Is Recreational Fishing Bad for the Environment?

evanluck

Well-known member
#1
I've notice an attitude among some anglers that is somehow opposed to more people fishing. The thinking is sort of like, people are careless and they show up and overfish an area, disregard the rules and ruin the fishing for people who fish more thoughtfully. While I'm sure this is an issue, I'd like to share my thoughts on the subject.

The biggest enemy to fishing is not from fishermen themselves especially not from recreational fishermen. Recreational fishing by its nature is inefficient. Most, if not all, recreational fishermen spend more money and time on fishing than is justified by the value of what they catch and especially what they keep. The less skilled or experienced someone is, the more this typically holds true. Also if fishermen affect the fish population, they do so usually in ways that are non-permanent. Keep less and the populations rebound. This is the job of the Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine what limits are sustainable and to create a set of rules to make sure that everyone who wants to fish can do so in a sustainable way.

Even commercial fishing is highly regulated and theoretically all fishermen be they recreational or commercial should be open to changes in habits that promote the long term sustainability of fishing. So even if they don't behave in a sustainable way currently, at least their interest in fishing as a vocation or a hobby should make them open to arguments that would make fishing more sustainable.

I would argue the biggest enemy to fishing is habitat destruction mostly caused by interests unrelated to fishing. Oil spills, improper chemical disposal, and activities that view the ocean as a giant waste bucket that you can just dump stuff into without long term consequences are much greater threats to the fish population than fishermen. These interests are much harder to convince that they should take care of the ocean as a long term resource even though respecting the ocean is basically good for everyone.

I ran into this when I was in the ornamental fish industry. There is a sustainable industry that harvests high value fish out of the Amazon and ships them live to places all around the world for people to keep in their aquariums. I would get knee jerk reactions from environmentalists all the time who would argue that it was bad for the environment for us to take fish out of the Amazon for people to keep as pets for their own selfish enjoyment.

This is the argument I would offer them:
Hectares of rain forest are destroyed everyday by logging companies and commercial interests that use the resources for things as silly as making toilet paper. A country can decide to build a dam and flood and destroy huge areas of rain forest. The ornamental fish industry is one of the only industries whose livelihood depends on keep the Amazon healthy and full of fish so that they can continue to export fish for the aquarium industry. Additionally keeping an aquarium is one of the most powerful ways that one can develop an appreciation of the beauty of the Amazon. Very few people actually visit the Amazon, so when someone comes up to them as says "Save the Rainforest," it means nothing to them. But if you tell an aquarium hobbyist, we need to save the rain forest because the Amazon is where Cardinal Tetras, Discus, Angel fish, Dwarf cichlids and a ton of other treasured aquarium fish come from, you suddenly have their keen interest.

I believe the same argument holds true for fishermen and fishing.

I offer this as a point of discussion because there seems to be a dissonance among the community of anglers. On one hand, we love fishing ourselves and want to share the passion with close friends and even introduce it to people. On the other hand, we somehow feel that more people fishing is not a good thing. We don't want our treasured fishing areas to get crowded and to deal with people doing things that we disapprove of and in the process making something that we love more difficult to enjoy.
 
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Ken Jones

Administrator
Staff member
#2
More people fishing? Of course! It's hard to argue against the fact that California's population is increasing and that a consequence would be an increase in the number of people fishing.

California's population in 1960 was 15.9 million, by 1970 it was 20 million, by 1980 it was 24 million, by 1990 30 million, by 2000 it was 33 million, by 2010 it was 37 million and by 2020 almost 40 million. Given that I began fishing early in the '60s I've seen the population increase by more than 2 1/2 times. The state itself is more crowded, highways are more crowded, restaurants are more crowded, parks are more crowded, and most fishing spots are more crowded. Unfortunately, although there are more anglers than fifty years ago, the number of fish have seen a decrease. That means less fish per angler and anger by some. But it's meaningless to be upset because the number of anglers has increased.

With the increase in population has also come an increase in technology and I would argue that it has an impact almost as great as the population increase. Everyone has a cell phone and as soon as someone catches a fish there seems to be a wish to share that information with friends (who share it with others) and it means a good spot can be overrun by anglers in a short period of time. And, given today's lack of ethics (for many) it also means trash strewn areas, vandalism and even violence at times. PFIC has advocated better ethical angling for years but in reaality has only reached a small group of anglers. I don't see a good answer to these problems but it probably explains why many anglers do not share their spots when they are producing fish and, at the same time, decry the increase in numbers of anglers.

As for impact to fish populations, there is little doubt that a certain spot, i.e., a pier or traditionally good rock fishing area that receives heavy angling day after day, can see a decrease in resident species and sometimes needs to deprend upon non-resident fish such as mackerel or other pelagic species to provide sport. It's different for boaters and kyakers who can move around and (sometimes) find the fish. And, different types of angling do have different affects on the fish population. When I was on the North Coast Stakeholder Group for the Marine Life Protective Act (MLPA), I argued long and hard regarding the low impact that inshore recreational anglers had on fish. Much of the impetus for the MLPA was the drop in the numbers of fish. I pointed out that a commercial boat could go out and in one day catch more than a thousand fish. A partyboat could go out and perhaps catch several hundred fish depending upon the size of the boat, anglers and location. Inshore anglers fishing from surf, rock or pier were lucky to catch more than a few fish. Luckily, my arguments seemed to carry some weight and the final MLPA plans did not place restrictions on piers (excepting the prohibition on lobsters at the Cabrillo Mole) and left many traditional rock and surf fishing spots open (some but not all). As you say, there is regulation on the take of fish, both by the federal and state government; some commercial boats have seen drastic cuts to allowable take while recreational anglers have seen decreased allowance in the number of many fish species.

But anglers, commercial and recreational, are indeed only a part of the puzzle when it comes to drops in fish populations. Their impact can be heavy but also can be minor when compared to things like chemicals and other pollutants in storm drain runoff, actual industrial pollution, loss of wetlands (important for young fish), the importation of alien competing species, and various changes to the environment. All are areas being addressed by various groups and government entities but it sometimes seems like we will never catch up. It does however show the meaningless nature of complaints against additional anglers, the old argument that we were here first and you are not invited in.

Some thoughts—and apologies if they seem a little convoluted and rambling but it is late.
 
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nolandw

Active member
#3
This is an interesting topic and I'm glad you're opening up the floor for discussion. My take:

I think there are really two statements being made here -- one, of what the greatest impediment to the fish population is, and two, that the "helping the environment argument" is not enough of a reason to not share a spot/"spot burn".

Statement one is pretty straightforward. I think most people would agree that the greater macro changes (beit commercial activity, long-term environmental changes, invasive species etc.) are far more likely to impact the fish population than something like an incremental angler fishing at a pier or off the bank. The latter is certainly more visible, however. Macro changes take a long period of time to recognize, and are often so subtle over time that it takes time for people to actually understand and believe (like climate change). But seeing plastic bags, improperly disposed of or treated carcasses, and SeaWave calamari boxes strewn about sends an immediate, disincentivizing signal to fishermen about the condition of a spot, and are immediately attributable. When the Oakland Observation Pier opened up last year, it was completely clean, and there were rumors that rangers were considering closing it if people kept dirtying it up. In the first few weeks a staunch "no fish cleaning on pier" sign raised itself, implying that anglers were already on thin ice. So even if it doesn't immediately effect the fish population, the "damage" by a few will ruin it for all.

Statement two is where it gets interesting. So this is a bit of a ramble too, but associated thoughts:
  • I feel like sharing a non-pier spot ignores a large part of fishing. I'm giving a slight exception to piers as many of those are known, designated, and promoted places for fishing. For instance, Pacifica Pier is not a secret spot, nor anyone's spot alone. But in any event, fishing is all of the little things: where, when, what, how, etc. Optimizing all of those factors improves your chances of catching fish. But simply asking for a spot ignores the savvy in that, and the thrill of the chase. Those who simply ask for spots often ignore the rest of the dynamics. Most of the people that will storm a spot they newly found are doing so so they can make an "easy catch".
  • There's some feeling of "paying your dues" with all of this. Anglers spend a lot of time fishing all over and at different times of year to know a spot well...where the snags are, when the species is coming, the tides and the currents and how they affect the spot, everything. Giving away this information is a big shortcut a lot of the time, and it's part of the learning process. Surf fishing is especially for this. There is not really a "spot" for surf fishing...there are areas. The structure of the beach is constantly and rapidly, which is why surf fishing is so interesting.
  • The ethics are indeed a huge part of this. Of course, there are exceptions. My thought is that "bad fishermen" bring more bad fishermen. This is rampant in the SF Bay Area. I've stopped going to as many piers and started going more to the bank and to the surf because of the bad ethics I see and sometimes the better action. Six-hook Sabikis seem to be the norm, not the exception. Multiple rods when you can't. Seeing people keep questionable halibut and stripers. Dungeness in the Bay. It goes on, and CalTIP isn't fast enough to act on this. I've seen people called out on this, which is great. But it's not always easy to approach this. I annoyingly heard the other day an angler loudly boasting about how they keep whatever Dungeness they catch after a certain time...up to 30 or 40 crabs...because they know they won't get caught. Terrible stuff.
All of this is to say, more people fishing in general is not a bad thing. More irresponsible fishing is a bad thing, and this is not as dissonant as it seems. My guess is that those that are diligent anglers will find their key spots eventually, or will find the community that is willing to help them. Those that aren't diligent aren't in it for the long run anyways. If someone finds a spot on public land that I found, they find it, and it's good for them. I'm also happy to share the little that I've learned to the people I know will be earnestly good anglers, and I know others have shared very helpful information with me, including from the content they've posted on PFIC for tackle tips. I can tell in conversation when someone is looking to be a better angler vs when someone is looking to simply catch a fish that day.
 

evanluck

Well-known member
#5
Very thoughtful comments!

To clarify, I actually don't care if people share or don't share their spots. I completely understand what you are saying about discovering a spot and working it over time. I actually do this with the piers. You fish them over time and you begin to be able to visualize the structure underneath and get a sense for how the fishing shifts based on tides, weather etc. I don't mind sharing what I've learned about the piers because, like you've said, the piers are really for everyone and it is bad form to claim them or be territorial in regards to them given that they are a publicly funded resource.

But without an explanation about the ethos of spot sharing, the attitude for beginners seems to come across as fishing is an exclusive club and those that are in the club don't want you around. This perception is both a product of misunderstanding (like in your case with the sharing or not sharing of spots) or actually accurately felt because that is how many experienced anglers begin to feel. "I made it in the club because I worked really hard to learn enough to be accepted and respected so come back when you've done the same," is kind of the attitude that I feel from some fishing communities. Of course all of this is worse online when you can't see people face to face and things like sarcasm and humor are often poorly communicated online.

Finally, I feel like many thoughtful anglers like you are doing what you do which is avoiding the piers because there are too many people fishing in unethical or thoughtless ways on the piers. I can totally see why people would do this but I would offer that this only makes the problem worse. Piers are ground zero for saltwater fishing. Most of the new people start there (or at least they should in my opinion). The 6 hook sabiki is becoming the default because all the people who fish in more sporting or interesting ways are not fishing the piers. So new people go to the pier and they see who is catching fish and they emulate the tactics. Monkey see monkey do. In Southern California, I suspect many of the anglers who are skilled at using multi-hook sabiki rigs are actually illegally selling their catches to individuals or restaurants. Most newer purely recreational anglers, don't stop to think, "what will I do with 60 mackerel, when I'm actually as good as this guy that I'm trying to emulate." They just want to catch fish and so they copy the guys that are catching the most fish.

Now if PFIC had more members fishing the piers, showing numbers and variety like Ken does when he fishes the piers, there would be an alternate example. There are online surf fishing communities who are doing a good job at promoting sustainable, thoughtful angler habits for new surf fishermen. These groups are attracting a ton of interest so people are attracted to the principles. The problem with surf fishing, in my opinion, is that it is not a great place for people to start. There are too many skills required to find the fish, which is the bare minimum that one needs to do to catch fish.

PFIC would be the perfect community to assert this point of view and make it available to brand new people interested in saltwater fishing. For example, the Newport Jetty is a great fishing spot but it has a fair share of litter from anglers. What if a group of PFIC anglers had an outing where we each brought a trash bag and on our way out to the end of the jetty, cleaned up the trash, and then fished the end of the jetty and recorded it all with a friendly reminder to clean up after yourselves and to keep the jetty nice and neat for everyone's enjoyment?



This is an interesting topic and I'm glad you're opening up the floor for discussion. My take:

I think there are really two statements being made here -- one, of what the greatest impediment to the fish population is, and two, that the "helping the environment argument" is not enough of a reason to not share a spot/"spot burn".

Statement one is pretty straightforward. I think most people would agree that the greater macro changes (beit commercial activity, long-term environmental changes, invasive species etc.) are far more likely to impact the fish population than something like an incremental angler fishing at a pier or off the bank. The latter is certainly more visible, however. Macro changes take a long period of time to recognize, and are often so subtle over time that it takes time for people to actually understand and believe (like climate change). But seeing plastic bags, improperly disposed of or treated carcasses, and SeaWave calamari boxes strewn about sends an immediate, disincentivizing signal to fishermen about the condition of a spot, and are immediately attributable. When the Oakland Observation Pier opened up last year, it was completely clean, and there were rumors that rangers were considering closing it if people kept dirtying it up. In the first few weeks a staunch "no fish cleaning on pier" sign raised itself, implying that anglers were already on thin ice. So even if it doesn't immediately effect the fish population, the "damage" by a few will ruin it for all.

Statement two is where it gets interesting. So this is a bit of a ramble too, but associated thoughts:
  • I feel like sharing a non-pier spot ignores a large part of fishing. I'm giving a slight exception to piers as many of those are known, designated, and promoted places for fishing. For instance, Pacifica Pier is not a secret spot, nor anyone's spot alone. But in any event, fishing is all of the little things: where, when, what, how, etc. Optimizing all of those factors improves your chances of catching fish. But simply asking for a spot ignores the savvy in that, and the thrill of the chase. Those who simply ask for spots often ignore the rest of the dynamics. Most of the people that will storm a spot they newly found are doing so so they can make an "easy catch".
  • There's some feeling of "paying your dues" with all of this. Anglers spend a lot of time fishing all over and at different times of year to know a spot well...where the snags are, when the species is coming, the tides and the currents and how they affect the spot, everything. Giving away this information is a big shortcut a lot of the time, and it's part of the learning process. Surf fishing is especially for this. There is not really a "spot" for surf fishing...there are areas. The structure of the beach is constantly and rapidly, which is why surf fishing is so interesting.
  • The ethics are indeed a huge part of this. Of course, there are exceptions. My thought is that "bad fishermen" bring more bad fishermen. This is rampant in the SF Bay Area. I've stopped going to as many piers and started going more to the bank and to the surf because of the bad ethics I see and sometimes the better action. Six-hook Sabikis seem to be the norm, not the exception. Multiple rods when you can't. Seeing people keep questionable halibut and stripers. Dungeness in the Bay. It goes on, and CalTIP isn't fast enough to act on this. I've seen people called out on this, which is great. But it's not always easy to approach this. I annoyingly heard the other day an angler loudly boasting about how they keep whatever Dungeness they catch after a certain time...up to 30 or 40 crabs...because they know they won't get caught. Terrible stuff.
All of this is to say, more people fishing in general is not a bad thing. More irresponsible fishing is a bad thing, and this is not as dissonant as it seems. My guess is that those that are diligent anglers will find their key spots eventually, or will find the community that is willing to help them. Those that aren't diligent aren't in it for the long run anyways. If someone finds a spot on public land that I found, they find it, and it's good for them. I'm also happy to share the little that I've learned to the people I know will be earnestly good anglers, and I know others have shared very helpful information with me, including from the content they've posted on PFIC for tackle tips. I can tell in conversation when someone is looking to be a better angler vs when someone is looking to simply catch a fish that day.
 
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nolandw

Active member
#6
Good thoughts there too.

But without an explanation about the ethos of spot sharing, the attitude for beginners seems to come across as fishing is an exclusive club and those that are in the club don't want you around. This perception is both a product of misunderstanding (like in your case with the sharing or not sharing of spots) or actually accurately felt because that is how many experienced anglers begin to feel. "I made it in the club because I worked really hard to learn enough to be accepted and respected so come back when you've done the same," is kind of the attitude that I feel from some fishing communities. Of course all of this is worse online when you can't see people face to face and things like sarcasm and humor are often poorly communicated online.
Yeah, this is tricky. And probably indeed exacerbated from anglers' bad experiences. "Fool me once..."

That said, this attitude is more prevalent online than in person. It's easy to be tough on Facebook, and enough reason to avoid those groups sometimes or take it personally. I know what you're talking about with online responses -- things like when people ask "where's a good spot for x" and people say "in the water". That said, I understand why they are replying that way. I think a lot of it is how to frame the question right. "What's your weight rigging recommendation when targeting rockfish from shore" or "my three way halibut rig gets caught all the time, how do I avoid this?" becomes a very different question than "Where can I catch a ling and what bait". The first question provides answers that help the fisherman understand "how" and apply a learning. The other is a shortcut.

There is some "weeding out here" on the generosity of information-- because this attitude generally disappears in person, at least from my NorCal experiences. The true best way is to learn, observe, or even talk to the OGs at the places where you're fishing. In many spots everyone's helping each other with the fish...whether it's netting the fish, reporting the action, supplying others with excess live bait, sharing beers, etc. I have had a couple of sour experiences but for the vast majority of experiences, fellow anglers are very friendly.

The 6 hook sabiki is becoming the default because all the people who fish in more sporting or interesting ways are not fishing the piers.
One thing to clarify with the 6-hook sabiki and NorCal regs: I've no real issues against sabikis in general to catch baitfish, but in SF Bay, you are allowed to use three hooks maximum on one line. I see 6 often (because the Sabiki generally comes this way, and people don't want to cut it) and have even seen a guy with a crazy rig of at least 20 on one of the Embarcadero Pier. You are also only allowed to use one rod when having a license, even if you have a two-pole stamp; the only time you can have two rods in the bay is on a pier. I often see people with more than one on the bank; sometimes people have three on the pier.