Delaware’s Live Release Citation Program – A Catch and Release Alternative
With weather conditions finally starting to improve, it shouldn’t be long before local catch reports improve and area tackle shops will experience a sharp increase in the number of fish being weighed for state citation awards. But, while many fishermen prefer the traditional weigh-in method of qualifying their trophy fish for a state citation award, Delaware’s “live release” award program offers an option for sportsmen who would rather release than keep their catch.
Recognizing the increasing emphasis on catch-and-release among local sport fishermen, the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife offers a live release citation award program for anglers who catch trophy-sized fish but prefer to let them go to fight another day.
Like those who weigh their fish in at a state-approved weigh station, fishermen who choose the live release option and meet the minimum “trophy” size standards for the species are awarded a catch recognition patch. Live release eligibility is established by overall length of the fish, rather than weight recorded at an official weigh station. Entries must be measured from jaw with the mouth closed to the tip of the tail, and the fish has to be released alive as soon as it is measured. The measurement also must be verified by a witness who signs the entry form.
When the program was initiated some years ago, the minimum qualifying lengths were set to reflect the average length of fish that would earn an award if it were weighed and entered in the state’s regular sport fishing tournament. For example, the average length of a 30-pound striped bass – the minimum weight for a traditional citation award – is 40 inches. So, the minimum qualifying length for a live release award for the species is set at 40 inches.
The minimum lengths for 2015 freshwater awards in inches are: Largemouth bass – 20; smallmouth bass – 17; American shad – 23; chain pickerel – 24; white perch, yellow perch, crappie – 12; trout – 16; bluegill and red ear sunfish – 10; carp – 29; catfish – 25; striped bass – 40; striper hybrid – 22; and musky – 30.
Minimum qualifying lengths for inshore saltwater species are: sharks, including mako – 66; black and red drum – 45; bluefish – 33; flounder, tautog – 25; sheepshead, Spanish mackerel – 22; black sea bass – 17; weakfish, gray triggerfish – 20; porgy – 14; kingfish – 13; and Atlantic croaker – 19.
Applications for Delaware’s Live Release Award program are available at any Sport Fishing Tournament weigh station or online at the Division of Fish and Wildlife website. Applications must be mailed within 30 days after the catch and include the anglers signature and the signature of a witness verifying the recorded measurement and the live release of the fish.
While the live release program offers conservation-minded fishermen the opportunity to earn trophy recognition for fish they return to the water, potential state record fish should be weighed in at a Division of Fish and Wildlife sanctioned weigh station.