How Is Recreational Fishing Good For The Environment?

family on the lake fishing

Fishing is one of the most popular recreational activities in the United States. More than 50 million Americans participated in recreational fishing in 2019.

While overfishing has given both commercial and recreational fishing a bad name, recent conservation efforts by activists, government organizations, and anglers have made great strides in increasing the benefits of fishing on the environment.

Why Fishing Is Good for the Environment

Fishermen are passionate about fish.

Fishermen fuel activism and government regulation, fund conservation efforts, and protect wildlife through responsible fishing practices. Without fishermen, fishery management efforts would not have the resources or manpower needed to protect aquatic environments and the animals that live in them.

What Are the Benefits of Fishing on the Environment?

People who fish are often the first people to notice when there is an environmental problem involving waterways or aquatic species. Fishermen who sound early warnings on developing issues, such as pollution or invasive species, are invaluable resources. No government agency or organization can thoroughly cover every waterway at all times.

Fishermen who observe and record the species they encounter provide valuable insight into the health of waterways and the animals that live in them.

Additionally, concerned anglers push state, local, and federal governments to pursue conservation efforts. This helps motivate increased funding of scientific research of the ecological benefits of recreational fishing.

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What Is Sustainable Fishing?

Sustainable fishing is a collection of commercial fishing best practices to preserve the population of marine species at a level that promotes survival. It is built around fishing techniques that increase the benefits of fishing on the environment and avoid negatively impacting the marine ecosystem.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization provides a code of conduct that outlines sustainable fishing practices.

What Is Recreational Fishing?

Recreational fishing is fishing that is done for pleasure or sport. Some states define it as any fishing that is not commercial, including fishing for food for personal consumption rather than resale. The waters managed for these purposes are known as recreational fisheries.

Recreational fishing is considered more sustainable than commercial fishing because of the type of gear used and the high survival rate of fish released.

Recreational Fisheries Management 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration manage recreational fisheries nationwide with the assistance of eight regional fishery management councils. The councils develop rebuilding and fishery management plans and set annual catch limits.

NOAA manages all marine fisheries in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. Individual coastal states manage fisheries that are within three miles of their coastlines.

NOAA manages fisheries with several goals in mind:

  • Protect, sustain and increase domestic seafood supply
  • Protect the health and sustainability of the ecosystem
  • Enhance and maintain subsistence and recreational fishing opportunities
  • Support social and economic benefits, create jobs, and promote community resilience

NOAA increases the benefits of fishing on the environment by taking steps to ensure that fish species are not overfished. Since the year 2000, their science-based practices have kept overfishing numbers at record lows.

The work of NOAA is governed by the Magnuson-Stevens Act and encompasses three pillars:

  1. Science: they employ a rigorous, peer-reviewed process
  2. Management: they use science to continuously improve fishery management
  3. Enforcement: ensuring compliance with the law

This three-tier system makes it possible to prevent overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks and stop overfishing when it happens.

How Fishermen Contribute to Conservation

Brown trout release
Brown trout release after a catch.

Fishermen have a vested interest in maintaining the health of wildlife populations and the environment. If water pollution or unsustainable fishing practices cause fish to die out, then there is no more fishing.

Because of this, many avid anglers are passionate and knowledgeable when it comes to protecting the environment.

Anglers help with wildlife and fishery management by complying with seasons and keeper limits. This helps prevent over-harvesting, which ensures that fish populations remain stable.

Most states in the United States require fishermen to purchase a fishing license. In most cases, the money from those purchases is used for various conservation programs in the state.

Fishermen spend more than $750 million on fishing licenses every year.

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Fishermen also aid in conservation efforts by following rules and regulations and reporting violations to the NOAA Enforcement Hotline. They also work with conservationists to collect data through tag and release competitions.

Conservation Efforts Supported by Money From Fishing and Boating Licenses

Different states have different conversation programs that improve the benefits of fishing on the environment.

These are some typical examples of the types of programs supported by money from fishing and boating licenses:

  • Enhancing water quality
  • Maintaining fish habitats
  • Educating new fishermen
  • Long-term conservation plan

What You Can Do To Support Environmentally Friendly Fishing

There are several steps you can take to ensure your fishing trips are environmentally friendly:

  • Purchase a fishing license, even if you are exempt
  • Respect and value the aquatic environment and the animals that live in it
  • Practice ethical behaviors and teach other people to do the same
  • Choose the fish you target with the environment in mind
  • Avoid spilling or dumping pollutants, such as gas or oil
  • Don’t litter
  • Dispose of worn lines, hooks, and leaders in containers and recycle when you can
  • Take steps to avoid spreading invasive plants and animals
  • Know the regulations and follow them
  • Only keep fish you intend to eat
  • Practice catch-and-release fishing
  • Use techniques that reduce the harm to fish when practicing catch-and-release fishing

Benefits of Recreational Fishing

Recreational fishing has a variety of benefits in addition to the positive impact that recreational fishermen make on the environment:

  • Stress Relief
  • Health benefits
  • Self-fulfillment
  • Recreation
  • Social bonding
  • Healthy food source
  • Contributions to local economies
  • Excitement

Fishing is a fun activity that you can do with your entire family. It is a great way to connect with nature, get some exercise, and bond with fellow fishing enthusiasts.

Fishing generates millions of dollars in state and local taxes that support thousands of jobs. Wild-caught fish are a healthy food source that many communities worldwide rely on.


Fishing is a valuable social and economic resource and a vital component of the world’s food supply. The efforts made by recreational fishermen to increase the benefits of fishing on the environment pay dividends for everyone.