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History of Fishing Laws

For many, fishing is a popular hobby and pastime, from the classic father-and-son outing to a day out with friends and just having a good time. For others, fishing is a way to make a living, netting hundreds of fish daily to sell on the market. Fishing can provide recreation, employment, and sustenance. Unfortunately, the rise of amateur fishing and the ever-expanding fishing industry has endangered wildlife. Consequently, federal fishing laws have been enacted to protect against overfishing.
Notice No Fishing Allowed Sign
“No Fishing” signs with pictographs send a clear message—even to those who can’t read.
Environmentalism in the U.S. began to grow in 1871, when President Ulysses Grant passed legislation to create the U.S. Fish Commission to monitor fishing and introduce protective conservation techniques if needed. The late 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed large advances in wildlife and resource conservation, especially during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, when Congress passed the Refuge Trespass Act to protect fish and game preserves.
Old No Trespassing Sign
This old “No Trespassing” sign, a remnant from the Refuge Trespass Act, protected wildlife areas.
In 1956, Congress passed what would become the biggest step in federal wildlife conservation: the Fish and Wildlife Act. The Act established a comprehensive national wildlife policy that heavily regulated commercial fishing and touched on recreational fishing. A later amendment transformed Grant’s U.S. Fish Commission to today’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Act developed certain fishing limits for each species and created a number of marine sanctuaries where fishing is prohibited. In addition to federal regulations, each state can amend the law to its own, stricter specifications (i.e., designating off-limit areas or enacting fines or other penalties).
Moreover, each state requires citizens to purchase a fishing license. For instance, New York State requires individuals 16 years of age or older to purchase a license before fishing in any body of water (excepting marine and coastal district waters, and certain designated fishing preserves). Violations can result in fines, license suspension, or even jail time.
No Fishing with Fine Sign
Deter illegal fishing practices with signs that warn of fines.
New advances in commercial fishing have resulted in catching larger game and in higher quantities than ever before. The higher market price for valuable wildlife such as Russian Sturgeon, Borneo Sharks, and certain whales has resulted in overfishing and the potential extinction of these species. The Coast Guard goes to great lengths in protecting these species and is the authority for violators who overfish or lack a fishing license. Meanwhile, on the recreational front, fishers are encouraged to catch and release their fish—thereby having fun but also preserving game for the next occasion or for other fishers.
Catch and Release Sign
Encourage conscious fishing habits with this courteous reminder to “Catch & Release”
Federal and state legislation, combined with awareness campaigns, seek to preserve fishing as a pastime for generations to come. By stabilizing marine ecosystems and preventing overfishing now, we can ensure that there will always enough fish. Besides the recreational benefit, this is especially important to those whose main staples are fish, as in many poorer nations around the globe. This is one of many reasons why it’s important for fishers to heed local, national, and regional laws.
Recreational Fishing Regulations
Recreational Fishing Regulations in the Gulf of Mexico
In an interesting twist, since wildlife is a favorite tourist and vacationer sight, many resorts and private clubs present their own “No Fishing” signs to maintain an aquatic look. Since these hotspots are typically frequented by different nationalities, it helps to post bilingual or multilingual signs.
Bi-lingual No Fishing sign
These bi-lingual signs communicate with both English and Spanish speaking patrons.
Proper “No Fishing” signage is a perfect complement to the law. It reminds fishers where they can fish and where they can’t. These additional signs are particularly helpful notices to amateurs who may be unaware of fishing laws and practices.