The angler’s principle – catch and release vs. humane protection of fish in light of current legal solutions

humanitarna ochrona ryb

In the past, the main reason for fishing with a rod was to obtain fish for consumption. However, in recent years the practice of fishing just for pleasure, without taking home the fish caught, has become widespread. As a result, there have been many fisheries where the mandatory rule is to release the specimens caught. Thus, there have been claims that fishing for typical sporting purposes and re-releasing fish is no longer a form of fish harvesting, and therefore also a form of amateur fishing. Therefore, it is worth considering how such a practice relates to the regulations underpinning the practice of amateur fishing and whether it is humane fish conservation.

Personally, I am an angler, without fishing I can’t imagine life. I release the vast majority of the individuals I catch, but I take a few to a dozen fish with me for consumption during the year. My behavior is caused by the slimness of resources and the easy overfishing of natural fisheries. Therefore, I carry out selection, taking only those fish that I qualified for it.

The current legal arrangements, which set the rules for amateur fishing, are one of the criteria. When going fishing, however, I think about the fact that maybe one piece will be suitable for taking. I approach all fish with respect and care. Some, however, as a rule, release all individuals, without necessarily showing them respect. So it is worth considering how such behavior can be qualified from a legal perspective, and whether it really has only a bright side.

Amateur fishing

In accordance with the provisions of Art. 7 paragraph. 1 of the Law of April 18, 1985. on inland fisheries (OJ 2022, item 883) amateur fishing is considered to be the taking of fish with a fishing rod or crossbow, while it is permitted, at the place and time of fishing with a fishing rod, to take fish for bait using a fishing jig. Thus, it is clear from the cited definition that the key elements of amateur fishing are the harvesting of fish using a fishing rod or crossbow.

The concept of harvesting is not defined in the Inland Fisheries Law. Accordingly, the meaning is taken from the Polish language, in which to acquire is to become the possessor of something that has been sought. The concept can therefore be understood in different ways. However, from the point of view of its legal significance, one should also take into account the solutions provided by other regulations that may limit it.

Humane fish conservation

Fish, from the point of view of natural science, are animals classified as vertebrates. In this regard, solutions under the Law of August 21, 1997 may be most relevant to the concept of acquisition. On the Protection of Animals(Journal of Laws 2023, item 1580). In accordance with the provisions of Art. 3 of this act The law regulates the handling of vertebrate animals, including vertebrate animals used for scientific or educational purposes, to the extent not regulated by the law of January 15, 2015. On the protection of animals used for scientific or educational purposes (OJ. of 2023. pos. 465).

Thus, in light of the cited provision, there is no doubt that the solutions under the Law on the Protection of Animals are also applicable to fish. Thus, in accordance with the provisions of Art. 1 paragraph. 1 of this act An animal, as a living being capable of feeling suffering, is not a thing. Man owes it respect, protection and care. In practice, it is assumed that from this provision follows that every animal has the right to expect due understanding, customary treatment and even respect from humans. Any legal measures taken against animals should have their welfare in mind, first and foremost the right to exist. (Judgment of the WSA in Poznań of 6.06.2013, IV SA/Po 165/13, LEX No. 1333697).

Another solution that may be relevant in determining the proper treatment of fish is Article. 5 of the Law on Animal Protection stating that every animal requires humane treatment. Thus, the general principle of humane treatment of animals, including during amateur fishing, derives from this provision.

The provisions of Art. 6 of the Animal Protection Law, which bans the killing and abuse of animals. From this rule in paragraph. 1(2) of the cited provision introduced an exception relating to fishing in accordance with fishing and inland fishing regulations.

humane fish conservation
pic. Krzysztof Gruszecki

Harvesting fish vs. humane treatment of fish

Accordingly, if we consider that catching fish and releasing them is a form of harvesting, such behavior will be in line with the cited exception to the prohibition of killing and mistreating animals, and the hunter will have to comply with the rules of amateur fishing (e.g., have a fishing card and a fishing permit). However, if we consider that amateur fishing is not a form of harvesting, then catch and release will have to be qualified as contrary to the order to treat animals humanely and the prohibition of animal abuse.

In my opinion, catching fish for re-release is a form of harvesting. This is because the hunter comes into their possession for a short time (although not for consumption). In light of the solutions cited, however, one can reasonably doubt whether the practice of catching fish merely for pleasure, with the aim of releasing them again, is as ethical and humane as many anglers think. A lot of fish get sick after being caught on a rod and released. Probably the best example of this are the big carp from commercial fisheries.

The largest ones are caught several times in one season, and then become elusive. Many anglers consider this a sign of cleverness, but often it is simply the result of the demise of such a fish, triggered by catching it several times beforehand. That’s why the operators of such fisheries, despite the ban on taking fish, let in new specimens all the time, thus replenishing losses. Thus, one may question whether this form of fishing is ethical and humane.

These doubts are further exacerbated by the way fish are sometimes treated before release. E.g., photographing small or protected fish can significantly affect their ability to survive. Such behavior in many cases also violates the provisions of Art. 9 paragraph. 1 of the Inland Fisheries Law, which states that. fish caught in violation of Art. 8 paragraph. 1 points 1-3a, if they are alive, shall be immediately released into the same fishery, with the necessary care. Thus, the obligation to handle fish humanely also derives from the quoted solution.


So, to summarize the above considerations, it should be said that in light of the current legislation, catching fish just for the pleasure of catching and releasing them is not necessarily always considered ethical and humane. Indeed, exactly the same rules apply to fish as to other vertebrates. And since, in light of the solutions cited, fish require dignified treatment, perhaps catching them merely for entertainment should also be questionable.

I submit this for your consideration and discussion. These doubts particularly apply to commercial fisheries, where fish must be released. Such places are somewhat reminiscent of circuses of the past, where animals were kept and trained only for the pleasure of visitors. This is currently changing. In this regard, one should consider whether also catching fish with a fishing rod and releasing them again should be reviewed from the point of view of humane treatment of animals. Undoubtedly, a partial solution to the problem could be to clarify what is meant by “acquisition” and what conditions should be observed in this case. Personally, I think that if we fish only for pleasure, we should stop doing so. This is because such behavior from an ethical point of view may be considered questionable.

Photo. main: Krzysztof Gruszecki

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