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With an increase in angling participation and catch and release (C&R), to be effective, anglers must observe best C&R practices. Best C&R practices include barbless hooks, keeping fish wet, minimizing fish handling, using rubber nets, and using wet bare hands (or wet latex/nitrile gloves). All these practices aim at releasing fish unharmed so the fish can continue to grow and thrive as intended. When I say fish, for this article, I am primarily talking about freshwater fish, trout, pike, salmon, musky, and the lot. Barbless hooks are easier to remove, which decreases fish handling. Rubber nets are softer and less abrasive compared to traditional mesh nets. Keeping fish wet keeps the fish’s protective mucus that coats their skin functional. The mucus that coats a fish’s skin has a wide range of functions including protection from bacterial and viral infections, osmotic regulation, respiration, feeding, and reproduction. In fact, epidermal mucus has been found to be a major determinant of fish health. Knowing all this, why in the world do tailing gloves still exist? An even better question, why are people using them to hold freshwater fish that they intend to release?
Tailing gloves are a glove made of mesh or cotton that an angler can quickly slip on the hand that facilitates the holding and gripping of a fish. As most anglers know, gripping fish can be tricky, due to the vital mucus that covers the fish. Tailing gloves quickly and efficiently cut through this mucus, misplacing or removing the mucus from the fish, making handling much easier. Tailing gloves are frequently used to grip the peduncle of the fish (tapered region behind the dorsal fin, but before the tail (caudal) fin). Tailing gloves can be bought at all the major stores and come in a wide variety, from thick cotton, to a synthetic mesh, they all essentially do the same task, misplace or cut through slime so an angler can grip the fish.
If you’re looking to release a fish as healthy as it can be, it’s clear, removing or disrupting the fish’s protective mucus will hinder your ability to practice catch and release effectively. In 2010, the Panel on Animal Health and Welfare of the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety stated abrasive gloves should not be used to handle fish if they are to be released. So, why do they still exist? Why are fish tailing gloves frequently seen on Instagram, Facebook, and the myriad of social platforms that anglers love to boast about their catches on? Logically, there are only two explanations – 1) people are unaware of the harm they may cause (this is where fisheries education comes in) and 2) people are still selling them. Why would a company, like Cabela’s, who religiously preach about conservation still be selling tailing gloves as a means to hold a 12” brook trout? A contradictory message that many fly-fishing companies are still projecting.
There is hope in a crude an entertaining, but successful sense. Social media movements, such as #canceltailinggloves started by @Puristonthefly on IG (an anonymous account that targets poor fish handling across the app) have begun to spring up quite rapidly. @Puristonthefly has a sticker, which you can buy, that simply states, “cancel tailing gloves”. Upon asking, @Puristonthefly stated, “No one should be using them [tailing gloves] on trout unless you are elderly, disabled, or a young child. There’s absolutely no reason a grown adult or teenager shouldn’t be able to hold a fish properly regardless of size… [tailing gloves] remove the slime coat, which removes the fish’s immune system.” When asked why start the cancel tailing glove movement, they replied, “I was tired of seeing people mess up native steelhead out here in the PNW. I saw people using them [tailing gloves] for 16” trout and it became so tiresome. People started asking how they could raise awareness, hence the stickers.” Other IG pages, such as @FFBI_official, have also started their own movements, exposing illegal, fraudulent, and appalling behavior publicly displayed by some anglers on the internet. If you’re aware of the accounts, you may have mixed feelings about them, as they hide behind anonymity, and occasionally say or do some things that might cross the line. However, their actions have helped educate many thousands of people on why tailing gloves are detrimental to fish health. You may not agree with their tactics, but the bottom line is this, they’re educating and getting a good message out there that is putting fish first and not the angler.
I want to be clear about two things. First, tailing gloves have their place. If you’re intention is to kill the fish, who cares right? Glove or no glove, the end is the same. So i’m not saying get rid of them entirely, no, I believe they have their place. Secondly, nobody should be aggressively yelling or heckling those who are using tailing gloves on the river. I am the CEO of Maine Fly Guys and I truly believe there is more power in fisheries education than mindless absurdities. Try educating the angling community. Try asking, “Do you know that tailing gloves damage fish mucus which is vital for fish health?” A sincere approach, with a focus on improving our collective conservation efforts, is infinitely more successful than calling an angler an idiot on a social media platform with no coherent argument. So, I write this article, with a plea to all conservationists, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts, educate one another. We all want what’s best for the fish, the deer, our forests, we just might not all know what that is.