Catching and/or keeping gravid perch...

Ken Jones

Staff member
Date: January 23, 2003
To: Per Fishing In California Message Board
From: Ken Jones
Subject: Question for the day — perch

The various saltwater perch found in California are not only fun to catch but also interesting because they give birth to live babies. One of the best times to catch these perch is when they come inshore (in bays, rivers, inshore saltwater areas) in the late winter and spring months. Sometimes they mass in huge schools and you can catch one (or more) on every cast. However, after you land the fish they will begin to give birth to those little miniature offspring.

The question is — do you think it is o.k. to fish for, and to keep, perch during those times?

Posted by sandtrout

No, I don't think it's a good idea to keep perch under those conditions. I also don't think it's a good idea to fish for and keep bass, male or female that are sitting on a spawning bed or shoot a doe that potentially may be pregnant.

Posted by Songslinger

The short answer is no. You only contribute to the demise to the species you enjoy. Most times it's fairly easy to see if a perch is gravid, and doing the right thing is not a difficult decision. But early on the signs of pregnancy are not so forthcoming and it is an honest error (if you can call it that) to prepare a fish for dinner and find the little ones inside. Not much you can do about that other than acknowledge the truth of predator and prey and the overwhelming mystery of ontology.

Many of us eschew perch fishing during the birthing season as matters of choice, prevention, and preservation. We do this almost in spite of the absurd DFG restrictions regarding perch in the Bay. The DFG designates a period when perch are to be protected and this is more of a short in the dark than real help. Perch do bear their young within a given season, but it is more dependent on the weather and water temperatures than manmade calendars (big Duh there), and many gravid perch are taken "under the wire," so to speak, by anglers in a hurry to get their catches and keeps accomplished before the closures. Last year was a perfect example when scores of huge pregnant rubberlip perch were taken out of Fort Point a week before April.

What I do is fairly simple. It's based on the individual species and their area. If I'm surf fishing and come across a pregnant striped perch, for example, I know that most of that type of perch will be risks, and while I might hook into other "safer" perch, it's a better strategy to move on or change baits to something a little less palatable to perch in general. At the very least, it becomes a no-keep day. I slaughter considerably less gravid perch this way. Of course, in the bays from April to August, the DFG has kindly removed my common sense and good karma.

Posted by Ken Jones

Playing Devils Advocate —What difference should it make if the fish is pregnant or not? If you catch and keep any fish you are preventing it from having offspring at a later time.

Is there a feeling of guilt because you know the fish is pregnant? Is there a sense that the fish has reached a certain stage of pregnancy and thus deserves a chance to give birth? Is there an aversion to seeing the helpless, young, and immature offspring being born or aborted?

Why is there a different feeling when catching these fish than when catching fish that simply lay eggs, or catching these fish at a different time of the year when they are not full of youngsters?

(Again, I'm only throwing these out for discussion.)

Posted by pescare

"If you catch and keep any fish you are preventing it from having offspring at a later time." True, but not all fish make it to breeding stage for various reasons. If you take a young fish, there is a good chance it would never have produced offspring anyway. If you take a female about to give birth to live fish though, you're taking one of the lucky ones that did indeed make if along far enough to breed successfully. You are certainly taking more fish from the population.

"Why is there a different feeling when catching these fish than when catching fish that simply lay eggs, or catching these fish at a different time of the year when they are not full of youngsters?"

In my view at least, it's a game of odds. For a given number of live-birth fish or eggs laid, the live fish will produce far more viable young. If you take 100 eggs and 100 live babies, you've caused a lot more damage by taking the babies. Ed

Posted by lucy

Now that’s a good point. Every time you kill a fish, you are also killing all the offspring it might ever have had during the rest of its life, however long that might have been.

The thing is, "the rest of its life" might not be significantly longer even if you release it. A predator could come along two minutes later and gobble it up, and it would still end up dead.

My take on it: the predator doesn't waste its time worrying about such things, so why should I?

Posted by BajaShark

We fish, we release, we keep some... Let's be at peace with what we do, we are predators of life and sometimes we try to be managers of life. The real question for me is in general is if a given population is being hurt and if we care.... Let's be honest about the sport we practice... BajaShark

Posted by fishnchips

I agree with BajaShark. Perch is a for the most part pleantiful species. I don't think it would be wrong to take perch that may be pregnant. Well as long as you are planning to eat it! You never know, I do know the Korean culture eats small fish I would call fry. They just fry them up and you eat them whole. At this age the little fish are only about a half to maybe full inch long. Maybe there are other cultures that would do the same if they landed a pregnant perch! I've caught trout w/ eggs, I kept them for use with little bait bags. I didn't even give it a second thought. Basically, I don't think it's wrong as long as you have the right intentions for taking the fish!

....that's why they call it fishin' not catchin'...good ol' fishnchips!

Posted by baitfish

And if you keep a larger perch to make the same amount of meat that two perch would make... there's another one to throw into the hat.:) Generally I will release a perch if I see it is pregnant, and will rarely keep perch during a spawn anyway. But the times I will is when it is dropping babies, and I bring it to the water and drop them. That and throw a bigger grub on because you just chummed for halibut:) Also, perch will eat their young, so I think we are taking more care of the fry than they are:)

Great question Ken! Adam

I fish therefore I... spend too much money on gear:)

Posted by gjang

Having been versed in practical conservationism, primarily through this web site by the way, it seems that if we are to maintain fisheries for both preserving the sport and the species, it is best to give the species the best odds possible. Just guessing but I would also hope that this would improve the situation for all creatures throughout the food chain altogether and thereby maintain the variety of species both ecologically and for Sportfishing. George

Posted by Sinker

Last year I caught many Perch that when I landed them started to give birth right away. You should have seen me grabbing those little suckers and the Momma, jumping over the Sea Wall, climbing down the rocks to the ocean to release them hoping they would make it.

So why did I do this? I don’t like to see anything die for no reason and will do what I can to help out. Plus I looked at those little guys and kinda felt sorry that they would never have a chance if I didn’t do something. I posted on this last year as I wondered if they needed their mom to survive and the reply posts stated that no their Mom’s may actually eat them anyway. I am no Perch expert so I don’t know but I did see the little ones swim off.

So should you target them? I think not but this is just my opinion. My reason that one Perch has many babies in her, yes only some will make it but we need all we can get. Look at you folks in the Bay Area (Slinger) not being able to keep Perch during certain times of the year. Why? Because they feel the stock is being depleted? If that is the case then even more reason not to target them while pregnant.

Now when I started to catch them last year and saw they were giving birth I stopped targeting them and started using whole Anchovies hoping for a flattie, didn’t matter as these Perch were taking the whole Anchovies as well, even half of a Squid. Most of these Perch were consistently in the 15” range.

I guess it is like one of the earlier threads, Just because it is legal does not mean it is right. The only thing that really bummed me out was watching this other angler catching them and only keeping the fry to use for bait, actually if you will excuse me it kinda pissed me off.

All this talk of future off spring brings up an interesting memory. While I stationed in Germany if you ran off the road and took out a tree or grape vine etc. You had to make restitution to the owner for the tree/vine, the fruit they felt it would have provided over the next 5 years and the cost of what the lumber it would have produced (respectively). Interesting concept

Anyway just my two cents worth, personally I will not target them. You know I also believe that this is when most of the local Perch Derbies are going on. Go Figure…

Posted by baitfish

Perch derbies good point... Well the more weight the better your chances are of winning, so bigger fish. I know I will be fishing for perch during the spawn period since that is when the big fish are in the surf. But I will be releasing the majority of them. Unless like I said before, the perch was good sized, and was or had released its fry. It's a circle of life thing, it lived a while, it produced young and it is providing a meal for another. It is just a matter of timing of when we harvest a fish. And I think the best time is after it has served it's purpose, not before.


I fish therefore I... spend too much money on gear:)

Posted by cjk9013

I am not aware of any laws against it. However, if one has respect for nature, I think the tendency should be to release the pregnant fish so that they may go on and replenish the fishery for us.

Posted by avidangler

I'll release the females and the males simply because the majority of perch to me taste grainy. I catch halibut when they come in to spawn in Monterey, steelhead on their way to spawn, and I release most hatchery fish as well as all natives. Should I not fish river salmon? I think if we tried hard enough we could get a little carried away. I don't feel guilty for fishing. Just my take.-AA

Team "Make 'em say uhhhhh!"

Posted by caffeinehigh

If you are smart, you will put the fish back. Let them give birth so you and others can have more chances of catching more fish later on.

Posted by sharkshooter

Keep the mama and release the babies? If the fish starts releasing babies when you're bringing it up out of the water, is it ok to just let all the babies come out and keep the mom? Last year raysniper and I released all the pregnant perch, but we only knew they were pregnant because they started releasing babies right away. on the way home, we wondered if it did any good to release the moms - it's not like they take care of their kids, right? i think someone already said that they eat the kids. so by keeping the moms, are we protecting the babies?

Posted by blennyboy

This is an excellent question and line of discussion. The points made re: taking a fish (female) at any point precludes further reproduction are obvious, but bear mentioning. Unless the annual mortality rate between spawnings is "high", then the expected reproductive value of a female just prior to giving birth is not that much greater than that of a female a year away from doing so. Since most of the mortality in marine fishes — even those species that have high levels of maternal care such as live-bearing surfperch — occurs during the juvenile phase. As a result, the key is not harvesting a fish until it has had a (probabilistic) chance to replace itself — perhaps a few spawning cycles after maturity. Hence, the implementation of minimum size limits for fish that can be released or minimum mesh sizes on commercial gear, etc.

I mention this only to underscore that (depending on adult fishes' mortality rates), given that a fish is harvested, when it is harvested (i.e., before or after birthing in a given year) is likely to have a much smaller mathematical effect than one might expect relative to the effect that harvest has in the first place. In other words — again, assuming that natural adult mortality rates are sufficiently low--the decision to harvest a fish or to release a fish has a greater population-level impact than whether the fish is gravid at harvest or not. Now if you're uncomfortable keeping a gravid fish, sobeit. I am, and try to release females that are clearly gravid. But we should recognize that such a choice is based more on a personal preference, rather than having a strong quantitative basis.

Cheers, blennyboy

Posted by RaySniper

blennyboy: “the key is not harvesting a fish until it has had a (probabilistic) chance to replace itself--perhaps a few spawning cycles after maturity. Hence, the implementation of minimum size limits for fish that can be released or minimum mesh sizes on commercial gear, etc.” Yep.

Posted by pEsCaDoR619

Is there a way to know if this particular pregnant female has already given birth to previous broods of fry? If there was some way of determining that, then i would not feel guilty of keeping it if I knew that it has had at least one chance to procreate. This is why I believe some anglers put self imposed slot limits on fish they catch. Take a bass for example. They don’t reach sexual maturity until they’ve reached ~12" or 5yrs old. Keeping a 12 incher would be taking a chance that that fish might not have had the chance to mate. Having a slot limit of, say, 13-15" gives a fish that extra time to mate (between the time it takes the fish to get from 12-13" long). Then after 15" most say that the fish doesn’t taste quite as good, and being a bigger fish, it makes more babies due to its size and dominance. And then you have the huge ones that break 20" that are probably gonna die next season anyway (exception: calico), so that wouldn’t be so bad either. So Ken, is there a way? I’d like to know, since I’ve been planning to get out there after them perchies and you raised a very interesting question.

Posted by John Anderson

Perch are so fun to catch and are very boney. I believe that this is one of the rare species that are not caught by the commercial fishermen. To keep at least one specie plentiful, why not catch and release all of the perch that we catch?

Posted by whiskerfish

Foot in the mouth. Okay boys and girls. Ken did it again with these mind-twisting questions. Most of us have the same response and thinking toward this question but a line must be drawn. Before I go on, I do stand the same ground as most of you. But here is my input. We are fisherpeople. We fish for fun, to keep, and whatever other reasons. We are shore people who rely on mostly spawning seasons when these fish come close to shore to spawn to get our chance at catching them. So is it a guilt to catch them... I don't think so. And is it a guilt to keep them, maybe... maybe not.

In the wild survival is a statistic and/or a chance/luck. We act to favor the specie when we release it but that doesn't guarantee its survival. We can choose not to fish for them but then we are giving up the opportunity to fight a nice perch. Especially when they are schooling like that. Why do you think they call it a "Spawn"? They reproduce in mass to maximize the chance of survival of their young and of course themselves. Nature has it all figured out. And here is another thing. Are all perch fishermen as successful? In fact heck are all fishermen as successful? :)

Human many times mix their maternal/paternal instinct into their decision making. We are creature of feelings and emotions. Seeing live young hit us harder than a pouch of eggs. We immediately relate it to us because we bare live young ourselves.

Here is my take. We all fish for our own reasons. Whether is it wrong to keep a pregnant or birthing fish or even fish for them at the spawn time is always in the eyes of the other person. Sure we can maximize the population but what if what we are doing actually is bad for them. Like over population? A mass die off due to low food availability/abundance? Ever wonder what would happen if all fishing was banned (commercial and sport) for let say 5 or 10 years?

The beauty is we are all individuals. We all do and act differently. Heck even from day to day. There is always an equilibrium as long as everything stays constant. What I mean is life is a network of intertwining relationships. For example, if one day like tomorrow, we cannot go to the market to buy food, do you think we will still release those fish? Hmmmmmm. Life always find a way!

And on a footnote, hmmmm nevermind. Think I've rambled enough. WF

Posted by: SBBrett

I kept a pregnant one once...It was a 14" barred surfperch and I had no clue it was pregnant. I took it home to filet it, and it started pooping out babies. I couldn't do anything about it, so I threw all of them away. I felt bad, but it did not stop me from cooking up that momma.

In general, I would always choose to release any perch that started having babies after it was caught, and would rather not target them at those times.