Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
June 2005

The Ethical Angler

By John Lyman

The Ethical Angler:

• Respects other anglers' rights
• Respects the rights of others who use the resource
• Respects the rights of property owners
• Keeps only fish s/he wants
• Releases unwanted fish unharmed
• Never litters or pollutes
• Knows and follows boating and fishing regulations
• Seeks new knowledge and skills
• Shares his/her knowledge with others

Summer in Alaska brings fish and fishermen. And fisherwomen. And fisher kids. In droves and hoards. The other extreme for Alaska fishing may seem to be an unapproachable dream to some: the solitude of a reach of stream all to yourself, the sense of being completely alone on water. Whether you are in a crowd or alone, your actions reflect more than just the need to follow the law: your actions depend upon your sense of angling ethics.

Angling ethics are a gift we give to ourselves. What we do when confronted with choices while fishing reflect and reinforce our image of who we are. By following the law, we can assure that we won’t be ticketed, but our ethics and our behavior helps define who we are. These ethics determine how we treat other anglers, the respect we show to private property, our honesty in our relationships with others, and whether or not we pick up litter, work for the environment, and help other would-be anglers appreciate our sport.

As sport anglers, we often question ourselves and our actions. This is part of learning who we are. Do I ask a landowner for permission to fish, or do I sneak in? Do I enjoy watching another angler fish a hole and wait for my turn, or do I crowd in? Do I leave my trash behind, or do I bring a bag to clean up others thrash and leave my fishing site better than I found it?

How we answer these and other questions reflects our relationship with other people and how we view our role in the world around us. Establishing a strong personal sport fishing ethic helps us grow as individuals. And one of the most difficult places to remain ethical for many is when fishing in a crowd.

There are simple rules to follow when fishing in a crowd. These rules go beyond the law, make for a more pleasant experience for you as well as other anglers, and might be called crowd ethics. Adapted from an old DNR poster, these are the ten commandments of fishing a crowded spot:

1. All persons who fish these waters are equal
2. Give each other space to fish.
3. Do not steal the spot of an angler busy landing a fish.
4. Use tackle heavy enough to control your fish quickly.
5. Land your fish quickly so that other anglers can get their gear back in the water.
6. When someone near you hooks a fish keep your tackle out of the way: stop fishing.
7. Fish in the same manner as nearby anglers.
8. Do not litter: pack out what you pack in, and more.
9. Do not intentionally snag fish. Release those that are snagged quickly.
10. Be courteous to fellow anglers.

In short, angling ethics have a lot to do with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done to you.

John Lyman is an aquatic education coordinator with the sport fish division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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