The fish we catch and keep to eat are for most of us a reward for our effort that goes beyond sport and ties us to the principal reason that most of our ancestors fished. For them, fish as food was right up there with, and usually more important than, anything having to do with sport.
Today, catching and then releasing fish so they can be caught again has become a vital part of fishing. In traditional fashion, however, most anglers still want to harvest at least some of their catch.
For going on two decades now, we have promoted "selective harvest," an approach that captures the best aspects of "catch and release" angling, on one hand, and "catch and keep" angling, on the other. We suggest that anglers harvest fish selectively as a matter of conscience and conservation concern, and because fish are nutritious, delicious, and (when harvested selectively) a renewable resource.
Anglers who practice selective harvest, where appropriate, let a portion of their catch go, particularly those large fish that are much less abundant than the smaller fish of the same species. They release 3-pound bass in favor of harvesting several 12-inch bass, the making's of a great meal. Or they take home a mess of abundant panfish of a medium-size, perhaps perch, bluegills, or crappies. This can help to sustain good fishing. Meanwhile, we also continue a tradition of eating some fish.
When fish are used this way, they continue to be renewable. We can continue to have some fish to eat and plenty of good-quality fish available for sportfishing--so long as we also protect habitat, for habitat remains the most basic key to sustaining populations of wildlife.
Although we have perhaps done the most to promote this simple practical concept, it isn't an In-Fisherman concept, but one that belongs to the entire angling world. Our hope would be that more magazines and conservation organizations would do more to promote the concept as a sensible approach to fishing.