Do catch-and-release guidelines from state and provincial agencies in North America conform to scientifically based best practices

Many recreational anglers practice catch-and-release angling, where fish are returned to the water with the presumption that they will survive. However, not all fish survive, and those that do often experience sublethal consequences including injury and stress. There is compelling scientific evidence that angler behavior and gear choice can affect the success of catch-and-release as a management and conservation strategy. Because anglers often look to government natural resource agencies for guidance on how to handle and release fish properly, there is a need to assess whether their outreach materials are readily accessible and provide the necessary and correct information on the subject. Therefore, on-line catch-and-release guidelines developed by state and provincial natural resource agencies across North America were evaluated to determine whether their guidelines were consistent with the best available scientific information. This analysis revealed that there was immense variation in the depth and breadth of coverage among jurisdictions. Agency guidelines contradicted one another in several areas including air exposure, angling in deep water, venting trapped gases, and resuscitation. In many cases, the guidelines failed to provide sufficient direction to actually be of use to anglers or provide direction consistent with contemporary scientific literature. This analysis will assist with developing outreach materials that promote sustainable recreational fisheries and in maintaining the welfare status of individual fish.