Sunday, February 1, 2009

Catch and release in the home of the Khan

Many globetrotting anglers release all their fish as a matter of course. But acceptance of this conservation ethic varies significantly by country and culture. In Switzerland, for example, voluntarily releasing a legal-sized fish can leave you liable for prosecution. And in nearly all Asian nations (with the possible exception of Japan) catch-and-cook is the order of the day.

Thanks to an unusual coalition, however, catch-and-release has established its first stronghold in the land of Genghis Khan. Mongolia’s lakes and rivers provide habitat for many rare and unusual species, but the taimen, an extremely large and long-lived member of the salmon family, is the country’s most prized gamefish.

In April 2008, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced that local governments along a 200-mile stretch of an Amur River tributary have established the Asian continent’s first taimen sanctuary. Developed in cooperation with Montana-based Mongolia River Outfitters (my employer for the past three seasons), the agreement seeks not only to conserve taimen, but to protect an entire watershed. The new regulations allow international anglers to flyfish with single, barbless hooks, but restrict riverbank development and prohibit the use of motorboats.

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