Fishing and the environment

I started fishing pretty much when I was young enough to hold a fishing rod. Some of my best memories are of time spent with my father wetting a line in the local lakes and rivers.

When I grew up, both my father and I worked in the fishing industry – trawl, longline, seine, dredging, dropline, traps … and both of us have our regrets. For example, I will never forget the day we accidentally caught a dolphin with a baited hook (a rare occurrence). Even our skipper, who was a very tough man, had tears in his eyes. Luckily, we were able to release the poor creature.

Our years involved with the fishing industry allowed us to see first hand the damage being done to the aquatic environment and its inhabitants – by both professional and amateur fishermen alike.

While the problems caused by professional fishermen are quite well documented, the casual and sports angler’s impact are often overlooked.
Fishing is a wonderful pastime that can double as an important source of food for many people. There’s things we can all do to help protect the environment that allows us this privilege.

As someone who assisted in catching literally millions of fish, and regrets much of it, here’s my thoughts on “green” fishing methods which have not influenced by any group’s agenda :).

Take only what you need

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen good fish rotting on the side of a riverbank or on a jetty as folks couldn’t be bothered taking them home. It stinks to high heaven and attracts flies and rodents. Treat each fish you catch as a gift of food and show it appropriate respect. If you absolutely cannot take it with you, throw it back in so other aquatic creatures can feed on it.


Stainless steel hooks are strong and resilient – but that’s not only in your tackle box. A fish that breaks your line which had a stainless hook at the end is in trouble as it can seriously interfere with feeding. At least with bronzed hooks and other types that corrode, there’s a chance the hook will rust out over time.


While bait from the area local to where you are fishing may be the best option, consider how plentiful it is – take only what you need and if it’s in short supply, that area is under stress. Buy bait instead if you can. It’s also important to find out where the bait is coming from – some bait sources are from countries where fisheries are not managed. Using baitfish from those areas is contributing to depriving other fish of their crucial food sources.

Fishing line

Tangles of fishing line are a death trap for many sea creatures – some swallow it thinking it’s food; it clogs their digestive system and they starve to death. Fishing line also gets caught around the wings of seabirds. You’ve likely seen gulls and similar birds hopping around on one leg – often that’s been caused through fishing line too. Take the stuff with you.


In some areas I fished in, I used to lose a lot of sinkers and never really gave much thought to it. Sinkers are mostly made from lead, a highly toxic, bioacummulative metal. Imagine how much lead must be sitting at the bottom of popular fishing spots. There are now lead-free sinkers on the market made from materials such as bismuth, which is nearly as dense as lead.

Bait bags and other plastic

Like fishing line, the plastic trash left behind in fishing spots or dumped over the side hangs around for a very long time – and it’s not just an eyesore. When I was involved in the professional fishing industry, I often opened the stomachs of tuna and sharks to see what they had been feeding on. Even in relatively remote areas, the amount of plastic I used to find was incredible – and that was nearly 20 years ago.

Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? That’s where some of it ends up. The oceans may be huge, but they are sensitive and have a breaking point.

Shorelines and river/lake beds

Irresponsible amateur fishermen do a lot of damage not only to the fish, but to the environment that sustains them. The breaking down of delicate riverbanks through foot traffic and SUVs, churning of riverbeds through outboard motors to name just two destructive examples. Additionally, have you ever heard an outboard motor from under the water? – it’s incredibly loud and seems much closer than what it is. We need to tread lightly in these areas.

Respect size and bag limits

These laws are in place for a reason – to help protect stocks. Familiarize yourself with local size and bag limits. The extra fish we take, the more undersized fish we take; the less will be available for future because often they wouldn’t have had a chance to breed. Additionally there can be other knock-on effects. The decimation of one fish species can lead to another dependent on it being wiped out; or a pest species may proliferate with even worse results for the local aquatic environment.

Reconsider sportsfishing

This won’t make me popular among sports fishermen I’m sure.

Tag and release is a nice concept and sounds pretty green; but would you like to be dragged around for minutes at a time with a lump of steel in your jaw? Fish feel pain. It’s bad enough using hooks when fishing for food, but for sports, even in tag and release – it’s just downright cruel. Capture is incredibly stressful to many species with some such as tuna having the capacity to “cook” their own flesh through stress. I’ve also pulled up tuna that fought so hard their hearts had burst.

Back in the 80’s and early 90’s, it wasn’t uncommon for big game fisherman in the seaside towns I lived in to capture sharks, get their photo opportunity and 15 minutes of fame, cut out the jaws and then dump what remained out at sea. I’m not sure if that practice is still common, but what a waste of a magnificent creature!

While sportsfishing seemed like a perfectly fine thing to do back then, I question its role now aside from satisfying the hunter instinct and propping up a multi-billion dollar industry.

If you can’t eat it or find someone to give it to who will, perhaps leave the fish alone. Or still go fishing, but just tie the bait to the end of the line; sans hook ;).

Most folks will never know the amazing colors of fish such as tuna and marlin and many other species while they are alive – truly beautiful creatures disregarded as dumb animals; even below animals. Fish play an incredibly important role in our ecosystem and not just as food for us or to satisfy old instincts. It’s time they got a better deal.

Have you got any tips to help make fishing a greener hobby? Please add them below!