Ottawa

Fisheries scientist calling on high-tech anglers to reel it in

A fisheries scientist and keen angler is sounding the alarm about futuristic gear that's giving sport fishers a potentially dangerous advantage over their prey.

Futuristic tackle giving sport fishers the edge, but at what cost?

Carleton University biology professor Steven Cooke shows off a big catch during a fishing trip to Florida. (Supplied by Steven Cooke)

Technology might be trumping old-school fishing tackle, but an Ottawa biology professor is calling for limits on the increasingly fancy lures and high-tech gear.

Some sport fishermen with deep pockets are using drones to drop baited lines, electric lures that flash lights or emit scent, and fish finders so advanced that they create 3D images of the prey, turning angling into a kind of video game. 

That might be making fishing fun for some, but it's far less sporting for the fish, according to Steven Cooke, who's calling for the technology to be reeled in.

A lifelong angler, Cooke, 47, got his start when he inherited his grandfather's tackle box, complete with painted wooden lures, rusty spoon spinners and red and white plastic bobbers. Over the years he upgraded his gear, always in search of better gadgets that might help find and fool fish into biting.

Drones like this are being used to carry fishing lures past the breaking surf in some coastal areas, Cooke says. (CBC)

Now Cooke is also a fisheries scientist and professor of environmental science and biology at Carleton University.

"Fishing is about the unknown. You never know what you're going to catch, and science is the same way, right? You're not really sure what you're going to find out until you do it," he observed.

"I read the fishing magazines. I go to the fishing stores. I interact with anglers. But I'm also a fisheries scientist and I care deeply about making sure that we have sustainable and responsible fisheries."

Published findings

Cooke and several colleagues have spent the past year researching innovations in recreational fishing around the world. Their findings were published last week in the journal Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries.

Cooke doesn't eschew all technology. He admits to owning the latest generation of rods and reels, "but I haven't gone down the path of buying lures that have flashing lights. I don't use scents that have been designed to trick fish to bite. I don't have a $3,000 fish finder on my boat and I don't use drones for fishing."

He's concerned the longer these gadgets are available, the more "normal" they'll seem to everyday anglers.

"If we wait until all this stuff is mainstream, then it does get more difficult to regulate or to modify behaviour," he said. 

Kevin Kyer wouldn't specify which Outaouais lake he pulled these impressive whitefish from. 'Fishermen like to keep their spots a secret.' (Mike Boucher)

Kevin Kyer, 35, a keen fisherman from the aptly named La Pêche, Que., loves to post pictures of the big game fish he catches, photographs, then releases.

Kyer's unsurprised by Cooke's claim that Canada's fishing gear market nets $8 billion a year. "I believe that. I got zero dollars in my bank account, and I know why. I'm spending every dime on fishing," he said.

Yet even Kyer, who uses a $500 fish finder, refuses to shell out more for higher-end models, some of which are so advanced they've been banned for use in tournaments.

"They're so high-tech you can see everywhere under the water. It's incredible," said Kyer. "It's fun and all, but most of the time it's like a video game. You're just wasting your time on it and you're not even fishing. You're just looking at the screen." 

Kyer said he has no need for such extravagant gear. "I have been fishing for so long, I know exactly where the fish are."

A fisheries scientist and keen angler is sounding the alarm about futuristic gear that's giving sport fishers a potentially dangerous advantage over their prey. 6:40

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