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What are the Different Types of Illegal Fishing?

Gregory Hanson
Gregory Hanson

Fishing, although one of the oldest human occupations, is carefully monitored and controlled in most modern societies in order to use natural resources most efficiently. Fishing generally requires a license or permit and is allowed only on certain bodies of water at certain times of year. Only certain types of fish and fish of certain sizes can be legally caught. The gear and equipment used to fish is also closely regulated. A breach of any of these regulations constitutes illegal fishing.

A common variety of illegal fishing involves fishing without a permit. Most states and countries require that would-be fishermen purchase licenses before fishing. This serves to limit the number of people engaged in fishing but is primarily a means of generating revenue, which is often used to fund the governmental agencies responsible for overseeing and managing fish and wildlife. States that rely heavily on tourism will often charge more for fishing licenses that are issued to visiting tourists than those issued to residents. A fishing license typically grants the right to catch a specified number of fish of certain types in a given period of time, and exceeding this bag limit constitutes illegal fishing.

Atlantic salmon are endangered in some locations, so fishing for them may be illegal.
Atlantic salmon are endangered in some locations, so fishing for them may be illegal.

The fish population varies from lake to lake, and environmental restrictions are often different for different bodies of water. Lakes with many visitors or fragile ecosystems are often more carefully monitored, and fishing on these lakes may be further restricted. In some cases, no fishing is permitted whatsoever. In others, fishing is permitted during only certain parts of the year.

Illegally caught fish.
Illegally caught fish.

The species and size of fish caught is also regulated. Popular game fish, such as northern pike, can be caught in limited numbers, and only fish of a certain minimum size can legally be kept. This type of prohibition ensures that fish are able to reach reproductive age and allows the fish stocks to maintain themselves. Catching smaller fish is obviously permitted, but keeping them is a form of illegal fishing. Invasive species and nuisance fish can generally be caught in unlimited numbers and at any size.

Illegal fishing can also involve the use of prohibited fishing techniques. Spear fishing is not generally permitted although exceptions are made for certain native peoples with a long history of fishing in this fashion. A more extreme example of an illegal fishing technique is the use of explosives. Water transmits concussive force very well, and even small explosives can stun or kill fish. Needless to say, this practice is almost universally prohibited.

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Discussion Comments


How do game commissions come up with the bag limits and size of fish that can be legally taken out of a lake or pond? Do they have some way to guess how many fish are in an area?

Also, has anyone ever gone offshore fishing? I have done a lot of fishing in local waterways, but my friends and I have talked about signing up for one of the guided fishing trips off the coast of Virginia or somewhere like that.

What types of special permits do you have to have for that, and are there certain types of equipment that are banned? I haven't read a lot about it yet, but do some of them leave US waters and go into international waters where you can fish for anything? I suppose with that, though, there might be laws about what you can bring back to shore.


@cardsfan27 - I actually just got done writing a paper about illegal shark fishing for a class. The biggest problem is with illegal shark fin fishing, which is a horrible practice where they cut off a shark's fins and throw it back into the water to die. The fins are usually sold to east Asian countries for shark fin soup.

Unfortunately, the shark populations are in steep decline, but it's making a lot of countries take notice. The United States just passed a law earlier this year about it, and there is a lot of talk in the European Union and United Nations about ways to stop shark finning.

Besides sharks, there are a lot of other fishing problems concerning other species.


@titans62 - Actually, I know of someone who did try to use a generator to remove some invasive carp from his section of a lake where he lives. A conservation officer happened to be driving by when he was doing it, and he got in a lot of trouble.

He ended up having to pay a huge fine based on the number of dead fish that were present. Luckily they were all carp and not game fish, otherwise he may have even been at risk of jail time. It's amazing how strict some of our fish and wildlife laws are compared to things like dealing drugs.

It just goes to show how seriously illegal fishing methods are taken. Does anyone know about illegal shark fishing laws? It seems like I've heard a lot about that lately.


Along with using explosives, I have heard of people who are able to put the current from electric generators in the water to stun fish. Once they get shocked, they either die or get stunned and then float to the surface.

I have been to plenty of lakes and ponds where they have creel limits displayed everywhere, but what are the limits for rivers and streams? It isn't like the Fish and Wildlife Commission can put signs up all along a river, so how do they make sure people don't take too many fish? What are the penalties if someone does try to take too many fish or fish that aren't the right size?

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    • Atlantic salmon are endangered in some locations, so fishing for them may be illegal.
      By: Witold Krasowski
      Atlantic salmon are endangered in some locations, so fishing for them may be illegal.
    • Illegally caught fish.
      By: FOOD-pictures
      Illegally caught fish.