Recreational fishing in marine reserves: is it compatible?

This week, the topic of the article is recreational fishing in marine protected areas. In concrete, it is explained what recreational fishing is, which are the impacts and a list of recommendations is given to reduce the impacts. This article has been written together with Guillem Santamaria, for the subject Marine Reserves of the Master in Oceanography and Marine Environment Management. 


Recreational fishing has an important impact in Marine Protected Areas (MPA), being one of the most common activities in all the coasts worldwide (Font et al. 2012).

We understand recreational fishing as that non-commercial fishing done with leisure or sports purposes and in which captures, which is forbidden its sale, are used for personal consumption (Font et al. 2012). Despite several definitions have been proposed, this includes most of the disciplines.

Recreational fishing has a great importance worldwide. In 1995, worldwide total captures were about 2 million tonnes and, in 2004, 47.000 million fishes were caught, of which two thirds were returned into sea (Cooke et al. 2006). In European perspective, in 1998 there were about 21.3 million recreational fishers from 22 countries, of which 10 invest 10 million dollars (Cooke et al. 2006). A study from 2004 estimates that this investment increase to 25.000 millions of euros in Europe, with more than 10 millions of fishers, exceeding 5.000 millions of euros of benefits the commercial captures of the state members in 1998 (Pawson et al. 2007).

La pesca recreativa té una gran importància a nivell mundial (Foto extreta de Magic1059).
Recreational fishing is important worldwide (Picture from Magic1059).

Despite recreational fishing is not well studied than traditional fishing, several studies suggest that both can suppose a similar impact in fish stocks and aquatic ecosystems (Cooke et al. 2006). In the Mediterranean, recreational fishing represents more than 10% of the total fishing production (EU, 2004).


Fishing from boats is the one that includes more techniques, followed by fishing from shore (Font et al. 2012). Moreover, fishing from kayak is increasing and uses GPS and deep sensors. According to Font et al. (2012), the most used types of fishing from boats are: bottom fishing with rod, handline and trolling. In the case of fishing from shore, it is important bottom fishing with rod cork buoy to capture species from rocks, and spinning to capture pelagic species and some Sparidae. Spearfishing uses harpoons.


In the last decades, it is increasing the number of recreational fishers that do their activity in Marine Protected Areas and, for this reason, impacts in resources and marine ecosystems are increasing (Cooke et al. 2006). In general, it reduces the potential benefits of the reserve effect and spillover (the fact that organisms go out the protected zone) (Font et al. 20012). Some studies have show that no-take zones are effective in conservationist terms (Denny & Babcock, 2004).


Font et al. (2012) determine that the type of fishing that capture, in average, the biggest number of different species is fishing from boats (38 species), followed by shore fishing (28) and spearfishing (25). Spearfishing is more selective and, as a consequence, captures less species  (Jozami et al. 2011).

Sparidae, Serranidae and, with less extend, Labridae families has been the most capture. About species, comber (Serranus cabrilla) and Mediterranean rainbow wrasse (Coris julis) are the most captured species in both fishing from boat and shore fishing. On the other hand, in spearfishing the main captures are: white seabream (Diplodus sargus), common two-banded seabream (Diplodus vulgaris), European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) and common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) (Cuvier, 1797).

Sard (Serranus cabrilla) (Foto extreta de Asturnatura).
Comber (Serranus cabrilla) (Picture from Asturnatura).
Donzella (Coris julis) (Foto extreta de Ictioterm).
Mediterranean rainbow wrasse (Coris julis) (Picture from Ictioterm).

In the 31 Mediterranean MPA studied by Font et al. (2012), it has been found that recreational fishing captures 41 vulnerable species. The average ratio of vulnerable species in the capture is about 30%. The biggest impact in vulnerable species is produced by fishing from boat (39 vulnerable species) because it uses more techniques, captures are bigger and they can move to different habitats. Spearfishing fishing goals are generally vulnerable species because they have a long life and a slow growth. These species have a reproductive potential that increases with age, so when fishers captures the biggest animals, it is drastically reduced the reproductive potential of the population (Jozami et al. 2011).


Capture and freeing 

Although capture and freeing is widespread, in the Mediterranean it is not because what is taken usually is eat. This practice is not free of negative impacts on the organisms. Some actions in the manipulation of the animals can cause many stress and death. Minimizing the time of manipulation and the exposure to air, and using devices to reduce the injury, stress and mortality; many of the negative effects can be eliminated (Arlinghaus et al. 2007).

Mètode d'extracció de l'ham de la boca del peix (Foto extreta de WikiHow).
Method to remove hook from the mouth of a fish (Picture from WikiHow).

Accidental captures

Elasmobranchii are the most important accidental captures in recreational fishing (Font et al. 2012).

Ecological impact of bait

In the 93.3% of the MPA studied by Font et al. (2012), worms are used as bait. The use of exotic species (80% of the cases (Font et al. 2012)) can be a threat for ecosystems (Di Stefano et al. 2009). Moreover, we have to have into account that these baits usually are sell alive and to do that they have a substrate of exotic algae, where small crustaceans, other worms and snails can be present. If this substrate is thrown to the water, the consequences can be horrible because new viruses can affect fishes (Goodwin et al. 2004).

Ghost fishing 

Ghost fishing is the negative effects of devices lost and abandoned into the sea, like lead weights, lines and hooks.

The loose of lead weights affects seabirds because they confuse them with stones (that are digestive for them) and cause lethal effects. When another bird (eagle, falcon…) feeds on them, it happens the bioaccumulation, what can cause morphological, physiological and behavioural disorders. Nevertheless, the impact is less important than the caused by the atmospheric lead. (Font et al. 2012)

Fishing lines abandon sessile organisms, causing abrasion, strangulation and the reduction of the light.

Plastics produce the plugging of the digestive tracts and reduce the reproductive capacity.


Anchoring can affect marine environment, specially seagrasses, with a huge ecological importance.


És important presentar unes bones pràctiques de pesca per tal de minimitzar l'impacte en les poblacions marines (Foto extreta de NSW Government).
It is important to know the good practices to minimize the impact of marine populations (Picture from NSW Government).


  • To regulate the fishing effort with the limitation of the number of rods, hooks (number and size) and licences.
  • To increase the vigilance and control in MPAs, assuring the compliance of laws, specially in no-take zones.
  • To forbid and control the use of exotic bait.
  • To implement cleaning programmes of fishing devices to reduce ghost fishing.
  • To control and penalize the sale of captures.
  • To increase the capture and freeing practice in a good way: minimizing the time that the animal is out of the water and that is being manipulated, minimize the injury using devices to free the hook and avoid the unnecessary manipulation.
  • To limit the fishing of concrete species in reproductive periods.
  • To apply measures that stablish a minimum size over the size of sexual maturity.
  • To forbid or limit the fishing of vulnerable species.
  • To reduce the use of lead weights.
  • To include recreational fishing in the management programmes of marine resources exploitation.
  • To stablish educational programmes.
  • To do specific researches about the impact of recreational fishing in the communities inside the MPAs.

Fishing from boats

  • To control the captures through observers in the boats (minimum size, vulnerability of the species, accidental captures, number and biomass of captures…) and to do the capture and freeing practice in a good way.
  • To stablish anchoring systems that don’t destroy the seafloor, like buoys.
  • To minimize movements and noise inside MPAs to avoid bother and injury in animal and plant communities.

Shore fishing

  • To stablish controlled zones and limit the practise.


  • To direct spearfishing with guides and/or observers that indicate which are the animals that can be fished.
  • To control the use of scuba sets.


  • Arlinghaus R., Cooke S. J., Schwab A. & Ian G. Cowx.2007. Fish welfare: a challenge to the feelings-based approach, with implications for recreational fishing. Fish and Fisheries 2007, 8, 57–71.
  • Cooke S. J., Ian G. Cowx. 2006 .Contrasting recreational and commercial fishing: Searching for common issues to promote unified conservation of fisheries resources and aquatic environments. Biological Conservation 128 : 93-108.
  • Denny C.M., R.C. Babcock. 2004. Do partial marine reserves protect reef fish assemblages? Biological Conservation 116 (2004) 119–129.
  • Di Stefano R.J., Litvan, M.E., Horner, P.T. 2009. The Bait Industry as a Potential Vector for Alien Crayfish Introductions: Problem Recognition by Fisheries Agencies and a Missouri Evaluation. Fisheries 34(12): 586-597.
  • EU. 2004. Mediterranean: guaranteeing sustainable fisheries. Fishing in Europe 21: 12.
  • Font T., Lloret J., Piante C. 2012. Recreational fishing within Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean. MedPAN North Project. WWF-France. 168 pages.
  • Gaudin C. & De Young C. 2007. Recreational fisheries in the Mediterranean countries: a review of
  • existing legal frameworks. General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean. Studies and Reviews No. 81. ISSN 1020-9549.
  • Goodwin A.E., Peterson, J.E., Meyers, T. R, Money, D.J., 2004. Transmission of exotic fish viruses: the relative risks of wild and cultured baits. Fisheries, 29: 19–23.
  • Jozami S.I., Lorente A., Hereu B. 2011. Área marina protegida del parque natural del Montgrí, las Islas Medes y el Baix Ter. Análisis de los usos y recomendaciones de gestión. Tesis de Màster. Universitat de Barcelona.
  • Lau W. 1995. Importation of baitworms and shipping seaweed: vectors for introduced species? In Environmental Issues: From a Local to a Global Perspective, Sloan DM, Christensen KD (eds). Environmental Sciences Group Major, University of California: Berkeley, CA; 21–38.
  • Pawson M.G., D. Tingley, G. Padda, H. Glenn. 2007. EU contract FISH/2004/011 on Sport Fisheries (or Marine Recreational Fisheries) in the EU. Prepared for The European Commission Directorate-General for Fisheries.


4 pensaments sobre “Recreational fishing in marine reserves: is it compatible?”

  1. The article fails to answer the question,”Is it compatible”, and the effort to describe/define recreational fishing and the impacts of it, is simply a re-statement of well-established knowledge that has informed and guided the rules and regulations governing recreational fishing implemented in nearly every developed country.

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