As the former Conservation Director for the Minnesota Bass Federation I’ve had some opportunities to look at bass tournament morality from a number of different perspectives. Research findings, DNR and tournament study results with large and small tourneys. In this past MN legislative session the fishing contest rules were amended. Part of the changes call for development of Best Management Practices for all catch and release contests. To accomplish this the MN DNR will bring together Tournament organizers and participants to help develop new practices. Summer Walleye events are required to catch and harvest all fish, while Bass and Northern Pike events can successfully return fish to the resource. However based on numerous studies, we are coming to believe that we need to move away from holding fish for extended periods of time in plastic bags during weigh-in's. This means educating both large and small tournament organizers of what not to do.
When using a plastic bag with only one to two gallons of water in it and then placing a large number of fish in it, the water in that bag reaches lethal depleted oxygen levels in less then two minutes. Then added to this is the time spent with the fish completely out of water: measuring and weighing them. When this stress is combined with the extended periods of time in a plastic bag, hypoxia becomes fatal. It also follows that larger fish reach toxic levels quicker due to their needs for H²0. And while it will appear that most of these fish will swim away, the hypoxia effect usually results in death within a few days.
If contests are to continue to use plastic bags, an improvement would be to instruct anglers not to bag fish until instructed to do so, weigh by boat number and control the time; fish are kept in the bags. This might slow down the weigh-in, but it is a price and ethic that needs to be practiced by both large and small tournaments. Better for us as bass anglers to make changes, then letting government and the public impose sanctions that are illogical. One big tournament fish kill on a lake can galvanize the sentiment the entire area against tournaments