Mandatory release (i.e. proactive regulations that require release of all fish, a majority of fish, certain size-structure ranges in a fish species…) is a popular management tool.
There are many variables – each specie and fishery with its own uniqueness – as to where and how special regulations should be established. And total catch and release in many cases is not necessary or preferable. It all boils down to each individual water’s current makeup; each individual specie’s numbers and size structure. State-wide or provincial blanket regulations don’t cut it. And this is why we have folks called fisheries specialists who monitor such things and therefore, hopefully, make the correct management calls.
In a very basic sense, protecting certain species of fish from overharvest becomes more important we move to larger fish, farther up the food chain (therefore lowest densities), and as we move farther north – where fish grow slower – and it gradually becomes less and less feasible to replenish fisheries artificially via stocking. When we are talking about slow-growing fish like pike or muskies, or a big-fish species twice as slow-growing like a lake trout, decades (not years) are required to rebound from overharvest.
Proactive fisheries management is important here. This means “protect” a tremendous resource. Sadly, still to this day, in many places regulations are reactive. This means things got all screwed-up … fisheries got damaged … to the point of angling interest diminishing or flat ending… and then, there is “reaction” with protective regulations, stocking possibly, but sadly, it’s too late. And it takes time to fix.
Proactive management simply means installing harvest protections prior to resource depletion. It works – and it works in all aspects – as it’s far easier to open up to more harvest “if” a species’ population gets high, as compared to attempting to “fix” a crashed population. I can only hope that more folks will take notice of the simple fact that quality fishing is what “everyone” wants. There are folks who still vehemently rally against proactive regulations (however they still desire quality fishing). The most popular and politically correct arguments heard repeatedly are “it’s a tradition” and we need to “get kids into fishing”. Of course kids are a great excuse on the surface (stories of the poor kid “having” to release his first or biggest fish – virtually ruining the child’s psyche – an event likely to be the sole cause for a life of video games, drugs and trouble with the law), but the reality is I’ve never met a kid who was against catch and release (the exact opposite is true, actually). The messenger is the problem. Kids, even more so than adults – like to watch their bobber go down (rather than stare at a floating one on a “keep all you want” water) and catch big fish. Keeping some fish to eat should never be an automatic negative, but neither should be – proactive regulation that protects species from overharvest.