In the early eighties, the one and only study on the impacts of catch and release angling on muskellunge, concluded there was up to a 30% mortality rate of angled fish, likely due to the stress of the experience. Thirty years and numerous changes in tackle, fish handling techniques and angler knowledge, there was a need to re-examine the mortality rate of muskies that were caught by anglers using modern tackle and techniques. In 2009, Masters of Science candidate, Sean Landsman, undertook a field study, fondly referred to as Project Noble Beast, to determine the sub-lethal and lethal effects of the catch-and-release process using two different handling procedures (normal and gentle). The project required intense angling effort, which was carried out over the summer and fall muskellunge angling seasons in 2009 and 2010, yielding 77 muskies up to 52 inches long. Under the tutelage of Dr. Steven Cooke of Carleton University and Dr. Cory Suski of the University of Illinois, Sean collected blood samples used to assess the physiological impact of the angling process and these samples were compared to those obtained from fish sampled via electrofishing (control group baseline levels). Behaviour and survival were assessed by attaching radio transmitters to a sub-sample of 30 fish (15 per handling procedure) and tracking their movements.
Hedrik Wachelka of the Ottawa Chapter of Muskies Canada worked tirelessly with Sean to organize, fundraise and assist in angling muskies from the Ottawa and Rideau River systems. Hedriks efforts and those of the nearly two dozen other volunteers from Muskies Canada were instrumental in the completion of the project. Blood sample analysis revealed minimal physiological disturbances between handling treatments. Behaviours were similar for fish from each handling group. Perhaps most importantly, all radio-tagged fish survived the catch-and-release event making this finding of 0 percent mortality dramatically different from the 30 percent figure previously suggested for muskellunge. True zero percent mortality can never exist in a hook-and-line fishery, but muskellunge fishing mortality may indeed be negligible.
Sean has published the results of this research in Fisheries Research an International journal on fisheries science, fishing technology, and fisheries management, and is available by permission, here. Seans paper was also presented at the World Recreational Fishing Conference in Berlin, Germany in the summer of 2011 to very positive reviews. This original research will save countless muskie and other fishes lives worldwide in the future.
Major funding for this research effort was generated by Muskies Canada, various chapters of MCI, Muskies Inc, the Becker Foundation as well as support from Carleton U and various government agencies.