguar guapotes, etc). This means they’re getting paid to take people to chase them. This also means something else; They’re now a stakeholder for the species preservation. They would literally be shooting themselves in the foot if they didn’t practice catch and release. As far as the wallet goes, they -want- the invasives there.
So this raises a question. How do you go about explaining to someone who loves something and (in some instances) makes money off that thing, to not practice responsible population management? They love the species. Why would they want to eradicate them?
The state of Florida takes the invasive issue very seriously. It’s actually unlawful to release an exotic/invasive if you were to catch one. You’re required by law to properly dispose of it. And in addition to that, there’s no size or bag limit on them. The state wants them gone. But how do you enforce that? There’s literally nothing stopping someone from tossing that grasshopper fly, fighting the Mayan, enjoying every second of it, then letting it go so they can do it again one day.
It’s a complicated issue, and one that I don’t see going away any time soon. As more and more people discover fishing for these things, and understand proper conservation techniques, this problem is going to continue on. All of these individuals’ hearts are in the right place. They’re looking after a species and themselves. But their view is a little skewed.
If you haven’t guessed by this point, I’m all for killing off the exotics. I take the “salt the earth” view when it comes to exotics/invasives. In fact, when I see invasives, this is essentially how I go about treating them…
Even though I absolutely love catching them, the conservationist in me likes the idea of them being eradicated. But I also know that it’s probably never going to happen. Even if anglers kept every one they caught, it would never eradicate them. But we’ve got to at least -control- the populations. If everyone is out there releasing each one they catch, I’d hate to imagine the consequences to some of our native fish species.
These issues obviously aren’t just restricted to Florida. Imagine (and I’m not sure if this has happened yet or not) if someone began finding a good way to catch species like the Flying Asian Carp on the rod and reel. I can only imagine they’d be a hoot to have on the end of your line. Well, after they land it, they let it go so they can do it again.
It’s a touchy subject. Especially when you’re literally trying to convince someone not to do something they absolutely love for no better reason than proper conservation. What are your thoughts? Concerns?