Global Recreational Fish Catch: Initial Estimates
Commercial fishing is well-documented in some ways: we have some statistics and data that show what the commercial fisheries around the world look like, even if they don’t really get at the complete picture. Meanwhile, recreational fishing is much more opaque. This study set out to estimate the number of marine recreational catches throughout the world. To the authors’ knowledge, it’s the first attempt to figure out this number. In addition, the study looked at recreational fishing trends, attempting to identify which countries have increased their recreational fishing, and which have experienced a decrease.
The researchers defined recreational fishing as fishing that is carried out without the intention to meet basic nutritional or economic needs. This sort of fishing is intended to satisfy an individual’s leisure time and is conducted mainly for pleasure, sometimes also referred to as “sport.”
The study focused on four different countries that were surveyed, giving a description of the methods used to estimate recreational fishing totals for each country. This included Brazil, Angola, the Philippines, and the United States. Angola’s recreational fishing mainly comes from its tourism industry. Fishing in the Philippines is divided between competitive fishing and spearfishing. The U.S. and Brazil mostly include a domestic recreational fishing population.
Using estimates from these countries and others, the researchers concluded that there are approximately 900,000 tonnes of fish extracted from the oceans each year, which they estimate has been consistent in recent years. This number pales in comparison to commercial fishing which, according to this study, hauls in close to 100 million tonnes of fish per year — in terms of individuals, the number is in the billions, possibly trillions. However, because recreational fishing is often focused on so-called “trophy catches” — larger fish who may be top predators — this type of fishing can have a large impact on fish stocks. The impact may be even more so if a particular fish species affected is endangered.
Fish who were caught and released were not included in this study. The researchers noted that catch and release still contributes to fish loss of life as many fish do not survive the ordeal. Therefore, the number of fish who die as a result of recreational fishing is not entirely represented in this study. Some countries, such as the United States, have seen a decrease in recreational fishing. This is most likely due to an increase in catch and release fishing, which has become more popular in recent years.
Even though this study used tentative data with results that are somewhat speculative, the researchers believe their results offer a large improvement to previous data. Previously, if there was no data for a country then it was listed as having zero tonnes per year. Because of this, there was a huge under-representation of recreational fishing data. With many marine ecosystems near collapse, creating a full picture of our fishing habits is a must. It is important to continue this research to better understand where certain populations are most in danger. In addition, observing fishing trends may help advocates better increase public awareness of the suffering that fish undergo.