Fishing is highly popular worldwide and a dominant use of many fish stocks (Cooke & Cowx 2004). While recreational fisheries were traditionally harvest-dominated, catch and-release has become a major practice in many developed countries, and is growing in popularity in developing countries due to a combination of increasing harvest regulations and shifting angler priorities. (Cowx 2002; FAO 2012; Freire et al. 2012; Brownscombe et al. 2014a). Catch-and-release angling is a management and conservation strategy that assumes a large proportion of released fish survive and experience limited fitness consequences. However, fishing-related stressors (hooking, handling, exhaustive physical exercise, air exposure) often elicit physiological disturbances, physical injuries, and behavioural impairments that can lead to delayed mortality or reduced fitness (Davis 2002; Arlinghaus et al. 2007; Cooke and Schramm 2007). It is therefore essential to understand the mechanisms that contribute to these negative effects, and develop conservation-minded angling practices to ensure the sustain ability of recreational fisheries and the conservation of exploited fish species.
Fish, either wild or stocked, are a critical resource for the health and maintenance of robust aquatic systems. Fishing is not only one of the largest past-times in America, but harvesting fish is an important component in a growing movement that is increasingly focused on safe and sustainable sources of locally produced food. In many cases, however, fish caught via hook and line are released because of regulations (e.g., below harvestable size) and the intended outcome of the release is for the fish to be healthy, grow, and be harvested for food when caught another day. There is also a growing movement where anglers voluntarily practice catch-and-release to help maintain healthy fish stocks. In either case, the outcome of the release event depends greatly on socio-ecological drivers that influence the motivation of anglers, how anglers perceive their role in the conservation of targeted fish species, and how these species respond to angling stress under conditions ranging from prolonged air exposure to increased thermal stress related to climate change and other anthropogenic disturbances. Given that fish populations rely on healthy water bodies embedded in interconnected watersheds, anglers themselves could prove to be an important stakeholder group when it comes to ecosystem conservation from local to regional scales. Since nearly all watersheds in New England are used for food production and because aquaculture focuses on stocking for put-and-take fisheries, understanding why and how anglers target fish offers a variety of insights into the conservation of aquatic food systems and broader environmental concerns throughout the region..