Each and every fisher is obligated to ensure the proper and respectful treatment of the fish they catch. Finnish law prohibits causing wildlife any unnecessary suffering. All fishers must therefore understand, as obligated by law, how to treat all fish they catch, regardless of whether they intend to release them or keep them for food.
Preliminary dressing of food fish
The proper preliminary dressing of fish caught for food has a major impact on the quality, preservability and flavour of fish.
Fish should be stunned immediately after removing them from the water by striking it sharply with, for example, a wood club, slightly behind the eyes. The Animal Welfare Decree requires stunning the fish before beginning to dress it.
The most effective way to bleed a fish is to cut the gill artery, which is located inside the throat muscles toward the front of the gills. Bleeding is done immediately after stunning the fish. The draining of blood can be further enhanced by placing the fish in cold water.
When gutting a fish, the abdomen is cut open from the base of the throat to the anus. The entrails and gills are then pulled out. Lastly, the fish is rinsed out with cold, clean water.
Cooling and storage
Immediately after gutting, the fish is to be cooled as quickly as possible. The ideal storage temperature is 0 degrees - in order to reach this temperature, the fish should be kept in crushed ice. Higher temperatures shorten the preservability of fish.
Releasing your catch
It is nearly impossible for a fisher to choose which species or size of fish they will hook. Catch and release applies to practically all fishers who observe set catch sizes and otherwise abide by the Fishing Act. Each and every fisher should therefore know the fundamentals of catch and release. In some fishing destinations, fishing rules and regulations may also require the release of fish caught. In addition to this, catch and release fishing competitions are becoming more popular.
Selective fishing includes the release of both undersized and large-sized individuals. Large-sized individuals are invaluable to the fish population because they are typically able to produce more robust offspring than their smaller peers, thus keeping the population strong. In some special fishing destinations, maximum allowable sizes are indeed set for fish. Many recreational fishers also voluntarily release any large-sized fish they catch.
Catch and release when angling
- Fishing tackle should always be chosen according to the desired fish. The correct choice of fishing tackle can reduce the need to release fish and also facilitate their release.
- When lure fishing, the number of hooks should be reduced and barbless hooks should be used.
- The landing net should be large enough and made with knotless netting. Landing nets should ideally use a rubber-like netting.
- Basic angler tackle should include sufficiently large and sturdy pliers for removing hooks. Pike fishers should also have pliers capable of cutting hooks. Fishing supply stores carry several different types of hook removers.
Tiring and releasing the fish
- When lure fishing, the fish should be intentionally tired out, but without any unnecessary tearing. An extending tiring out of the fish should be avoided, particularly when the water is warm.
- If possible, the fish should be released in the water. The hook is removed by turning it toward the direction of entry. If desired, a mouth spreader can be used to hold the fish's mouth open. Mouth spreaders are sold at fishing supply stores.
- If the hook cannot be removed with the fish in the water, the fish is to be placed on a flat, wet surface, handled with wet hands and then released as soon as possible after the hook is removed. Fishing supply stores also sell catch and release mats, on which the fish can be handled safely without damaging its scales.
- The fish being released can be supported in the water with two hands until the fish has recovered and is ready to swim away. In running water, the fish's head should be facing upstream.
- The fish does not need to be moved during its recovery - movement only increases its stress.
Catch selection and release when trap fishing
Tackle and fishing destinations
- In trap fishing, the importance of the tackle used and fishing destination are emphasised. Releasing a fish caught in a net alive is usually difficult, but catch selection can be influenced by, for example, choosing a net with the correct mesh size. Indeed, there are mesh size restrictions set for fishers in many water areas. Always check the fishing restrictions in your fishing area before heading out!
- The net mesh size can have an impact on the size of the fish you want to catch, but not the species. Fishers should therefore be familiar with the yearly behaviour patterns of their desired fish and reduce the number of undesired fish caught by carefully choosing their equipment and fishing destinations.
- Using nets with a medium mesh size of 25-49 mm is extremely harmful to predatory fish stocks. A responsible net fisher will always use a mesh size that is a bit too large rather than one that is too small.
- Wire fish traps and fyke nets are the preferred trap fishing equipment, because they make catch selection and release easy, without causing any injury to the fish.
- The less time a fish spends in a trap, the more likely it will be to release it alive. Checking traps as frequently as possible also ensure that the catch quality remains high.
- Water temperature has a major impact on the frequency of trap checks. When net fishing in the winter, fish stay edible for several days, but in the summer, fish caught in a vendace net set at the surface of the water will die and spoil within hours.
Releasing fish from traps
- When releasing fish, avoid any unnecessary handling and, if possible, removing them from the water.
- Fish being released from a trap may need to be supported by hand during their recovery. Once fully recovered, the fish will swim away. The fish does not need to be moved during its recovery - movement only increases its stress.
- According to the Fishing Decree, even dead fish that are below the minimum catch size must be released into the water. In other words, fishers must never have any undersized fish in their catch.