Sportfishing is killing the biggest, most precious fish

1300lb mako shark caught recently in the USA

Updated 19th Sept 2014

As with land animals, there is now no excuse for killing threatened fish for sport and trophies. Despite this a significant minority of people in the sportfishing community are still killing these fish as proof of their endeavours in a similar vein to the great white hunters of the 1950s.

Due to intensive industrial overfishing only ten-percent of all large fish species including sharks, tuna, swordfish, marlin and sailfish are left in the sea. The era of iconic fish that inspired legends and novels is over and every single animal is now precious.

Large predatory fish are usually slow maturing and a 500kg fish may be upwards of 30 years-old with the largest and most sought after fish almost invariably female and sometimes pregnant.

Whilst it is the commercial fishermen who still endanger these fish the most, it is the sportfisher - who kills their prey instead of catching and releasing, then gets their photo in the popular press - who is the most visible aspect of an almost unimaginable disregard for marine life.

The irony is that the sportfisher, unlike the hunter on land, can have his cake and eat it. By catching, recording and releasing the fish they can provide a sustainable income for the region and invaluable information for conservation science.

The attitude of the media must change as well. Just as they would not dream of publishing a picture of a big-game hunter standing next to a shot tiger, it must now be unacceptable to show people standing next to a shark or marlin strung up by its tail.

At the beginning of the 20th Century intensive overhunting caused numerous wild land animals to become endangered. At about the time Ernest Hemmingway wrote 'The Old Man and the Sea' in 1951 a growing wildlife protection movement for land animals was forming. By the 1960s and 70s the movement was in full swing.

No such widespread, large-scale conservation movement exists for fish. If there is any hope of conserving these magnificent animals public attitudes to their slaughter will have to play catch-up with land conservation and change dramatically.