EDITORIAL — By Erwin Bursik

CONSERVATION, conscience and legality are the cornerstones of deep sea angling as we know it today. Gone are the days when all the ski-boaters in South Africa loaded each and every fish they hooked onto their craft for later disposal. Up until the 1980s, very few anglers knew about bag limits, tag and release, or even about returning a fish to the ocean to survive another day.

My first notion as an offshore angler that we could be having a negative effect on the fishery along the East African coast was after some discussions with Rudy van der Elst. At that stage Rudy was a research marine biologist at the Durban Oceanographic Research Institute. When he initiated the programme to tag and release billfish it really got me thinking that maybe he had a point and was not completely out of sync with reality.

Fast forward 30-odd years to the present day when the concept of releasing fish whether caught offshore or from the beaches has become the “in thing”, especially in the minds of billfish anglers, and the vast majority of our fraternity support the practice. Furthermore this practice has been greatly expanded, not only by area but also by species, and the majority of the trevally species — starting with the GTs — are now all released.

The legislated “bag limits” have hardly affected the trend in respect of the above mentioned species and are really only there to control the offtake of the popular gamefish and bottomfish we offshore anglers target. However the vast majority of recreational offshore anglers don’t treat bag limits as targets. Instead, when certain species come on the feed the anglers know when to stop fishing and return to port.

What really concerns me is the overreaction by the overzealous brigade which reacts viciously whenever an angler harvests a fish — within the restraints of legislation — for his or her personal reasons.

For example I believe that on the stretch of coast from Cape Point right up to Lamu on the north coast of Kenya, 90% of the total billfish caught since the early 1990s have been released. That’s roughly when competition committees and recreational billfish anglers started promoting the tag and release ethic. However, despite that enormous accomplishment, nowadays anglers are crucified if they take out a possible record billfish — sometimes already dead when it comes alongside the craft — or if they decide to take home their first or biggest trophy fish.

Am I proud of the photographs of the big billfish I took out many, many years ago? Yes. But I am equally as proud of the certificate in my office dated January 1981, of the first sailfish ever tagged and released off Durban. Would I kill another billfish? No, and I have not done so since 2003. But I am the last to criticise an angler who legally takes a specimen for a specific reason. All the same, I believe very strongly that the coercive influence by individuals in the media, clubs, provincial and national bodies has, in a relatively short space of time, brought about this situation where we see a phenomenally high percentage of billfish released these days.

Further proof of the incredible turnaround in this respect was seen at South Africa’s two biggest billfish competitions — OET and Billfish 15 000 — both held in November, where in excess of 100 billfish were released. They are now both 100% total release competitions. Had this been 1980, there would have been a 100% kill ratio with these fish all hanging from the gantry at Sodwana to the immense excitement and acclaim of every angler present.

“Slowly, slowly catchee monkey” is the saying, and I believe it has worked in this instance. By adopting this coercive attitude, all the offshore recreational anglers have achieved what we all thought 30 years ago was a pipe dream.

From all of us at SKI-BOAT magazine have a very merry Christmas and may 2018 bring you wonderful memories of fish you are going to target and catch.

Till the next tide.
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