The Ethics Behind Uploading Observations Of Fish Caught By The Observer

Hello All,
While going through some Ids today, my friends and I found an observation of someone restraining a pigeon to take its photo (this is not what I am discussing as that is a different subject altogether) and we stumbled across other observations by the same user of fish that they caught and took photos of. Personally I go out birding at public piers where there are fishermen and I will take photos of their catch because of the lack in data, however I am not personally catching those fish. I went over the iNaturalist community guidelines, and there is nothing on the subject that I could find. I know that many organizations for birding listing, like the ABA require that the bird is unrestrained in order for it to count on your list. Does iNaturalist have a similar policy? I am assuming it such a thing does not exist based on the number of observations that this applies to, but I am just checking. One of the biggest adversaries to creating such a policy, would be the downfall in the amount of data on these taxon and the damage it could cause to the scientific community. Personally I see nothing wrong with catch and release observations for iNat, because we need all the data we can get. I am far from an authority on this subject and I would love to hear the opinions of any experts out there as well as the general community. I know that ethics can be a touchy subject in all walks of life, so I encourage people to tread lightly as this could easily turn into a trashcan fire. Hopefully we can foster a respectful discussion and hear each other out as it is very helpful to hear the other side’s opinions in order for us to develop our own.
Happy Holidays,


short answer, no


Yeah, as @thebeachcomber says there’s no policy on iNat prohibiting it. I think it’d be best to assume they mean well. If you have concerns you can express them civillly (or ask questions) in a private message or comment.


Most fish that are caught are eaten and it’s fine if it’s done legally, I hope iNat never will have a rule banning observing something you caught, that’s a straight way to not have a single entomologist or ornithologist that do banding.


Just to clarify, I have nothing wrong with catch and release observations as long as its done responsibly.


The ABA situation is a bit different. First, there is a competitive component to ABA listing (e.g., big year records, person with longest life list, etc.). In general, iNaturalist doesn’t have the same competitive component (while certain bioblitzes may have a competitive component, it is up to the project curators and managers to filter which observations are included). Secondly, in the U.S., most birds cannot be handled legally without the appropriate permits (only issued to trained individuals for research/rehab/falconry purposes), but this is not the case for most fish (fishing activities require licenses which are accessible to the general public). Third, the ABA is not a citizen science platform; eBird is a citizen science platform and does have a banding protocol that can be used for submitting observations of birds captured for research purposes.

On iNaturalist, there are no hard rules on what you can include on your life list (it’s more of a tool for personal use). As long as you mark “captive/cultivate”, you could even include zoo animals on your life list if you so choose.


familiarize yourself with long-range industrial fishing fleets of the US, UK, Portugal, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Spain, and the “andre the giant” of industrial fleets, the PRC.

This “industry” sustained by government subsidies has contributed to species wide extinctions, starved and destroyed the lives and economies of coastal populations (thus exacerbating extreme levels of crime and violence in these places).

I stopped fishing in the states for a few different reasons, but the ethical stance I was taking regarding the “damage” I thought that I was personally committing to the ecosystems I fished in (South TX near Corpus Christi) has gone by the wayside.

It would require a “Cobra Commander level” supervillian to inflict the amount of damage done on the bay systems in Texas, albeit petrochemical development, or the greed of industrial fishing operations (which fun fact, is why it’s so difficult to find Tarpon in TX, when 150 years ago, they were one of the apex predators in many of our bays.

I would imagine the figures to be staggering, but my “barstool scientist” estimate is that, in an hour of operation of pulling nets, a single purse sine vessel likely pulls in more than the total amount of biomass taken by every recreational fisherman in the entire US in 24 hours, likely a week, maybe a month.

I’m sure some well payed scientists consulting for the nations tuna industry would disagree, so let me preface this is just my opinion.

I appreciate the attention to ethics, but I feel like when we’re facing species wide extinctions around the tropics, we shouldn’t waste energy worrying about the actions of other folks enjoying and experiencing wildlife, be it fishing, birding or hunting, again, just my opinion, I have to deal with the consequences of living in a coastal area with waters regularly pillaged by 3-5 nations long-distance fishing fleets.

I’d love a summer that I don’t have to encounter dozens of dead boobies, albatross, turtles, sea lions littering pristine, remote beaches where members of the local population would be lucky to catch enough fish to feed their families, let along break even for the cost of crew and fuel.


INat just wants to know a thing lives there. A fish you’ve caught does in fact live there. Plus, as mentioned above, some creatures often have to be caught to photograph them properly.

I don’t like catch-and-release fishing as entertainment because it’s a lot of stress to put an animal under for fun. I used to fish, and then I read a couple of studies about how fish definitely feel pain, and I just… couldn’t justify doing that for my own entertainment. It’s different if it’s done as quickly and humanely as possible for food, or for scientific studies, instead of just wanting to catch fish.
The way I think of it is, if fishing was done with a cuter animal (say birds, rabbits, whatever), it would probably be illegal by now. If it was regular practice to catch birds on hooks, be excited by them fighting to get away, and then hold them underwater to photograph, a lot of people would be very upset about that. Imagine seeing some guy on Facebook holding up a live rabbit by a hook in its mouth, and then look at how many people on there do that with fish.
I also saw way too many people who went fishing without any care for the fact that these were animals. Fish injured by careless treatment, manhandled by kids to the point of death, people laughing at fish thrashing around unable to breathe, all sorts of things. Again, if it was something cuter, people would wind up in legal trouble over this. But fish don’t have welfare laws protecting them.

Don’t get me wrong, I like fishing in concept. I wish there was a way to do it ethically; it’s really exciting to see what you catch, and there is a thrill in something yanking on the other end of the line. But I can’t help thinking that, if I were doing this to something cute and fuzzy, people would be furious. And I can’t help looking at how stressed I’m making the poor animal and feeling like maybe I should be doing something else. Particularly given that sometimes, even with the best handling, you do end up injuring or killing things.

(Not to be down on the people here who do fish. Y’all are smart, y’all can make decisions based on your understanding of the world. These are just mine.)


I never understood the thrill of the fight, enjoying the process of reeling them in. I only catch fish because I want to look at them (and document them) and/or eat them. I do like the challenge of catching small fish with a handheld net.


I have personally observed 37 species of fish, and of those 37 there were only 8 that were never caught. Most cameras cannot penetrate ten feet of water for a clear shot of a fish, let alone 50. If catching fish was unethical, then is taking a photo of a bird at your birdfeeder unethical?

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A hooked fish versus a fed bird?!


I don’t critically injure the birds that enjoy to my feeding stations.

I don’t put hooks inside the bananas we stock for the species struggling against extensive habitat loss in the region.


It was more about luring animals closer for photos, not about harm. Sorry for the misconception.


I barely fish anymore, but back when I did. The adrenaline that pumped when you got a great fighting fish on the line. Well that is where that thrill came from. I now get that thrill from a life bird or a really cool insect I have never seen before. But I do understand why fisherman do it.


The OP wrote:

Which is something we should strive for on all conversations here. Please be respectful, there’s no need to talk down to anyone. Most of the posts have been really thoughtful, let’s keep it that way.


Obviously, there’s much to be said about the ethics of fishing when it comes to harm to the animal, and I’m sure there are users on here who would not like to see more examples of that while scrolling through the app, but I believe that iNaturalist needs to be more popularized among people who fish for one reason: there’s a lot of endangered things in the water that need more documentation; in the US alone, we have sturgeon, paddlefish, buffalofish, and a lot of the native desert fish out west. And the people who most regularly come into contact with those aren’t going to be your ordinary nature lovers; they’re going to be the people who catch fish. So if we want more representative data among those species, we’re going to have to broaden our reach more in the fishing community.


There is a West African project (not an iNat project) where scientists are working with fishermen - who document their catch. Fish, seafood, sharks, turtles - I can’t - but anyone who wants to help ID? and annotate as dead. It is useful data.


Thank you for this. As a recreational fisherman myself I’ve faced criticism from folks lamenting my “environmental impact,” when they really ought to be focusing their energies elsewhere. Responsible, respectful anglers aren’t the problem…heck, they aren’t even a problem imo


I think this is particularly true for the rapidly growing micro fishing community. Micro-fishers concentrate on very small species that are ignored by most others. Often the goal is to catch the species, quickly photograph it in a portable ‘photo-tank’ and release it so that it can be ID’ed by photo later.

Here is a link to a homemade photo-tank and some of the resulting photos.


I have posted photos of Fish I have caught, and taken home to eat…Probably eat four or five a year, and try to put them through as little pain as possible by immediately killing them. (I do NOT eat any other Animals!) I never doubted that Fish are able/do, feel pain! Anyone who has ever fished and hooked one ought to realize that…it is quite obvious. “Catch and Release” is not a pastime of mine, since I know that the stress/pain/injury Fish experience should NOT contribute to Humans’ entertainment.