Is it OK to catch fish with hook and line for the sake of observation?

This is my first post so please bear with me.

We decided to take some fishing equipment with us to our most recent vacation. The intention was to catch and release small fish with the kids, photograph them for the iNat observation, and release back. We got a fish tank and an underwater camera for the smaller ones.

Recently we were wondering whether the benefits (logging the observations and learning about fish) are worth the consequences. All fish that get caught on a hook will inevitable get injured, and while they might seem just fine after releasing, it is hard to know whether they will actually be fine. For all I know, maybe they will all die within a week.

So I searched on the forum here and found this post by @cosmiccat: — and learned a lot about how to properly handle and release fish.

But the main question remains: is it generally a good idea to capture fish with hook and line for the sake of observation, or is it frowned upon? And I don’t just mean the iNaturalist submission here, we do actually observe the fish with the kids before releasing. :nerd_face:



I think it’s okay as long as you use good catch & release practices. If you’re worried about hurting the fish with a hook, you could use a seine net (if possible), a minnow net, or a minnow trap.


I’m not in charge of any policies, nor can I speak for anyone here, but with so few fish observations, I think any would be great, regardless if done for education reasons or hunting reasons.

Granted, I’m not someone who fishes, nor do I even like to eat fish. Does having a five gallon fish tank with some male endler guppies count? :grin:


The question boils down to: is it okay to fish for recreation, even if it’s catch and release. It’s legal, with a fishing license, but whether it’s ethical is up to the individual to decide. Personally, I think it’s fine and a great way to learn what fish you have in your area and document them on iNat while also having fun with the family. Though, if you really want to learn the whole range of fish species you have, you may want to also use a seine (if that’s feasible – and legal – in your body of water).


People do that for entertainment, for observation and education it should be acceptable.

If your planning on catch and release, make sure to get barbless hooks.

Make sure you understand all applicable laws, especially in regard of what you put in the photo tank. It could be considered a “kept” fish at that time.


I would recommend not doing this activity if the focus are rays and sharks. A research done no so much time ago shown somepregnant sharks and ray lose their pups when caught, and this could threat some species.
Here is the paper of this study -> and a news coverage ->


I personally am against fish capture with a hook for entertainment, and for observation I am on the fence.

To learn all the fishes will require lots of different techniques and visiting lots of habitats. Some species may even require technical diving to find …


At the least, you are “better” than most hook/line anglers as you are taking that opportunity to contribute data.


Fish as a whole have more to gain by your introducing the kids to nature, including fish, than they loose. Branch out into using nets or looking under rocks (which you roll back as they were!). Have a good time.


I’m personally not against it, and there aren’t any rules on iNat prohibiting it. I should also note that microfishing is a thing.


I’ll add, you should probably be aware of any local regulations as these can vary quite heavily, but that’s probably really the extent of separating “OK” from “not OK” here (some countries, such as Switzerland, have made it illegal). Other constraints boil down more to the side of ethics. The National Park Service also has an article on catch and release fishing to increase survival that may act as supplement to the earlier link.

Yes, it’s OK. Follow all local laws and regulations. Have fun.

Many of my observations are from fishing. I’ve kept a few fish to eat but most are catch&release. I’ve also racked up numerous other observations while fishing, birds, deer, insects, mink, frogs, turtles etc. It’s amazing what you’ll see when you spend time near the water.


Consider the possibility to go snorkeling rather than going fishing ;-)

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Options for observing fish:

  • Snorkeling - But requires some specialised camera equipment to get photos, and isn’t always safe or comfortable
  • Seine netting - Very disruptive to habitat when dragging on the bottom and often not legal. I really don’t think this should be considered appropriate for enthusiasts in most areas without an explicit conservation objective - the disruption to bottom dwelling aquatic plants, caddisflies etc. seems potentially really serious to me.
  • Dip netting - Often hard to catch much and can also be disruptive to habitat
  • Minnow trap - Often hard to catch much and only works for areas you are able to return to
  • Angling - Somewhat harmful to the fish caught, can result in harmful garbage (fishing line etc.) depending on how careful you are

I think angling is often the best way for the enthusiast to observe fish without disrupting them or the habitat too much. I have some very small hooks I use to catch tiny fish. As long as you are following regulations and are taking other reasonable precautions (absolutely no lead sinkers, clean up fishing line etc.) it seems fine. I assume that some proportion of the fish caught do not survive, but it is hopefully small.


Thanks everyone for the responses. Let me respond to a few of the points individually.

I’ll try to make my question more clear, since there are three interpretations I’ve seen here:

  1. Legal: Is catch & release fishing legal where I am?
  2. Ecological: Am I damaging fish populations too much?
  3. Ethical: Is it OK for the fish to suffer for the sake of us observing it?

I was mostly interested in the 2. point there.

  • (1) is pretty straightforward. I’ve been living in Switzerland for the past four years, and never did any fishing there (I have no use for the fish, beyond observing them.) As @jonathan142 points out, the rules are pretty strict (and even more complicated) there. On the flip side, in Thailand (where we are currently), I’ve seen, on several occasions, guides going into national parks and feeding the wild animals… People are quite relaxed when it comes to regulation.

  • (3) is hard to answer objectively. I think there will always be those who think it is natural for fish to get eaten therefore catching and releasing them is fine. And there will always be folks who think fishing is animal cruelty. I’m more interested in what happens to the population as a whole as a result of fishing.

Re @diegoalmendras, thanks for the link to the study! I’m planning on catching rays and sharks, but still interesting.

Re @clay_s, I actually did not know barbless hooks are a thing. I certainly don’t mind using those so I’ll make sure to acquire some for next time.

Re @blue_celery, thanks for the tip. In fact, most of my fish observations are from snorkelling: it’s a lot easier to take a photo when swimming around a school of fish, plus photos of captured fish are never going to be that great. However, where we are now, visibility is 50cm at most, which means ~20cm for my hobby camera, even with the flash. Snorkelling is not an option here.

What I did try is taking some photos of fish caught by other folks. I got permission to post some of them on iNat so I did post those.

And since @tiwane mentioned microfishing: I did not know about that, so thanks for the link! That said, when I say “fishing”, what I mean is using the smallest hook you can find, with some basic equipment and catching small fish (5-15cm) with the kids, maybe 5 of them per day or so. Certainly not the kind when you pull up 5kg yellowfin tunas one after another from a boat :) (I’ve seen people do that as a tourist attraction in some places.)

Re @reuvenm, thanks for the many tips, esp. for the nets. One note on lead sinkers: I do realise the harm there, and I can see the reason against lead sinkers. That said, I’m yet to meet a fisherman who uses anything other than lead sinkers. I also often seem to find abandoned lead sinkers with leftover line at fishing places, both seaside and lakeside. In Switzerland, they are even abandoning the use of lead bullets in outdoor shooting ranges as the impact on the environment was apparently measurable. I’ll replace my sinkers, but this is the first time I heard someone voice any concerns about this. Maybe I need to read up on the impact of lead sinkers on the environment.

Thanks again everyone!


This reminds me of an issue I raised in 2017 when Ken-ichi was looking for feedback on the community guidelines. I made a comment about hunters/fishermen who share their observations on iNaturalist that generated passionate debate. When it comes to fishing, or harming any organism be it for sport or science, @kueda said something that resonated with me:

This is (obviously) a contentious area and I’m not sure how to address it in the Guidelines in a satsifactory manner. I think my preference would be to state that posting evidence of these kinds of scenes is ok, but we neither encourage nor discourage people from causing such scenes to occur. Violence is a part of both human and non-human existence, and the line between appropriate violence (e.g. eating) and innappropriate violence (e.g. hunting rhinos) is not always clear. I am, however, hestitant to explicitly protect choices in lifestyle like hunting in the same way that we explicitly protect attributes like religion. Sometimes hunting and fishing is just as culturally ingrained as religion, and sometimes religious choice isn’t so culturally ingrained, and it’s not always trivial to get that kind of context from a photo. Personally I think a lot of this falls under “Understand that the people who use iNat may not be like you,” but I’ll think about how to ammend it a bit.

Ultimately the discussion generated from it manifested in the actual Community Guidelines as:

While we do not endorse killing or fatally injuring animals just for the sake of contributing to iNaturalist, as naturalists we all encounter such scenes in our explorations, for example in the form of road kill and recent predation events (including predation by humans). While these kinds of images can be disturbing for some people, they can also be interesting, and provide the same kind of scientifically relevant occurrence data as an image of a living creature. Very often they demonstrate some aspect of the life history of the organisms involved, or may even provide information relevant to the conservation of the organism in question.


Here’s some text from Environment Canada

An average Canadian angler can lose 11 to 15 jigs and sinkers per year while fishing due to snags and other reasons. This adds up to about 460 tonnes of lead jigs and sinkers lost every year into Canada’s lakes and waterways. This represents the most significant source of lead releases into Canadian waters.

Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause detrimental effects to the nervous and reproductive system in humans. With respect to wildlife, the ingestion of small lead fishing sinkers and jigs is a major cause of death in breeding Common Loons in Canada, often exceeding the death rate caused by trauma, disease and entanglement in fishing gear. Ingesting them can lead to blindness, muscle paralysis, reduced ability to reproduce, seizures and death.

I’ve found medium to large non-lead sinkers for sale here, I have yet to find any really small ones.


I know lead-free split shot sinkers are made, not sure where to find them in Canada though.

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Whether one likes angling or not is secondary to the fact that it provides excellent records of fishes that may not be observable by other methods. Of the over 60000 observations in the Australasian Fishes project, over 1300 have been tagged as ‘angling’. So yes, I’m strongly in favour of adding angling records.,%20snorkeling,%20angling,%20shore%20etc=angling


I think most fishermen who want barbless hooks just mash their barbs down with needlenose pliers, rather than buying a special hook.