5 Biggest Threats to Recreational Fishing

Last updated on September 7th, 2021

river fish dead from pollution

What Are the Threats to Recreational Fishing?

Recreational fishing is under threat. Fish populations are dwindling, and they show little sign of recovery at the moment.  While recreational fishing is unlikely to ever be as hit as hard as the commercial fishing industry, those of us who engage in sportfishing are not oblivious to the fact that the bite is not quite what it used to be.

Rightfully so, more and more anglers are becoming concerned about the future of their sport. So, where are the dangers to recreational fishing coming from? This post covers some of the more prominent culprits while looking at their impact and what we can do to protect the future of the sport.

Environmental Pollution

Pollution can completely kill off fish stock. Rivers and lakes have been deemed to be uninhabitable in some areas. Numerous marine ecosystems and areas of the ocean are the same, with many fish opting to steer clear due to the high concentrations of pollution.

It isn’t just companies that are polluting either, it is also you and me. Pharmaceutical products are one of the biggest killers here. Did you know that 80% of lakes tested in the United States actually have evidence of pharmaceutical drugs in the water? This has led to a mutation in some fish, particularly sex mutation. This is due to disruptions in their chemical balance. This reduces the number of fish that can breed.

Now, to be fair, plenty of companies have put forth efforts into reducing pollution, whether as a result of lawsuits or government action. In fact, some companies are paying to reverse the pollution that they have caused over the years.

They can only do so much though, and it is an incredibly slow process. Many lakes and rivers that people enjoyed fishing in years past will still be far too polluted in the near future. Remember, the fish have been wiped out in some of these locations as well, which means that they are going to be pretty tricky to reintroduce.

Climate Change

Everyone speaks of climate change today (though many steadfastly continue to deny it). But climate change is causing waters around the world to heat up. This is having a direct effect on water temperature and fish stocks globally. Rising sea levels, coral reef destruction, and ocean acidification are but a few of the many serious issues associated with climate change.

The changes in temperature are having a significant impact on fish reproduction in the impacted areas. Those fish that are able to breed are slightly different from before. There are some fish that have had their growth stunted due to the huge changes going on in the water in which they live (more on habitat impact in the next section).

Fish such as salmon, catfish and sturgeon populations seem to be at the greatest risk here. If the waters do not drop below a certain point, they are unable to spawn. We have already seen this happen in some areas. If climate change remains unchecked, recreational fishermen are going to have a greater challenge in finding some species in great numbers or size. That trophy catch may become much more elusive.

Habitat Destruction

A lot of fish are having their habitats destroyed, killing the local fish population. Coral reef destruction is a familiar term to most of us, and perhaps the most dominating news story related to this is the destruction of The Great Barrier Reef.

But the impact of habitat destruction goes beyond the headlines, particularly with regards to freshwater biome animals.

A lot of freshwaters, particularly rivers, are being diverted to reservoirs and the like. This is destroying the locations where freshwater live. It is removing their food sources and killing the fish. In addition to this, habitats are also being destroyed by floodplains being dammed, certain types of agriculture, and urban development.

The Colorado River is a prime example of what habitat destruction can do. Once abundant with plant life and fish, the Colorado and its tributaries have seen native populations such as the Colorado pikeminnow, Razorback Zucker, Bonytail chub and Humpback chub endangered to the brink of extinction.

Invasive Species

Non-native fish have also been introduced to certain areas intentionally. In fact, it is believed that the introduction of invasive species is one of the biggest causes of the fish decline in the world. Take the introduction of Nile Perch into Lake Victoria, for instance. This very quickly killed off many of the other fish that lived in the lake, mainly due to the increased competition for food.

invasive lionfish damaging natural habitats

invasive lionfish

Another example is the Lionfish, native to the south and Indian Oceans but now a pervasive menace throughout the waters off Florida’s Atlantic coast, the Caribbean and even as far as the northern Gulf of Mexico. These venomous predators are rapidly changing the local marine ecosystems and, as a consequence, adversely impacting both recreational and commercial fishing in the affected areas.

These ‘alien’ species have also destroyed habitats and introduce diseases with which native fish are unable to cope. Many, such as the Lionfish, are also predators without predators of their own, further pressuring the native populations.

Commercial Overfishing

This is a huge problem right now globally. While the European Union and governments like the United States have put effort into ensuring that commercial overfishing does not further threaten the world’s fisheries, in the eyes of many, it is a case of ‘too little, too late’, with the laws and measures that we have in place now only delaying the inevitable.

Overfishing, of course, happens when more fish are being taken from the population than can be naturally replaced.

It is believed that over 85% of fish stocks at the moment, at least those in fisheries, are at this point. It is pretty tough to measure the decline in the wild, but many species have been pushed to the point of extinction in recent years.

Tuna is a prime example, but there are many others. Without stricter measures to ensure sustainability, whole populations could be completely decimated in one area.

Sadly, at the moment not enough has been done to deal with commercial overfishing. Although many governments and fisheries management organizations have put effort into fish stock management, there are still plenty of commercial fishing fleets and illegal fishermen who turn a blind eye to the problem, contributing to ecosystem collapse in some of the world’s most vulnerable regions.commercial over-fishing impacting oceans negatively

Further exacerbating circumstances, many of the poorer nations lack the resources to adequately manage their own fisheries and combat illegal fishing.

The problem is compounded when we consider that each nation has only a small area over which it has legal territorial jurisdiction. Much of the world’s illegal fishing takes place on the “high seas”, or international waters, where regulatory enforcement is non-existent or murky at best.

The Future for Recreational Fishing

Recreational fishing, even with skill and knowledge in the world, has always been largely influenced by circumstances beyond our control. It has always been this uncertainty or almost mysterious quality about fishing that makes it so much fun and lets us lose track of time in the hopes of getting a few good bites and even maybe landing “the big one”.

Today we can’t deny that it is becoming noticeably harder to catch as many fish or as big a fish as we used to in days bygone. Our fish populations are in decline because of the pressures and threats they face, mainly from us. But we shouldn’t leave the future of the sport to circumstances and uncertainty. We must do something now to protect our natural resources before it is too late.

Most scientists are in agreement that we can reverse most of the damage we have done to our planet if we begin to value what we have and get to work. But it’s a tough act trying to balance the needs of the consumer with the livelihood of fishermen trying to provide for their families… tough indeed.

Many have suggested aquaculture, or fish farming, as a possible solution to overfishing. But the practice has raised many questions of its own; and while growing rapidly, it cannot, as of yet, meet the world’s fish consumption needs.

We can do our part as individuals and sport fishermen: that means more catch and releases, taking home only a little of what we enjoy and returning the rest of the fish to their waters! We must also ask more of our leaders in government and industry, and demand that they be better stewards of our rivers, lakes, and oceans – of our planet! 

Even the smallest change in our activities can have either the most pleasant outcomes or catastrophic consequences. Sustainable fishing and conservation of our natural resources have to be more than just ideas. We owe our children and future generations the same opportunities we enjoy today, if not better.

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About Dorado

John Pardal, aka Dorado, is the editor as well as an author for Reel Adventure Fishing. He has fished extensively up and down the U.S. Atlantic coast, throughout much of Florida and a bit of the Caribbean. John loves writing about all aspects of sportfishing and is passionate about conservation and promoting sustainable fishing.