How to Fish Responsibly

The best fishing stories are all about the big catch. But if we want fish to continue to thrive, we need to take care of them and their environment by adopting ethical fishing practices.

Text—Guillaume Rivest
Photos—Benjamin Rochette
Illustrations—Mélanie Masclé

In partnership with


Are you someone who watches fly-fishing videos and thinks, “Hey, that seems like something I’d enjoy: two feet in the water, rod in hand, engaged in an epic fight with the legendary Atlantic salmon”? Fishing is indeed a very enjoyable activity that allows you to disconnect and attune yourself to your environment. At times it’s a test of patience, and at others it can be a roaring fire of action. But ecosystem disturbances have increasingly negative effects on fish, and a responsible fishing practice has never been more important. With that in mind, here’s a miniguide to help you adopt proper “fishing ethics” on your next adventures.

– 1 –
Follow the rules

This may seem obvious, but it can be more complicated than you think. Québec is full of different fishing areas, each with its own particularities. The dates you can fish vary from place to place, just like the species you may find and the minimum (and maximum) size of specimens that can be kept. Even species deemed “fishable” are not always the same, depending on the health of the local fish populations, the state of the ecosystem, and other factors. Fines for violators are in place everywhere to mitigate the effects of bad practices, which can ripple outward for many years. Before going fishing, save yourself from any possible trouble and consult the rules of the body of water you’re hoping to drop a line in.

– 2 –
Learn to release fish back into the water

Some anglers are out to catch their dinner; others just want to have a good time. Either way, it’s important to let some catches go. In order to maximize your new fish friend’s chances of survival, master these proper release techniques.

Leave your fish into the water

Your new friend doesn’t like air. Ideally, leave the fish you want to release in the water while you delicately remove the hook with the help of some needle-nose pliers. If you must absolutely take it out of the water, try to limit the time to less than 15 seconds. This is more than enough time for you to measure the fish and take a photo, and it allows you both to return to your respective occupations as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Avoid touching the fish

If you must handle the fish with your hands, rinse them first so you don’t damage the fish’s protective mucus. Don’t touch its eyes or gills. A minor injury to these organs can end up killing the creature.

Keep your fish horizontal

The internal organs of a fish can be damaged if it is held up vertically. If you need to handle your catch, keep it horizontal as much as possible.

Choose artificial baits and lures

As much as possible, opt for artificial baits and lures. Fish swallow them less deeply than natural baits (worms, leeches, meats, etc.), and so it’s easier to unhook them, thereby reducing the risk of injury. If you prefer to use a natural bait, consider replacing your J-hook with a circle hook, which tends to strike less deeply.

– 3 –
Respect the environment where you fish

This, too, might seem straightforward, but it is actually quite complex. Of course, anyone who fishes responsibly will leave no trace and will carry out all garbage. But precautions don’t stop there. The propagation of invasive species is a veritable scourge that can cause massive harm to the health of an ecosystem. Wash your boat and your fishing equipment before moving them from one body of water to another. Eurasian watermilfoil, spiny waterfleas, and a whole panoply of invasive species could spell the end of your fine fishing parties if they are introduced into a body of water because of inadequate cleaning.

– 4 –
Don’t abuse a good thing

Even if you follow all the release steps to perfection, keep in mind that each time it’s hooked diminishes the fish’s chance of survival. Caught a few and feeling satisfied? Don’t push things too far. In addition to respecting your fishing quota (the minimum legal requirement), the health of the ecosystem will benefit if you limit your catches.

It’s important to first understand that your best ally on the way to fishing responsibly is good old common sense. It’s the little voice that says, “I think what you’re about to do is a bad idea. I think 25 releases is too much. I think that huge walleye would make a better father of thousands of other walleyes than a meal of fish and chips.” Listen to your intuition, ask yourself what would be best for the environment, and do your research before setting off on an adventure.

Fishing, like most activities, has inevitable impacts on the environment. The idea is to reduce them to a minimum. Small actions that might seem trivial can actually make all the difference. Want to share the joy of a bountiful catch with your kids, your grandkids, your friends, or your partners one day? Your choices are a part of making this future possible. Everything begins with an exemplary fishing ethic.

Guillaume Rivest is a reporter and independent journalist originally from Abitibi-Témiscamingue. He holds a B.A. in applied political science and a master’s in environmental studies, and is passionate about nature and the outdoors. He contributes regularly to Moteur de recherche and Pénélope on Ici Radio-Canada Première.


The ministère de l’Environnement, de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques, de la Faune et des Parcs (MELCCFP) has, among other missions, the responsibility of promoting economic activities relating to wildlife while overseeing its conservation and that of its habitats. This mission involves raising public awareness of responsible practices to adopt while engaging in wildlife activities. The MELCCFP’s Je pêche responsable (I fish responsibly) initiative allows anglers to develop the skills to contribute to the healthy management of fish populations and the preservation of the environment. Following responsible fishing practices and talking about them with those around you is an important way to contribute to good-quality fishing for this generation, and those yet to come!

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