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Snagging fish violates ‘ethics of fair chance’

June 18, 2005

"Snagging" fish is the illegal practice of jerking a barbed hook into a fish's body and dragging it to the shore. Although illegal and unsportsmanlike, snagging continues to be an issue for Columbia River steelhead and salmon headed to their spawning grounds.

"Snagging is a continual problem that is commonly reported to Oregon and Washington State Police by other fishermen who are upset about the practice," said Trooper Craig Gunderson. "It is definitely not very sporting. Snagging is very prevalent in the fall and is the lead source of the complaints that we receive."

Fall salmon in particular are vulnerable to illegal fishing practices because they are near the end of their life cycles. Fish often congregate at the mouths of Columbia tributaries to rest, cool off, and clean their gills. Those "hot spots" in the Gorge are where the majority of snaggers are reported.

"People get frustrated because they can see the fish but they aren't jumping around, so they resort to the illegal practices," said Gunderson.

Snagging violates the rules and ethics of sportsmanship by taking away the element of enticing fish to take the bait. The practice is also extremely harmful to fish.

"I believe that you want to take a fish or an animal in the most humane manner," Gunderson said.

Since hooks are not firmly embedded in the mouth or gums of a fish by snagging, there is more of a struggle to land the catch. Therefore, even if the fish is later released, it is not only wounded but under stress — which greatly raises the mortality rate. In addition, a fish caught near the tail and dragged backwards can drown because there is no oxygen running through its gills.

"It's just one of those things where everyone knows it's wrong and it just infuriates law-abiding anglers," said Gunderson.

According to Gunderson, snagging is currently more of a social than a resource concern, since there are not enough violators to drastically affect fish runs. However, steps have been taken to crack down harder on offenders to warn fishers away from the practice. If everyone follows the rules, he said, there should be plenty of fish for sports fishers in years to come.

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