program is a conservation effort being promoted
by the organizers of the USVI Open/Atlantic
Blue Marlin Tournament. While this event attracts the most skilled of anglers,
it is perhaps best known as being the first
tournament in the world to release blue marlin!
Now, twenty-five plus years and thousands of blue
marlin releases later, the same organization
is looking to the future and recommending that three (3) additional
steps be taken to help improve the
The first and perhaps the most humane step, is to stop all "drop back" except for rod tipping. We avocate that you start fishing with a single, barbless hook and that you release the fish as quickly as possible. We also ask that you not handle the fish at the boat, unless to resuscitate them. Cut the leader and allow your fish to swim off lively with a single, barbless hook in it's mouth. The hope is (we must experiment) that the barbless hook will fall out. Should you pride yourself on the removal of your hooks, a barbless hook is much easier, quicker, and safer to remove. Should you break the line - leaving the fish dragging a long trace and a normal death sentence - the fish stands a better chance of jumping and shaking the hook! Should you hook the fish in the eye or gut hook it by accident, a barbess hook will possibly back it's self out. An added bonus of using a barbless hook is they are also "cockpit friendly." You can pull them out of your arm or leg and keep on fishing! Pulling lures? A single barbless hook works well in them!
The second major step requires a "slip through leader" (see illustration) that when cut, allows for the clean and complete removal of the leader and crimps, eliminating any need to handle the fish at the boat. We suggest that you make this slip through leader no more than 8' long to represent IGFA's legal gaff length. When the crimp reaches your grasp, simply cut one side of the loop and make a quick release! We believe that the "handling" of these wild creatures at the boat peaks their exhaustion and invites shark attacks. The cutting of the loop and releasing the fish at a distance also avoids the thrashing of the fish at the side of the boat - reducing the chance of eye, skin and prop damage. The use of a tag stick with a razor knife is an acceptable alternative for those who don't like the idea of the loop. That is as long as a barbless hook is used!
Needless to say, the third
step, forbids the use of formaldehyde (a poison that some use to toughen high speed trolling baits). Our sport simply can no longer justify the feeding a poisonous substance to the creatures that we so endear.
Please understand that it will take a while to hone your hooking skills and to change your old baiting habits. But, we assure you (through our own testing) that the results will be fulfilling! Occasionally a barbless hook will fall out (this has probably happened to you many times before) and you can expect your nay saying buddies to condemn the effort because they don't like making changes. Countering that thinking, we say just wait and see how good you feel when your first
"Free Release" swims off with a healthier lease
Are we a bit too radical? No! We think that we are forward thinking in the best interest of the fish and therefore our sport. We have begun to realize that we must change the way we preceive the sport and how we handle these fish when they are near the boat. Are we suggesting that it's better to use a barbless "J" hook rather than a circle hook? Quite possibly yes - the reason (besides those advantages listed earlier) is because we also think that a barbless "J" hook (used with only a "rod-tipping drop-back) offers more of a challenge (keepin the slack out) and it therefore develops better anglers.
The spirit of the sport was originally based on the epic battle between man and beast. If man's superior intelligence allows him to engineer a hook that favors one warrior over the other (circle hooks lessen the chance of the fish winning by getting away), we imbalance the true meaning of "sport" fishing.
The "Free Release" technique becomes the angler's stated intent and personal committment to let them go healthier. The trick is to learn to hook them in the mouth, not the gut. Have courage - at least try this out - use barbless hooks and only a rod tip's worth of dropback!
Become a member of the "Free Release" Anglers Society! When you are ready, we have a "Free Release" flag design for you to display. Looks just like your normal billfish flag, only the words "Free Release" are silk screened in green across the top. Other fishermen will start to notice your flags and will know that your catch required a higher degree of angling skill and that the fish was treated as humanely as possible. .