angling myths conservation

Anglers catch billions of fish every year across the world. This generates a lot of profit. Because the industry is such a powerful lobby, damage to ecology is kept hidden, and angling remains largely unregulated. Anglers have a severe and cumulative impact on fish populations, including fish that are rare or endangered.

cumulative impact of fish deaths

Alien species of fish are added to make it easier for anglers, but this causes losses to native fish and other wildlife through competition, predation and introduction of disease and parasites. Introduced fish popular with anglers, such as trout and carp, reduce the natural gene pool of fish globally. Modern technology makes it easier to wage war on fish, while simpler discarded technology, such as hooks and fishing line, and general litter, cause harm to many birds and mammals.

technology waging war on fish

alien fish - harm caused by anglers

  • Nearly 50 billion fish are caught annually by anglers
  • Angling adds to the problem of declining fish populations
  • Angling introduces alien fish species, which displace native ones
  • Fishing litter harms and kills birds, dogs, turtles, and dolphins
  • Fishermen disturb breeding birds, fish, and amphibians


Research, carried out at the University of California (Schroeder, 2002), examined the harm done to fish off the Californian coast, in particular to the long-lived rockfish. Shockingly, California has 1.7 million anglers, making 6 million fishing trips a year -worldwide, it has been estimated that a staggering 47 billion fish are caught by recreational fishermen every year¹. Reflecting the throw-away attitude of this pastime, the researchers found large amounts of litter from anglers - lead weights, artificial lures, monofilament line, and Budweiser beer cans.

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rockfish fish ecology

The scientists refuted the claim from anglers that pollution in Southern California has caused the decline in rockfish. They found instead that recreational anglers have impacted on near-shore populations even more than commercial fishing. A previous ban on angling in the area allowed giant bass to recover from catastrophically low levels. Even comparatively low death rates can have a large impact over time on such a long-lived species (sea bass can live to at least 75 years).


Scientists in Canada (Post, 2002) also reported that recreational angling damages fish populations in the same way commercial fishing does. Data from four high-profile Canadian recreational fisheries show dramatic declines over the last several decades, yet these declines have gone largely unnoticed by the public. Fish suffer in proportion to how close they are to population centres. The predatory behaviour of anglers is not self-regulating. The scientists illustrated the severe decline in walleye, pike, and particular trout in Canada, due to over-fishing. This can only get worse, as the human population explosion continues. The huge hatchery infrastructure in North America only helps to hide the collapse of native fish, and reduce the natural gene pool.

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Although commercial fishing is devastating to marine life, American scientists (Coleman, 2004) say that recreational landings in 2002 accounted for 4% of total marine fish landed in the United States. Fishes targeted include fish populations which are already in trouble, such as red drum, bocaccio, and red snapper. For these particular fish, in some populations, angling kills easily outstrip those from commercial fishermen. Angling concentrates on top-level predators, altering the structure, function, and fertility of marine ecosystems. The main problem is that there is little constraint on anglers.

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Scientists in Australia (Mcphee, 2002) say that anglers have a significant negative impact on the marine environment. They report that lobbying by anglers has managed to deflect justified criticism. In Australia alone, 50,000 tonnes of fish are killed every year. Matters have become worse as technology improves: high quality echo sounders; global positioning systems (GPS); new types of low diameter high strength fishing lines; and chemically sharpened fish hooks. Additionally, there is greater information available to anglers through the media and the internet regarding "hot spots", the right seasons and the most efficient techniques for particular species. Significant harm is done by the killing of slow maturing sharks, fish with low populations and ranges, and rare and threatened species. Additionally, very large numbers of invertebrates are captured for use as bait.

shark angling fish ecology

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In Britain, the Environment Agency state that heavy angling pressure has contributed to the decline in wild trout and salmon. Artificial stocking can meet the demand, but high densities can reduce the diversity of native fish and plants. This is particularly the case for bream and carp. Artificially increasing numbers also increases the risk of disease and can kill fish.

hatcheries prey for humans who fish


Native salmon can be threatened by disease, parasites, competition and predation. Small native fish are at special risk being eaten.


The popularity of introduced carp has pushed out perch and rudd. The Environment Agency say even the carp themselves often have difficulty in spawning successfully, seldom reach large size, and are prone to parasites. Stocking may also introduce diseases such as spring viraemia of carp, which ruin the fishery.


Wet nets and anglers' boots can carry parasites and diseases, such as crayfish plague and spring viraemia of carp, the seeds of undesirable exotic plants, such as giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam, and root-fragments of the invasive Japanese knotweed.

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seagull caught on anglers fishing line

Seagull with a 3 fish hook widget in the wing and beak

The Environment Agency recommend a closed season (period where anglers are banned), so wildlife, such as breeding fish, amphibians, birds, and vegetation can recover. Breeding birds are at particular risk from anglers, as they may desert their eggs or young if disturbed. Wading anglers can damage fish eggs buried in the gravel, invertebrates and water plants. Such is the risk, the Agency gives advice to anglers on reducing the trauma to hooked swans and other large birds.


Discarded fishing line is a significant problem for a variety of animals, including turtles, dolphins, other mammals, and several sea birds such as pelicans, according to scientists in Australia (Mcphee, 2002).

Bottlenose dolphins in Florida also suffer serious injuries or death due to anglers, particularly from entanglement in discarded lines.

Boat strike is the single biggest cause of marine turtle mortality in Queensland.

pelican fish ecology

Pelican with line caught in her mouth

tern bird caught on anglers fishing line

Royal Tern with fishing line protruding from her mouth


At a UN conference on alien species in Norway in 1996, experts from 80 countries concluded that alien invasive species were a major threat to biodiversity conservation, and probably the greatest threat after habitat destruction (Cambray, 2003). One third of all endangered and threatened species in the USA are listed, at least in part, due to the action of alien species.

fish dumped for anglers

For the sole pleasure of anglers, fish have been transported around the world and dumped in waters without any risk assessment. Small native species loose out to larger fish used for angling amusement. The release of non-native live bait adds to the problem. Native insects and tadpoles can be eaten in large numbers. An example is at the Californian High Sierra lakes. Such small life became rare or absent in lakes containing introduced trout (Cambray, 2003).

Many examples of harm done by alien fish for angling exist:

Salmonids (salmon, trout, char, etc) introduced into Australia and New Zealand in the 1800s caused the decline of a range of native species, including the River Blackfish, galaxiids², the Tasmanian Mountain Shrimp, Spotted Tree Frog, Crested Grebe, the Blue Duck, possibly other frog species and the New Zealand Grayling (Mcphee, 2002).

Ruffle and roach, introduced as live-bait for pike fishing, threaten vendance, whitefish, and Artic Charr in the Lake District in Britain. The Environment Agency says that it is practically impossible to remove them; they can now only be managed by stopping any more being introduced.

In Loch Lomond in Scotland, anglers introduced ruffe for live-bait in pike fishing. These fish now predate on the eggs and fry of powan, a rare whitefish in the loch.

The Global Species Database has a list of the world's worst invaders. Among the animals on the list, there are fish introduced for the fun of anglers:

  • The brown trout has had a severe effect on many native species in Australia, Tasmania, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Italy, Japan, New Zealand, and the USA.

  • Carp has had a similar negative impact across the globe in at least 32 countries.

  • Largemouth Bass have affected populations of small native fish through predation, sometimes resulting in their decline or extinction. Its diet includes fish, crayfish, amphibians and insects. Studies have shown that largemouth bass are capable of displacing native species; even predatory species such as northern pike.

  • Rainbow trout is one of the most widely introduced species. In many cases they are raised in hatcheries and then liberated into rivers and streams for anglers. Reared trout has caused outbreaks of Whirling disease. This is a condition caused by a protozoan that causes dysfunction in the nervous system of salmonids, and may result in curvature of the vertebral column. This results in fish losing the ability to maintain a proper orientation, causing them to swim in a spiral motion.
    In the USA, the rainbow trout has had a detrimental impact on humpback chub, suckers, and squawfish. The introduction of rainbow trout into areas outside of their native range has caused problems due to their ability to hybridise with native salmonid species, affecting their genetic integrity. Some species, such as the Alvord cutthroat, have become virtually extinct because of this.
    In the Yosemite National Park it has had a profound effect on the Yellow-egged Frog, the Pacific Tree Frog, Yosemite toad, Sierra newt, Mountain Garter Snakes, and the Sierra garter snake.

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¹ Cooke, S and Cowx, I, 2004, The Role of Recreational Fishing in Global Fish Crises, BioScience Vol 54 No. 9
²galaxiids - a family of mostly small freshwater fish in the southern hemisphere.
Fish Pain