Sport fishing


Sport fishing can be damaging to the conservation and welfare of the fish, to other non-target animals, and to the environment.

What is it?

Sport fishing, or recreational fishing, is fishing for pleasure or competition, in contrast to commercial or subsistence fishing. It is most commonly practiced with a rod, line, and other associated equipment, although some recreational fishers mimic commercial fishing methods on a smaller scale using various types of nets and other gear.

What you should know

Sport fishing is often quoted as being the world’s largest participation sport. The industry supports a huge infrastructure of jobs and associated industries in many countries. In 2011, sport fishing was estimated to be worth around US$115 billion to the US economy alone, directly or indirectly supporting over 800,000 jobs. Sport fishers often pay fees and taxes which arguably contribute to conservation efforts.

However, sport fishing can be very damaging:

  • Prolonged “battles” with fish, which are a particular feature of certain types of sport fishing such as “big game fishing” for larger species such as tuna, marlin, sailfish or shark, can be extremely stressful and damaging to the fish, resulting in significant animal welfare concerns.
  • The discarding of damaged or used fishing gear into the environment can create huge problems for other animals, for example, fishing line is often discarded near or in the waterways and is capable of entangling just about any animal that comes into contact with it, including marine and terrestrial mammals and birds, domestic pets and livestock.
  • “Ghost nets” (damaged or unwanted fishing nets abandoned in the water) are a particular feature of commercial fisheries, although they can also result from some types of recreational fishing, for example recreational gill netting which is widely used in New Zealand. These ghost nets present a threat of entanglement to many animals, including fish, aquatic birds and mammals.
  • Weights or “sinkers”, used in rod-and-line fishing, are traditionally made from lead. Large accumulations of lead weights have built up in many wetlands and waterways where sport fishing is commonly practiced, and this has led to high incidences of lead poisoning, particularly among diving birds such as swans, geese and ducks.
  • The massive interest in sport fishing in some countries has led to the introduction or artificial enhancement of popular species, to the detriment of indigenous species.
  • The development of infrastructure associated with popular sport fishing areas can also lead to environmental degradation of important wetlands and waterways, through building and pollution.
  • In some circumstances, the popularity of sport fishing may result in the direct depletion of fish stocks. This is of particular concern where sport fishers target species already heavily fished by commercial fishers, such as some “big game” marine fish. Although the practice of catch-and-release can help reduce this impact, the process of catching the fish usually results in physical injuries, which can compromise its ability to survive following its release.

What you can do

  • Fish are known to experience fear, distress and pain. If you care about animal welfare, don’t participate in sport fishing activities which involve barbaric or prolonged methods of catching fish.
  • Avoid participating in sport fishing activities involving non-sustainable or damaging practices such as the introduction of non-native fish, fish derived from farms, or fishing for species which are in decline.
  • Never discard rubbish, particularly fishing lines, nets or other fishing paraphernalia, into the environment. Always take all your rubbish away for responsible disposal.
  • Never use lead weights as “sinkers”. Lead can be extremely damaging, particularly to waterfowl, and inert alternatives exist.
  • If you are considering participating in sport fishing activities at a holiday destination, make sure your tour operator, resort, hotel or agent can provide information on any applicable regulations, and operate a code of practice aimed at minimising the negative impacts of sport fishing. Always abide by local regulations and restrictions, and encourage others to do so.
  • If you suspect unsustainable, illegal or damaging activities, tell your agent or tour operator. You can also contact the tourism department of the country you are in, and the embassy or high commission of that country on your return home, to express your concerns.
  • For more information, read this 2013 report on ‘Sportfishing in America’.

Where is this applicable?

Sport fishing takes place in most countries in the world. It is particularly popular in developed countries, such as the USA/Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and in developing countries such as China. However, many tour operators offer opportunities for sport fishing in a large range of holiday destinations.