Recreational fishing has long been a popular activity. Throughout the world’s coastal destinations, tourists regularly seek out sport fishing charters that target popular and ecologically important game fish, such as marlin, dorado and wahoo. Spear fishing and pole fishing in coral reef areas have also gained in popularity in recent years, among both tourists and local people. An overall decline in reef fish in coastal environments has been linked to spear fishing and overconsumption of marine resources, and studies have shown that spear fishing can negatively impact populations of reef fish such as grouper and various types of parrotfish.
According to critics, spear fishing is too effective as a method of harvesting certain types of reef fish. For example, because parrotfish rest within the reef at night, they are an easy target. Spear fishers also often target the largest fish on a reef, thus drastically reducing the reproductive capacity of particular species in an area.
Recreational fishing, compounded by subsistence and commercial fishing, has led to the over-harvesting of a number of marine species throughout the world. Spiny lobsters have virtually disappeared from reef environments all over the Caribbean, and Hawaiian groupers are now extremely rare in the main Hawaiian Islands. Other popular game fish, including groupers, jewfish, jacks, wrasses and snappers, have been significantly reduced throughout the Caribbean and other areas in recent years. Decreases in these key species can lead to cumulative impacts throughout a marine environment.
For example, many species of parrotfish are important algae grazers within a reef ecosystem. Along with other grazers, parrotfish prevent algae from overgrowing and smothering a coral community and a decline in these species can have serious negative consequences for an entire reef community.
Given the decline of many popular game fish species in recent years, catch-and-release fishing is a growing practice among sportfishing charters. Catch-and-release programs support conservation through the protection of game fish, while simultaneously promoting an increasingly valuable sector of the marine tourism industry.
Why Should I Care?
Fewer Fish in Near-Shore Marine Ecosystems: Overfishing by both commercial and sportfishing operations can severely reduce populations of both reef and pelagic fish species. Removing key species from the food chain can cause significant changes throughout the ecosystem. In addition, the severe reduction in certain species of game fish can hurt the viability of the recreational fishing industry.
Reduction in Biodiversity: The over-harvesting of fish and other popular game species negatively impacts the overall health and diversity of near-shore marine and coral ecosystems. This loss of diversity, aside from threatening the overall health and integrity of the ecosystem, can also diminish the attractiveness of the area to potential tourists.
What Can I Do?
Practice Catch-and-Release Fishing: Partial or total catch-and-release programs can be especially effective when dealing with threatened or endangered fish species.
Avoid Spear Fishing: Many critics believe that spear fishing is too effective a method of harvesting marine resources. Additionally, the limited time available to SCUBA divers, as opposed to free divers, often contributes to excessive and rapid harvesting by SCUBA divers.
Prevent Marine Pollution From Fishing Gear: Marine debris poses a serious threat to both reef and open ocean species, including sea turtles, manta rays and sea lions. Because monofilament line, lead weight and associated fishing gear can tangle and kill corals and many other forms of marine life, ensure that no marine debris is left behind from your fishing practices.
Observe The Law: Nearly all regions of the world have laws and regulations that govern fish catch sizes and seasons. These laws are generally established to protect fisheries, and recreational fishers will benefit by following them.
Use "Ecological Common Sense": In addition to observing laws and regulations, maintain awareness to avoid spawning aggregations, reproductive seasons and harvesting of juveniles. Additionally, when a large school of potential game fish is located, contribute toward the sustainability of the ecosystem and the fishing industry by not harvesting the entire school.