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The conservation ANGLE

BHUMIKA K.
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Derek D’souza, who won the firstever all-India salt water angling tournament recently in the Andamans,tells BHUMIKA K. why the catch-a-fish-and-let-it-go policy works great for conservation

“Most people have a misconception that if you hook a fish, it will die. It won’t. I’ve seen fish with four to five wounds in their mouth that have healed. It means they’ve been caught that many times and have survived it,” says Derek D’souza. That’s a thought that should have you falling hook, line, and sinker, for the concept of angling — catching fish for sport and safely releasing them back into waters.

As part of the All India Game Fishing Association, Derek too has been instrumental in teaching children and adults the rules of the game — how to catch fish, how to hold and handle them so as not to harm them, how to weigh, measure and tag them and finally how to release them safely into the waters again. The Association has over 1,000 members. At the Neil Island in Andaman, at the angling contest organised by the Association about two weeks ago, 38-year-old Derek won the first place for catching a 75-inch shovel-nosed guitar fish.

Derek’s interest in fishing started when he went fishing in his father’s hometown, Mangalore, using a hand-line. In 2003, he bought his first rod-and-reel, and by 2005 he was serious about angling, after realising the importance of not harming the environment. “Till then we would catch fish to eat!”

Ever since, he’s been angling in the U.S.A., U.K., Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysia. “I slowly got interested in big fish — often called monster fish — because they are a challenge to catch,” he says. “I’m a species angler. And now it’s a quest…I have a long list of what I want to catch and have now caught about 12 species,” he says. In 2012, he caught a 65-pound Mahseer along the Cauvery, and a 121-pound Goonch in Uttarakhand, says Derek who’s also a member of the International Game Fishing Association. “The important point is angling gives money for conservation,” he says.

It’s fascinating to hear Derek as he gives details of the various aspects of angling — of shore-based angling, boat angling, using live baits, or plastic lures (plastic fish called poppers that lure bigger fish to eat it), of changing the rig to catch “bottom feeders” (or fish that swim deeper and therefore the bait has to sink deeper).

Right now he’s researching on the Sturgeon, one of the oldest fish in the world, often referred to as “dinosaur fish”, which he hopes to angle in California this December-end (his wife hails from the U.S.A.). India’s own most-sought after large game fish are the Goonch and Mahseer, he says. After angling of the Silver Mahseer was banned along the Cauvery in Karnataka, most anglers head to north India to catch the Golden Mahseer.

Derek talks of how India needs to start the now expected process of tagging fish in order to study various species, their migration, their own growth. “Abroad, people use satellite tags to ‘live track’ fish. You can even tag a fish in its stomach to find out its eating patterns.” He also points out that while the weight and length of a fish are often used to determine the winner of an angling contest, it’s now becoming more common for winners to be decided on the farthest-travelling fish (specially for fish like the Marlin). Results are announced 30 days after the contest — “this way you get to know that you have released the fish safely back and it is well and has travelled a good distance”.

Derek dispels any ideas that angling is an expensive sport. “A decent rod, reel and line should come at about Rs. 2,500,” he says. But adds: “I encourage all anglers, whether they are hand-line or bamboo-pole anglers to join AIGFA (www.aigfa.org) so that we can grow into one strong angling community in India.”

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