While it isn't something that happens often, last weekend on the beach at Nickle Lake, an exhausted but good-sized fish was hanging out in shallow waters to escape a predator that had already bitten it once.

One child, picking up the fish and holding it out of the water for all to see, drew a crowd of children who marveled at the up-close specimen. Bystanders and swimmers alike were in awe of the rarity of seeing a fish up close. The fish was likely in shock from the prior attack, in order to be so unable to swim away from the curious hands. 

This is according to Senior Conservation Officer with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, Lindsey Leko, who was contacted about the incident in real time. He said the only way to know if a fish is viable is to let it swim away. If it doesn't, he noted, it likely is too tired to even protect itself.

"This sometimes happens, where it's just sometimes hanging out in the shallows and it's resting," he explained. "There could be a variety of different things that would cause it to do that, but for someone who is angling, there is pretty much a set way that we want to educate the public on how to release fish if they're not going to take it home and retain it and eat it."

However, this one was not caught by angling at all.

"Unfortunately, this obviously created a bit of a gathering of kids, and with a gathering of kids around it, it probably was pretty stressed out, and you think about all those kids standing in the mud, in the shallow water, the fish really has nowhere to go," he commented. "Your water quality is going to be less, because of all the mud and all the silt that the kids are kicking up, so, it's probably best for one person to deal with release of the fish."


While this wasn't a simple matter of 'catch and release', the release part is only successful if it's done as quickly as possible, and, if you're keeping the fish in the water.

"If you happen to catch a fish and you're using a barbell or something, it's pretty easy just to take a pair of pliers, grab it, snip it right out of the mouth, and then the fish never leaves the water, which is great, because we all know that fish that are removed from the water have got a less chance of survival than fish that just stay in the water." 

Leko said it also depends on where the where the fish is hooked.

"So if you have one that's just hooked around the mouth part, those ones there are pretty easy to to free, but sometimes you get fish, and actually the northern Pike are especially prone to this, they'll actually swallow it, and it'll go right back into the gills and right back into the throat, and they'll be bleeding," he noted. "Those fish have a much lower rate of survival than any fish that might be hooked on the outer portion of the mouth, so normally what ends up happening is we'll release it and it'll swim away, but in the end it'll probably bleed to death." 

"Sometimes people will catch them further down and into the stomach area, and they'll cut the hook because the thought process is that the hook will rust away. Well, there's no scientific data to support that at all, and even for those that cut the hook that deep inside the throat, the chances are pretty good that that hook has affected the survivability of that fish."

Leko said mortality is also often affected through exhaustion. 

"A fish fights, and it fights, and it fights, and once you get it up to the boat, it is completely exhausted. So think about yourself running up and down the stairs of the CPP, or just exerting yourself to the full extent that you possibly can, and then expecting just to run away. That's not normally what would end up happening. I know I'd be keeled over breathing heavily for a while, and I don't think we can expect any difference in us from a fish."

He said once a large fish is exhausted, the muscles create lactic acid, which is fatal to the fish. "And then the muscles become overheated after a long fight, and it just has a hard time recovering from that." 

With regard to a fish that shows up in the shallows, though, he said that hearing about how one of the children continued to hold onto the fish for more than 20 minutes, the chances were good that the fish passed away once it was released.

"Or it was in the end probably attacked again because it's not able to defend itself, or swim away, or hide," he noted.

"That's Mother Nature, big fish eat little fish, and little fish eat smaller fish, and that's probably how it goes," Leko explained, adding that normally, a healthy, energized fish will swim away every time, unless they're exhausted from shock.

"Sometimes they'll just hang out in those shallow waters and try and recover enough to swim off, so the kids think they're helping, but in reality they're causing a lot more damage to that fish because every time you bring that fish in and out of the water, you're having an adverse effect on it," he elaborated. 

"As you handle that fish, there are multiple things that are happening. One, you're causing stress. Also, the handling of the fish is removing the slime. All that slime, that we all hate to deal with, is an integral and very important of the external structure of that fish, that protects it from parasites, and protects it from disease, and it's also a lubricant that helps it move through the water."

He said handling a fish has a definite effect on its survival rate, as does taking it out of the water. In fact, he said not being in water can damage the fish's spinal nerves and vertebrae. 

"There's no rehabilitation place for fish," he clarified. "Nobody would have came out and grabbed the fish and tried, like we have for animals with animal rehab. Fish live, fish die, they go right back into that ecosystem and they're consumed by different species that will live off of those decomposing carcasses."

Leko said he doesn't blame the kids for being interested in the fish, as they probably were trying to help it.  

"But in the end, lifting it out of the water as many times as they did, and all standing around it probably didn't do a whole lot and I'm guessing that when they all left, that fish probably just rolled over into the water or moved into some deeper waters and and probably perished anyways."

While curiosity led to a true learning experience for some area children, it shall stand as a lesson for all that fish only survive underwater.