January 13th, 2017
For many, angling represents a life-long passion that starts at childhood and continues throughout adult-life, where some claim to experience a connection with our more primeval hunter-gatherer instincts. Angling is one of our biggest recreational activities – a 2010 survey indicated 4.2 million people in England and Wales had been freshwater fishing over the previous two years. However, in an increasingly conservation and animal welfare conscious world, the common use of multiple point fishing hooks stands out as angling’s Achilles’ heel.
Whether as a requirement or through a personal preference to do so, all fish should be returned to the water quickly and unharmed. However, UK rod fishing rules currently exclude controls on hook types, and the type of hook used makes a huge difference to the chances of a fish surviving. That’s why a new campaign is calling for the phased ban of multiple point hooks is proposed, limiting anglers to using single hooks.
All anglers have a custodian role to protect native fish populations – including freshwater coarse (e.g. carp), game (e.g. salmon) and sea (e.g. bass). Commercial sea fishing is not considered, although it is worth noting that line fishing makes use of single (circle) hooks due to their superior hooking qualities. In recent years, the introduction of various controls has helped protect both fish and other wildlife. These include a ban on certain lead weights (or ‘shot’) and use of knotless mesh in both keep and landing nets. Banning multiple point hooks will continue this trend, helping to strengthen fish welfare and angling’s conservation credentials. It also provides an excellent opportunity to harmonise UK-wide rod fishing controls across all angling types.
There’s a catch
When good practice ‘catch and release’ – including use of single hooks – is followed, returned fish have the maximum survival opportunity to spawn and grow bigger. Single hooks have various advantages over their multiple point counterparts: they are much easier to remove – minimising any potential for physical harm, reduce fish handling time and the likelihood of stress. Artificial spinning baits (e.g. for predator fish species) often include multiple hooks; two or even three treble hooks (‘trebles’) may be used, each containing three individual hook points. These can additionally lead to the unintended foul-hooking of fish from the trailing hooks.
The advantages of single hooks are already widely recognised. Some Norwegian and Russian salmon fisheries restrict anglers to using single barbless hooks. For many years, this has been standard practice on North American steelhead and cutthroat trout rivers. Many English coarse fisheries already stipulate both single barbless hooks and maximum hook size.
The UK has various restrictions that require anglers to return caught fish, but no national requirement to use the single hooks that make it most likely that the fish will survive:
- Freshwater eels must always be returned alive.
- Before 16th June (England and Wales) salmon must be returned unharmed.
- The Scottish River Dee has a voluntary 100% catch and release code for salmon and sea trout.
- Due to concerns on dwindling stocks, EU measures required sea bass anglers to adopt 100% catch and release for the first half of 2016, with potential for further similar restrictions in 2017.
The closest we have to a ban on multiple point hooks is Northern Ireland’s angling regulations, which include ‘catch and release’ guidance that recommends use of small single, barbless hooks.
Angling for change
Formalising and harmonising UK-wide rod fishing rules on single hook use for all angling pursuits will remove inconsistencies, providing a common baseline to deliver lasting fish welfare and conservation benefits. This may also help strengthen angling’s conservation credentials through the lens of future public attitude surveys to angling.
Whilst treble hooks remain the favourite choice for many anglers when using both tube flies and spinning lures, a range of single hook alternatives are available (e.g. Blair spoons). A conscious business decision to market single hooks only might provide first-mover advantage for a major manufacturer or retailer, particularly where this is viewed as strengthening their annual social responsibility and environmental sustainability reporting.
However, changes to rod fishing rules should go hand-in-hand with steps to minimise potential disruption. For example, retailers may require time to adjust stock levels for single point hooks. Manufacturers may need to modify product designs (e.g. spinning lures) so that they function as intended when mounted with single hook(s). Regulatory bodies (such as the Environment Agency in England) will also need time to amend rod licence templates and communicate rod fishing rule changes to fisheries and clubs.
It is often said that fishing tackle catches far more anglers than fish. From its infancy, it has supported a wider industry, not limited to tackle and equipment: Izaak Walton wrote his celebrated book The Compleat Angler back in 1653, and it remains in print. From these beginnings, the leisure fishing tackle sector has become a major global industry – the latest identified estimate indicated they would exceed $20.3bn by 2015. Yet, of the vast array of angling products, the humble fishing hook is the only one that directly contacts the fish.
On the available evidence, there are no grounds where the continued use of multiple-point fishing hooks can be defended for any angling pursuit. A change to rod fishing rules, restricting anglers to using single hooks will help strengthen angling’s fish welfare and conservation credentials – pillars on which the industry’s future economic prosperity relies.