Delayed Mortality - Are Studies Flawed?
Opinions with Merit?

By Rick Byrnes


 May 29, 2022

It's every angler's responsibility to care for their fish to insure a healthy release. Tournament organizations place large penalties on those who fail to keep their fish alive. The anglers I know and see on the water are constantly checking their live-wells throughout the day and caring for their catch. I am sure there are exceptions to this, if we see poor fish care it is also our responsibility to point it out and help to correct it.

Tournament organizations also share in this responsibility. There are many views on the best ways to run a weigh-in. It is my opinion that the most important thing that any organization can do is shorten the time from live-well to release. If you can limit that time to a few minutes you are reducing the chance of any delayed mortality.

U.S. Angler's Choice recently held a 300 boat Championship on Grand Lake of the Cherokees. There was one fish brought to the scales deceased, likely due to a deep hook. There was also one fish we removed from the check tank that we believed would not survive at day's end. We saw no floating or impaired fish the day after each weigh-in. We had a GRDA release trailer at the event that was limited in capacity (400lbs of fish I believe). The trailer also reported all fish released alive. Seventeen hundred and fifty fish were brought to the scales at the event.

Studies tell us many of these fish will expire after release "Delayed Mortality". There is no doubt some fish may expire after release, I agree with this. What I do not agree with is the numbers that have been created by these studies. In my opinion these studies have multiplied the delayed mortality rates by eliminating the natural recovery process and adding days of additional stress.

Many of us have pets at home and when they get sick the common thing veterinarians will tell you is put them somewhere away from people, noises "stress". Generally we do not have to do this because this is how we realized the animal was sick to begin with. They went off to a quiet area away from any stress.

Every study I have seen on delayed mortality has eliminated the natural recovery process. They have in fact, applied, additional stress to already stressed fish by confining them with large numbers of other fish in cages, pens, netted enclosures etc. The stress of the situation can be confirmed by the mortality of the control group. Although the control group mortalities are statistically minimal they are a huge red flag to the accuracy of these studies. If healthy control groups have mortality how is that "multiplied" when the fish already have a day of stress and are admittedly sick.

The veterinarian did not tell you to put your sick animal in a single pen with hundreds of other animals. The mortality studies have removed the natural recovery process. There is no doubt these fish have one, whether they seek out higher oxygen rates, water temps, water depths, solitude or all. These studies have removed this ability and applied days of additional stress to the fish through the study.

If these opinions have scientific merit, which I believe they do, it is critical that it be realized and acknowledged by the Fisheries community. These studies are being used to limit access and limit our sport. Placing limitations and mandates on events using data that may be flawed is happening.

It's an acknowledgment that we may never get. People are resistant to admitting that they may have got it wrong. I have also recognized a resistance by "some" within the Fisheries community to oppose other's views publicly. These are their peers. Then you have the politics of the whole situation of immediate release vs. conventional tournaments. Proponents of catch weigh and release wish to use these studies as reason to change the industry. There is also the money element, professional opinions are valuable when they have that degree or pedigree.

The Fisheries community, however, is full of good people doing everything they can to enhance fisheries. These people are willing to examine theories, ideas and opinions. They understand that difference of opinion is how you ultimately "Get Things Right". It provokes thought and conversation.

There currently is no way to allow fish to go through their natural recovery process and study delayed mortality without adding additional stress. When you add that additional stress there is no way to calculate how much you have multiplied your end result. No study is perfect but in my opinion the delayed mortality studies I have read are flawed.

Adding stress on top of stress is a killer. I have seen this as a director and as an angler. After the spawn, fish are stressed. They are sick and when you apply additional stress they can expire quickly. The major spawn event is impossible to time with accuracy. Post spawn events have the highest mortality rates. From my experience, these rates are much higher than mid Summer events. Stress on top of Stress, kills fish.

It is my hope this opinion piece provokes thought and conversation. "Getting it Right" is critical to the future of tournament bass fishing.