Curiosity Killed the… Fish: Personality Linked to Angling Vulnerability

Most anglers have moments when they feel taunted by the occasional fish they consider the “perfect catch”; that one fish they can never seem to hook. Evidence suggests that they may be wasting their time – some fish just aren’t the curious type. A study completed at the University of Eastern Finland and the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute links personalities of fish to the likelihood of getting caught.

Some fish are just more curious than others. While some traits are heritable, others are learnt whilst growing up. For brown trout (Salmo trutta), the behaviours they learn seem to be influenced by the complexity of the environments they are reared in.

A study carried out in the Paltamo Unit of the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute, used long-term observations to analyse if behaviours predict the vulnerability to fishing in brown trout reared in traditional and enriched hatchery environments.

In enriched hatchery rearing, ponds are modified to resemble natural environments more than in traditional hatchery rearing: Ponds have structures providing the fish with shelter and water levels, current speeds and directions are altered at irregular intervals.

Brown trout reared in traditional environments were far more curious and eager to explore new surroundings than fish reared in enriched environments and this behaviour also makes them more vulnerable to fishing. Researchers suggest that fishing modifies the heritable behavioural traits of fish by favouring the cautious, not the curious.

As well as exploratory behaviour, the ability of the fish to find their own natural food source is associated with fitness and therefore vulnerability. The introduction of natural elements to hatcheries enhances the later survival of fish released into the wild, as fish grown in enriched environments learn to find food and avoid being fished more often. The probability of brown trout being caught also grew as fish density in the experimental ponds increased.

The information highlighted in the study will help towards conservation efforts of fish stocks as well as help maintain “sport” in the angling communities.

The study was published electronically in Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences:

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Kira Coley
​​​​I am a freelance writer specialising in science, technology and the environment. My work has featured in many of the top professional industry magazines including the 'Marine Technology Reporter', 'Marine Scientist', 'ECO Magazine' and 'International Ocean Systems'. I write to share the fascinating wonders of science with the world and highlight the importance of technological advancements in this era of science, discovery and exploration. I have worked in many locations as a marine researcher including Sicily, Madagascar and Scotland, as well as for charities, NGOs and marine technology specialists all over the UK. I have also been recently appointed as a lecturer in science communication at the University of Portsmouth. Follow me on twitter @KiraMColey

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