Animal welfare and recreational fishing

Code of Conduct

Millions of Australians enjoy the challenges and the benefits of recreational fishing. It is a healthy outdoor experience, a way of putting food on the table and a family and social activity. With around one million recreational fishers in NSW alone, recreational fishing is also an important contributor to our economy.

The Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW (RFA) supports recreational fishing and the harvesting of wild food by fishers, as long as there is humane treatment of animals, sustainable use of the fishery, care for the environment and respect for other members of the community.

We understand that the wider community has a range of views on fishing, including various opinions on the consumption of meat and fish, on whether fish feel pain, whether animals are sentient beings, and so on. We respect and constantly consider these concerns—indeed we know that recreational fishers ponder these same issues.

Recreational fishers enjoy a social licence that depends on broad community acceptance of our activities. Therefore, we recognize that recreational fishing practices must meet regulatory and community standards, and that these standards may change over time. We are focused on how fishers need to behave now, and in the future—we do not cling to past practices.

Fishing practices are constantly evolving. For example, the number and weight of fish caught are now less important than the challenge of catching a special species; fish are now more often measured (with less stress) by length, rather than by weight; fish size regulations have become more complex to protect the sustainability of large breeding fish, etc. Recreational fishers support these changes to regulations, and through payments for their recreational fishing licences have financially supported the research and management work that has underpinned those changes.

Changes like these are steps in the right direction. As recreational fishers and the community become better informed by the science around fish welfare, we are confident that fishers will adopt changes that will lead to enhanced fish welfare and fishery sustainability.

Recommendations to fishing clubs

The RFA’s member organisations—mostly fishing clubs and associations—are directly in contact with their members, their local communities, social media and local media. We encourage clubs to make humane and sustainable fishing a key aspect of club activities. By doing so, they will protect the reputation and social licence of recreational fishers in the community and in the media.

  • Make sure that events and competitions comply with fisheries regulations and humane and sustainable fishing practices.
  • Promote humane and sustainable practices in membership promotions, event advertising, entry conditions and reports about events.
  • When dealing with the media and community, highlight the humane, ethical and sustainable practices that apply to the event, such as catch and release, removal of pest species, citizen science data collection, family involvement, water safety and the sustainable consumption of fish if any are harvested during the event.
  • Avoid situations where the public display of catches might be seen as offensive or create controversy.
  • Avoid misunderstandings with local media and community groups by engaging with them, explaining how the club operates, its standards, and how events comply with fisheries regulations and humane and sustainable fishing practices.
  • Respond quickly and politely to any media or community queries, being careful not to engage in emotional exchanges that will draw unwanted attention to the issue.
  • Monitor the club’s social media to make sure that photos and comments are not offensive.
  • Investigate whether the club can engage with fishery agencies and researchers to assist them with ‘citizen science’ from events and competitions.
  • Encourage members to be involved with citizen science programs.
  • If your club has a code of conduct, put it up around your venue, on your website, social media and newsletters. Feel free to adopt this one if you wish.

Recommendations to individual fishers

The RFA represents and advocates for recreational fishers, but we are not their conscience. Individual fishers must take responsibility for fish welfare, for their own actions and how their actions might be viewed.

  • Always release undersized, oversized, protected, out-of-season or unwanted fish.
  • Only keep what you need for personal consumption.
  • Use barbless hooks on lures and flies to quickly release fish.
  • If bait fishing, use circle hooks to avoid gut hooking.
  • Handle any fish you keep carefully to preserve its eating quality. Let nothing go to waste.
  • Learn about the iki jime method of dispatching a fish to avoid distress to the fish and improve eating quality. (See www.iki
  • Avoid lengthy playing of fish to avoid stress, and limit the time a captured fish might be held out of the water.
  • Use the heaviest line appropriate to the fishing conditions so that playing time is reduced and there is less risk of a fish breaking off with a lure or hook.
  • Avoid lifting fish out the water to take photographs, and avoid handling which may injure gills, internal organs or the fish’s protective slime.
  • Use soft, knotless landing nets to prevent damage to gills, scales and slime.
  • If you intend to release a fish, handle it with wet hands and help the fish recover by moving water through its gills.
  • If you fish in deep water, learn how to release fish affected by barotrauma to increase their chances of survival.
  • Do not clean or fillet fish in areas used by other members of the public. Do not leave fish waste behind.
  • Do not sell your catch—it is illegal to sell recreational fishing catch in NSW.
  • Never leave rubbish behind.
  • Report suspicious or illegal activity on the NSW DPI Fisheries website at

Some key points for the media

  • All recreational fishers in NSW must have a recreational fishing licence, with the exception of children and pensioners. The licence costs $35 per year—concessions and discounts are available.
  • NSW Department of Primary Industries estimates that there are around one million recreational fishers in NSW. This makes recreational fishing an important contributor to our economy, especially in regional areas where fishing attracts tourists. The economic contribution includes more than tackle shops—it extends to accommodation, the boating industry, car and boat fuel, food outlets, professional fishing guides and much more.
  • Fishing regulations regarding species, size limits, bag limits, fishing seasons, fishing locations, allowable gear, etc., are sometimes complicated, but are clearly explained at the NSW Department of Primary Industries website, The RFA is happy to speak to the media to help clarify the regulations or direct their enquiries. You can contact us at
  • Fishing competitions are legal in NSW.
  • Some fishing competitions target pest species and aim to legally remove as many fish as possible—for example carp ‘fish-outs’ held in some inland waterways.
  • There are some Aboriginal cultural fishing events held in NSW where catch limits and other regulations do not apply. These events are completely legal and are covered by government acts and regulations. The RFA supports these events. Fishing has always been an important part of the cultural and economic life of Aboriginal communities and for many Aboriginal people fishing is an integral component of connection to their traditional country. For more information see
  • The sale of fish by recreational fishers is illegal in NSW.
  • NSW Department of Primary Industries employs over 60 compliance officers responsible for recreational fishing regulation. Their salaries are paid by the recreational fishing licence fees collected in the NSW Recreational Fishing Trusts. They regularly attend popular fishing spots, fishing competitions and locations where suspicious or illegal activities have been reported. Compliance officers enjoy a good reputation and relationship with recreational fishers in NSW.
  • The RFA is well aware that media coverage of fishing events can cause controversy. The RFA discourages any sort of display, photography and commentary which may offend others in the community, e.g. images of large numbers of fish caught, or photos of ‘trophy’ or record fish.
  • Fishing clubs and government agencies encourage involvement of families and children in recreational fishing. Many fishing clubs organise junior events. NSW Department of Primary Industries organises junior fishing clinics and fishing programs in NSW schools. The clubs and the government agencies all strongly emphasise fish welfare in these events and programs.

Media enquiries

Contact the Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW by email The email address is monitored every day of the year and we will always try to make a quick response to media enquiries.

Additional resources

We encourage member organisations, individual fishers and the media to refer to the National Recreational Fishing Code of Practice at

It contains comprehensive advice relevant to all forms of recreational fishing, and is frequently reviewed to keep it up to date with new information and current science.

Clubs organising competitions and tournaments should refer to for guidance on environmental standards for events.

Codes of practice for more specialised forms of recreational fishing are available:

Game Fishing Association Australia ‘Code of Practice for a responsible gamefish fishery’

Australian Underwater Federation ‘Spearfishing Code of Conduct’

Underwater Skindivers and Fisherman’s Association ‘Spearfishing Code of Conduct’

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