The Parent Trap

Recreational fishing could inadvertently target male fish that take the best care of their young, researchers report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study authors compared two types of largemouth bass, a popular fishing target. One line of “highly vulnerable” bass was more prone to attacking lures and getting caught, while the other “less vulnerable” line was more likely to avoid capture.

In experimental ponds, females preferred to mate with males from the more vulnerable line, the scientists found. Those males also proved to be better parents: They spent more time guarding and taking care of eggs, and they were more aggressive toward predators that might threaten their nests. The vulnerable male bass fathered 740 young fish, while the less vulnerable males fathered only 449.

The results suggest that recreational fishing may lead to “selective removal of those individuals with the greatest potential for high reproductive success,” the team writes. And since fishers often target species that care for their young, “management implications of this study extend well beyond the largemouth bass.” Roberta Kwok | 6 December 2012

Source: Sutter, D.A.H. et al. 2012. Recreational fishing selectively captures individuals with the highest fitness potential. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doi: 10.1073/pnas.1212536109.

Image © Dewitt |



  • Fisher December 12, 2012 at 10:01 am

    I haven’t ready the publication, but an important discussion point to consider (and possible follow-up study)is the incidence of catch-and-release. My understanding is that most people who target largemouth bass do so for sport, not subsistence. Assuming individuals return to nest guarding behavior soon after release, releasing captured fish would effectively negate evolutionary selection for individuals with poor fitness and low aggression.


    • Andle December 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm

      It depends on the release method, for example, at bass tourmaments, LMB are released at the dock after being kept in a livewell for an extended period of time. The dock may be miles from the point of capture and while these bass have been shown to often return to their home, it is not always the case.


    • Andrea December 12, 2012 at 4:12 pm

      Also – what condition is the fish in when it is released. Do they get infections from having a hook puncture their gills/flesh? It is known that they feel pain – but what is known about the injuries they are inflicted with from this sport?


    • Brian January 8, 2013 at 8:38 am

      I am familiar with this body of reserach, and one of the associated findings was that nest depredation (predators eating young bass) occurs very quickly upon the male leaving the nest. Even if the male returns quickly, most of the offspring are gone. Natural populations in fished lakes are comprised mostly of ‘poor parents’.


  • History of Fly Fishing Vise | MidCurrent | MidCurrent December 13, 2012 at 1:01 am

    […] If you needed more backing for the principle of catch and release, new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has revealed that the best bass “parents” are targeted by recreational fishing. Thereby decreasing survivability of the young and ultimately, decreasing good fishing. […]


  • Matt January 8, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Other studies have shown egg predators often move onto nests immediately, so that even during the short period when the male is getting caught, released, and moving back to the nest, most of the eggs or fry may be lost.


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