Earlier this month, on May 2, the Colombian Supreme Court issued a ruling that will ban the capture and release of fishing. The ruling, which cited animal cruelty as one of the main arguments, received an 8-1 vote in support of the ban and is expected to take effect within a year. Chad Agy is a lifelong fly fisherman based in Salt Lake City, UT, with a particular interest in combining travel with fly fishing. Having experienced tremendous fishing in the jungles of Colombia, he is seeking to shed light on this troubling decision that could have dramatic impacts on the environment and culture of Colombia’s incredible country.
By Chad Agy
We are more than fly fishermen. To some extent, anyone who spends more than two years in the water turns into something else. A defender. A conservative. A guardian. We are some of the biggest advocates for the fish we pursue, the ecosystems where they live, and even the communities of people close to fishing. People tend to use natural resources wherever they go. But with a catch and release ethic, the waters are often frequented by fly fishermen improve as a result of our attention, our money, even our simple presence.
For these and many other reasons, the recent decision of the Colombian Supreme Court to ban the capture and release of sport fishing is particularly confusing. Under the guise of preventing “animal cruelty,” on May 3, the Colombian Supreme Court ruled that catching and releasing fisheries constituted torture. As things stand, the country will stop the practice within a year, with a grace period to “allow people to adjust”. The claim is that catch and release fishing “violates the principles of environmental protection and animal welfare” and “demonstrates the risk of environmental damage”.
What is clear is that both the Colombian fish and the Colombians themselves will suffer because of this decision. Colombia enjoys some of the best jungle and sea fly fishing in the world. Thousands of Colombians depend on industry and its tourism for their livelihood.
During a recent trip to Colombia’s Orinoco Basin, I had the first-hand opportunity to witness the benefits of sport fishing tourism. Silvio, our indigenous guide, told me that he was using his salary for the week to buy a motorcycle, which he could use to sell fish to other communities and take his wife to the doctor. He told me that payer populations in particular are healthier than ever, as his people switch to more sustainable harvesting practices. With interested tourists, fish are now more valuable to its living people than dead.
One evening, as we drove up the river in Silvio’s small boat, we met some poachers who had a gill net tied across the middle of the river. As we approached, the poachers disappeared timidly into the surrounding jungle. When we crossed the site the next morning, we noticed that they had vacated the area. How long would they have stayed if it had not been for the presence of sport fishermen? How many fish would they have killed?
Undoubtedly, some fish die as a result of catching and releasing the fishery, no matter how much care is taken or how many thorns are crushed. But the decision of the Colombian Supreme Court is wrong. Fishing and ecosystems will suffer without the conservation fishermen around. Rural communities will return to unsustainable harvests. Perhaps other evil activities that ruin Colombia’s past will return, as the flow of legitimate and legitimate income disappears. Successful Colombian businesses built on catch and rescue fishing tourism will collapse. Hopefully reason will prevail once those in power have a chance to learn more about the imminent demise of their creation.
Photos and words by Chad Agy.
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