As an angler in Alabama, it’s crucial to be aware of the state’s diverse aquatic wildlife and the possibility of accidentally catching a protected species. Whether you’re a seasoned fisherman or a beginner, understanding how to handle these situations is essential for the well-being of the animal and to ensure you’re following state regulations. Did you know that Alabama is home to several fish species protected under state and federal laws? This article will guide you through identifying these species, understanding the regulations, and knowing what to do if you accidentally catch one.

Identifying Alabama’s Protected Fish Species

Alabama is home to several fish species that are protected under state and federal laws, such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Some notable examples include:

  • Gulf Sturgeon: A large, prehistoric-looking fish with bony plates along its back. Can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh over 200 pounds.
  • Alabama Shad: A silvery, herring-like fish that migrates from the ocean to rivers to spawn. Averages 1-2 pounds.
  • Alabama Sturgeon: A small, slender sturgeon found only in the Mobile River basin. Rarely exceeds 30 inches.
  • Paddlefish: Has a long, paddle-shaped snout. Can grow up to 5 feet long and weigh over 100 pounds.

Familiarizing yourself with the identifying features of these species is crucial for quickly recognizing them if accidentally caught. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources provides detailed information and images to help you identify protected species.

Fishing Regulations for Protected Species

In Alabama, fishing regulations strictly prohibit the intentional targeting, harvesting, or possession of protected species. If you accidentally catch one, you must release it immediately, unharmed. To minimize the risk of accidentally snagging a protected species:

  • Use appropriate gear: Use circle hooks instead of J-hooks to reduce deep hooking injuries.
  • Avoid using live bait: Live bait can attract a wider variety of fish, increasing the chances of catching a protected species.
  • Be mindful of seasons: Some protected species are more active during certain seasons.
  • Watch for posted signs: Look for signs indicating the presence of protected species in the area.

What to Do if You Accidentally Catch a Protected Fish

If you accidentally snag a protected species, follow these steps:

  1. Identify the species: Quickly determine if it’s protected. If unsure, treat it as protected until confirmed.
  2. Minimize handling: Avoid removing the fish from the water if possible. Use wet hands or gloves if you must handle it.
  3. Remove the hook carefully: If the hook is visible and accessible, remove it with pliers. If deeply embedded, cut the line close to the hook.
  4. Gently release the fish: Release it head first. If exhausted, revive it by holding it upright and moving it forward in the water until it swims away.
  5. Report the catch: Contact the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to report the accidental catch with details on the species, location, and condition.

Time is critical when dealing with an accidentally caught protected species. Work quickly and calmly to minimize stress on the animal and increase its chances of survival upon release.

Best Practices to Avoid Accidental Catches

To minimize the risk of accidentally catching protected species:

  • Educate yourself: Learn to identify protected species and stay informed about fishing regulations.
  • Practice catch and release: Especially in areas known to have protected species.
  • Spread awareness: Inform fellow anglers about proper handling of accidental catches.
  • Support conservation efforts: Participate in efforts to protect and restore habitats for threatened and endangered species.

Preserving Alabama’s Aquatic Wildlife

As responsible anglers, it’s our duty to protect Alabama’s diverse aquatic wildlife, including its threatened and endangered species. By educating ourselves, using appropriate fishing techniques, and knowing how to handle accidental catches, we can minimize our impact on these vulnerable populations.

Remember, if you accidentally snag a protected species, time is critical. Follow the steps outlined in this guide to safely release the animal and report the incident to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Together, we can ensure that Alabama’s fishing heritage continues to thrive while preserving its natural wonders for generations to come.


Fishing in Alabama offers a unique and rewarding experience, but it comes with the responsibility of protecting the state’s aquatic wildlife. By following the guidelines and best practices outlined in this article, you can enjoy your fishing adventures while contributing to the conservation of Alabama’s precious fish species. Stay informed, be prepared, and always prioritize the well-being of the fish and the environment.

What should I do if I’m unsure whether I’ve caught a protected species?

If you’re uncertain about the identity of a caught fish or animal, treat it as a protected species and follow the steps for safe release outlined above. You can also take a photo of the animal and contact the ADCNR for assistance in identification.

Can I keep a protected species if it’s already dead when I reel it in?

No, it is illegal to possess protected species, even if they are found dead. If you accidentally catch a protected species that is deceased, report it to the ADCNR immediately.

What are the penalties for intentionally targeting or harming protected species?

Intentionally targeting, catching, or harming protected species is a violation of state and federal laws, such as the Endangered Species Act. Penalties may include fines, imprisonment, and revocation of fishing licenses.

How can I report violations or suspicious activities related to protected species?

If you witness any violations or suspicious activities involving protected species, contact the ADCNR’s 24-hour hotline at 1-800-272-4263 or report it online through their website.

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