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Fish Hooks and the Protection of Living Aquatic Resources in the Context of Recreational Catch-and-Release Fishing Practice and Fishing Tourism

Tomasz Kajetan Czarkowski
Krzysztof Kupren
Anna Hakuć-Błażowska
2 and
Andrzej Kapusta
Department of Ichthyology, Hydrobiology and Aquatic Ecology, National Inland Fisheries Research Institute, Oczapowskiego 10, 10-719 Olsztyn, Poland
Department of Tourism, Recreation & Ecology, Institute of Engineering and Environmental Protection, Faculty of Geoengineering, University of Warmia & Mazury in Olsztyn, 10-719 Olsztyn, Poland
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Water 2023, 15(10), 1842;
Submission received: 16 April 2023 / Revised: 7 May 2023 / Accepted: 10 May 2023 / Published: 12 May 2023
(This article belongs to the Section Biodiversity and Functionality of Aquatic Ecosystems)


The fish hook is a commonly known tool used in recreational fishing, which is one of the forms of active, specialised tourism. As a component of a fishing rod, the hook is intended to be anchored into the mouth of a fish and hold the fish on the end of the line while landing it. However, in the context of the protection of living aquatic resources and Catch-and-Release (C&R) fishing, its role and significance are becoming broader. In addition to the impact of the hook type on fishing efficiency, including the Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE), the importance of hook selection in terms of minimising the resulting damage to the tissues of caught and released fish is increasing. It appears that alternative hook types, such as barbless hooks and circle hooks, are safer for fish in the aforementioned context while not significantly reducing fishing efficiency. This review study is aimed at describing the design, types, and role of the fish hook in modern C&R angling, including the impact of the hook type on both fishing efficiency and the safety and welfare of released fish, which translates into the status and protection of living aquatic resources. The issues presented in the study highlight a number of related technical, biological and social factors that are specific to inland angling in particular. Such a holistic perspective can be used to support the effective management of recreational fishing, which, as one of the most popular human activities when in contact with water, has a very significant impact on the state of the environment and, thus, on the possibility of tourism development.

1. Introduction

Humans may catch fish for a variety of reasons, not only to satisfy their nutritional needs. Currently, fishing is mainly practised for: commercial, subsistence, and recreational purposes [1,2,3]. In some countries, e.g., Poland, fish may additionally be caught for cognitive purposes (as part of scientific research), regulatory purposes (to form an appropriate structure of ichthyofauna), and for stocking purposes (to obtain sires for the production of stocking material) [4,5]. Fishing practised for the latter two reasons is of the greatest importance. However, Smith’s concept [1] assumes that both the main purposes of the use of freshwater ichthyofaunal resources and the number of users change with socio-economic development. This is a pattern observed throughout the world [6]. According to this theory, the ichthyofaunal resources of natural inland waters are currently exploited mainly through recreational angling. Recreational fishing is the capture of aquatic animals which are not the primary means of satisfying basic nutritional needs and are not traded [4,7]. When defining this type of exploitation, certain researchers focus on human physiology and they believe that recreational fishing is catching aquatic animals which are not the primary source for satisfying the essential physiological needs of an individual [3]. These definitions do not exclude considering the fish caught during recreational fishing as a supplement to the diet of the angler or their family [4]. Some authors suggest that recreational anglers taking fish for consumption may be more important than it is believed, particularly on a local level [8].
Inland recreational fishing, predominantly in the form of angling, begins to dominate commercial fishing at some point in socio-economic development, with aquaculture becoming the main supplier of consumable fish. It appears that angling is one of the more important human activities in the context of broadly understood tourism and leisure. Recreational fishing is estimated to be practised by around 350 million people worldwide, and the associated business is estimated to be approximately 190 billion USD per annum [9,10]. There are numerous socio-economic benefits stemming from recreational angling. These include, inter alia, the improvement of mental well-being, the creation of social bonds and the relationship between people and nature, and are a source of income for many groups of people [11,12,13,14,15,16,17]. They also contribute to the development of tourism and, in many areas, are a major stimulus of the development of land largely located in rural areas [18,19,20]. Recreational fishing is characterised by high fishing effort with relatively low catchability [21]. The main factor limiting the catching potential of a fishing rod is the fact that this tool only catches the fish that are foraging at any given time [4]. In some countries, recreational fishing is essentially equated to angling, yet it is not the fishing gear that makes an angler a “recreational fisherman” but the purpose behind fishing [2,3,5,7].
The exploitation and use of the living resources of aquatic ecosystems can only be carried out on condition that these resources are not destroyed or degraded due to human activities [5,22]. It must be recognised that freshwater ichthyofaunal resources are highly vulnerable and susceptible to degradation. This fact was already recognised and discussed many years ago, as described by Nagięć [23]. Even at that time, three groups of anthropogenic factors were indicated as having the strongest impact on fish populations in lakes, including the exploitation, i.e., fishing, the introduction of alien species, and eutrophication. Currently, there is an additional factor directly or indirectly linked to climate change. In this context, Catch-and-Release (C&R) fishing is gaining particular importance as one of the strategies for managing fishing grounds and ichthyofaunal resources [2,24,25]. Releasing the caught fish makes sense when the chances of their survival are high. This condition can be fulfilled if anglers use safe, properly selected fishing gear, particularly suitable hooks [26,27,28,29]. When introducing new, safer gear solutions, fishing efficiency and effectiveness play a considerable role in addition to fish safety, as anglers will agree to use alternative solutions, including alternative fish hooks, if fishing efficiency is maintained [29,30,31].
Angling originated as (and still is) a type of fishery, but for centuries it has been moving toward fishing tourism and agritourism. It can be regarded as a form of specialised tourism that requires special skills and dedicated equipment and is defined according to the fishing gear used, i.e., a fishing rod, and the considerable role of the emotional factor [32,33]. Meanwhile, angling tourism is understood as tourist trips outside one’s place of residence, involving amateur angling using strictly regulated equipment in line with the established customs [34,35]. One of the essential tools used for practising angling and angling tourism is the fish hook. It could even be argued that the hook is a component at the heart of broadly understood angling.
The hook-and-line is a useful tool that has been accompanying humans for centuries. Hooks for catching fish have been known to humankind for a long time, as catching fish using bait put on the hook was one of the first and basic fishing methods in the history of humankind, with traditional communities, as well as hunting and fishing tribes, who still use it today [36,37,38]. The role of the hook is evidenced by the fact that it has been listed on the Forbes list of twenty most useful and longest-used tools in human history (alongside the knife, needle, and others), with the first hooks most likely being made of wood over 30,000 years ago [39]. Currently, the hook is the most important component of the most popular fishing tool used worldwide, namely the fishing rod. However, its significance and function are no longer limited to ensuring only optimum fishing performance but also the safety and welfare of fish in the context of increasingly popular C&R fishing and, consequently, the protection of ichthyofaunal resources. Therefore, this review paper attempts to describe and highlight the significance of the fish hook in modern angling using the available literature and desk research. The presented view of the hook is holistic in nature and concerns both the efficiency of fishing and the safety and welfare of the fish being released in the context of the preservation and conservation of ichthyofaunal resources. It should be noted that the issues addressed in this paper are based on examples from recreational freshwater fisheries, mostly European, and the fish species found in these waters. However, we have included examples in the paper that refer to recreational fishing practised in different parts of the world. Additionally, the terms used when describing fishing methods and equipment are from European nomenclature.

2. The Assumptions, Popularity, and Controversies of Catch-and-Release Fishing

As mentioned in the introduction, the main objectives of inland fisheries are changing with socio-economic development. Inland commercial fishing is losing importance, while aquaculture and recreational fishing are gaining importance (Figure 1). Concern for fish welfare and the proper status of aquatic ecosystems is also gaining importance [6]. In this context, C&R fishing, in which anglers do not take the fish caught, and most or all of their catch is returned to the water, takes on particular importance (Figure 1). By assumption, C&R is simply one of the strategies for managing fishing grounds and ichthyofaunal resources [2,25]. From the perspective of recreational fishery management, implementing strategies to reduce both the number of fish caught and fishing mortality is a crucial goal, without the need for regulations that would greatly decrease fishing pressure and negatively affect the experience of anglers [40].
In many countries, C&R fishing has not only become legally grounded but also been accepted by the angling community, thus establishing a certain culture of fishing practice of its own [6,7,25,41]. With increasing pressure from anglers and the increasing impact of adverse factors on the aquatic environment and fish populations, C&R has become a widely applied method for protecting ichthyofauna and, indirectly, entire aquatic ecosystems as well. Currently, C&R is one of the most widely used manners of managing fishing grounds, which enables a reasonable and sustainable use of natural resources.
Figure 1. A diagram showing the development of inland fisheries (including C&R) and aquaculture and the changes in their principal objectives [4,42,43] modified.
Figure 1. A diagram showing the development of inland fisheries (including C&R) and aquaculture and the changes in their principal objectives [4,42,43] modified.
Water 15 01842 g001
Cooke and Cowx [44] found that more than 60% of the fish caught by recreational anglers worldwide are returned to the water. This is also confirmed by the data collected over several decades in Canada, where, after 2010, the average percentage of released fish increased from 50% to over 60% [45]. Sass and Shaw [41] claim that the percentage of released fish has reached a level of over 95% for species such as the largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides or the muskellunge Esox masquinongy. Obviously, the numbers of released fish differ vary from one region of the world to another, which is indirectly related to the previously described Smith’s concept [4]. The popularity of C&R is increasing not only in highly developed countries but also in developing ones [46,47]. Poland is one of the countries that has seen a significant rise in the popularity of catch-and-release fishing in recent years, even in regions where the majority of fish were previously harvested [16,40,48]. What is most important to anglers is simply the relaxation on the water and, to a slightly lesser extent, the sporting qualities of angling. Far less important are the consumption values of fish or fishing for food, as anglers are now more willing to release the caught fish and, to a large extent, accept the concept of C&R [16,25,40]. The strongest C&R traditions are cherished in Anglo-Saxon countries [8,49]. According to German studies, the levels of fish taken ranged from 58% to 70% [50]. Attitudes towards C&R are related to the anglers’ age, as younger ones are far more likely to declare that they release fish [40]. The behaviour of angling leaders is of great importance in promoting C&R, while government organisations have less relevance in this regard [51,52].
In many parts of the world, angling, and C&R in particular, raises ethical controversies, giving rise to noticeable negative attitudes towards this method. In highly developed countries, approximately a quarter of the public perceives sport fishing as a cruel and unjustified torment of fish [6,8]. In many circles, recreational fishing, and particularly C&R, is perceived as morally unacceptable, as reflected in, e.g., German or Swiss legislation. For example, fishing and releasing fish for entertainment is not allowed in Germany. The Animal Welfare Act § 17 stipulates that no one may inflict considerable pain or suffering out of cruelty or persistent or repeated severe pain or suffering. In extreme cases, ideologically motivated activists of certain so-called animal rights organisations (e.g., PETA–People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) call for an overall ban on recreational fishing, in particular C&R [53]. Certain researchers criticise C&R as well, claiming that this is an inhumane method that causes unnecessary stress, pain, and even “suffering” in fish [54,55,56]. Others, however, defend it by arguing that the positive environmental and socio-economic effects outweigh the possible adverse ethical consequences while questioning the alleged “suffering” of fish [24,46,57,58].
With the changes in the main objectives of fisheries observed along with economic development, which were mentioned more extensively in previous parts of this article, there has been a noticeable shift from anthropocentric to more biocenotic attitudes to perceiving the world. The main purpose of human activity is no longer primarily to care for and satisfy one’s existential needs. Increasingly, the well-being of individual animals, populations, and biodiversity are becoming more important priorities [4]. This does not mean, however, that recreational fishing, including C&R, is under threat or that regulations aimed at ensuring welfare and cessation of fishing are widely implemented. For the time being, the majority of the public still perceives recreational fishing as an acceptable form of leisure which is definitely better ranked than commercial fishing [6,8,59]. In Poland, for example, almost 50% of respondents have a negative attitude towards commercial fishing and only 21% have a negative attitude towards recreational fishing [59]. In this context, it is important to place greater emphasis on the responsible and informed behaviour of all participants in the angling sector. This attitude will help demonstrate to the wider community that recreational fishing is involved in sustainable activities that actually bring benefits to the environment, even though many of the environmental hazards such as, for example, pollution, eutrophication and hydrotechnical development, come from outside the sector [6,25,52].
The application of C&R minimises the impact of fishing on affected fish populations while maintaining the important socio-economic benefits of angling [9,10,25]. The application of this strategy in the management of recreational fishing very often makes it possible to maintain ichthyofaunal resources at appropriate levels, even when the same resources are used by commercial fisheries [60]. Reducing the number of fish taken from the fishing ground, and thus the so-called fishing mortality as well, without the effects of regulations dramatically reducing fishing pressure that is perceived negatively by anglers [40], appears to be highly beneficial, and, in the case of certain overfished fishing grounds, even necessary [2,5,60]. There are fishing grounds whose potential and attractiveness have been maintained despite angling pressure, thanks to the application of the C&R strategy [61]. This is why C&R has become such a popular tool for the protection of natural resources of aquatic ecosystems, even though it does not always meet all the expectations placed upon it in terms of preserving the appropriate status and structure of the ichthyofauna [41].
The success of the C&R strategy is largely determined by the rates of the so-called post-release mortality. In order to draw general conclusions in this context, it is worthwhile to refer to a review study by Bartholomew and Bohnsack [62], who analysed several hundred different studies. The average survival rate (under different conditions) of all the released fish belonging to several dozen different species (both freshwater and marine) was 82%. However, such an approach is a gross oversimplification, as there are considerable differences between different fish species and the conditions under which they are caught. A good example is a comparison of two predatory species popular among anglers: the northern pike Esox lucius, and the pikeperch Sander lucioperca. The pike tolerates C&R well, and its survivability often reaches 100% [63], while the survivability of the pikeperch under similar conditions may be half as high [64]. C&R can also have a different effect on fish behaviour, e.g., foraging and growth, with some studies indicating impaired foraging [65,66], while others, on the contrary, indicate even an increase in foraging aggressiveness [67].
The adoption of the C&R strategy usually contributes to an increase in fish numbers but can also reduce the proportion of large fish in the population due to increased density [68,69,70]. In addition, some studies indicate that reproductive disorders may occur due to the application of C&R [71,72], while others observe no such impact [68], while still others even point to reproductive success and increased recruitment [70].
Important factors having an impact on the post-release survival of fish include fish species [62,73]; water and air temperature [74,75,76]; the depth at which fishing is carried out [77,78,79]; landing duration [80,81]; fish landing manner [52,82]; anatomical hooking locations (AHL) [83,84,85,86]; the occurrence of bleeding and tissue damage [63,76,87]; unhooking duration, and the overall time the fish is exposed to the air [82,88,89,90,91,92,93,94]; the manner and duration of keeping fish [95,96,97]. All of the factors mentioned above are ultimately influenced by the actions and behaviours of the individual angler: the angler’s experience and knowledge [87,98,99]; choice of fishing method and the type of gear used [25,100], including the type of bait [76,87,101], and primarily the type and size of the fish hook [27,28,29,30,83,102,103,104,105].
In order for the C&R strategy to make a real contribution to the preservation of the proper status of natural resources, anglers need to know how to handle fish [106,107]. Casselman [100] and Brownscombe et al. [25] drew up guides covering the best practice in C&R and defined certain universal rules: use artificial baits where possible; do not delay the strike; use sturdier equipment and keep the landing duration to the minimum; do not apply C&R at high temperatures and at great depths; release fish while still in the water. When a fish swallows the bait deeply, it is preferable to cut the line rather than try to forcefully remove the hook [108,109]. If it is not certain whether the fish will survive, it is worth resorting to the so-called RAMP (Reflex Action Mortality Predictors) assessment that was originally developed for commercial fisheries for the assessment of by-catch survivability [110,111,112]. It is currently used as an indicator of behavioural disorders in C&R angling [28,94,113,114,115,116,117]. Kapusta and Czarkowski [29] proposed the use of three indicators: tail grab, orientation, and VOR (Vestibular-Ocular Response) while stating that reflex disorders occur more frequently in fish caught using classic barbed hooks rather than alternative hook types.

3. The Design and Function of a Fishing Rod and the Hook as Its Integral Component

When discussing the fish hook, it is appropriate to mention, in the first place, the fishing rod, whose important and integral component is the hook. The simplest fishing rod is comprised of three components: a pole (Figure 2a), a line (Figure 2b), and a hook (Figure 2c). Obviously, depending on the adopted specific angling method, a fishing rod may comprise a greater number of components. For example, a simple fishing rod used for popular float fishing is additionally comprised of a float (Figure 2d) intended to signal bites and weight (Figure 2e) to balance the float [29,99]. In other fishing methods, e.g., feeder fishing or method feeder fishing (fishing from the bottom using a groundbait feeder), the role of the float is taken over by a quiver tip. Irrespective of the angling method, the hook is always attached to the line of the rod (Figure 2c), being the final (though not always the last) component of the rod submerged in water, which specifically connects the angler with the hooked fish.
The main “mechanical” function of a fishing rod operated by an angler is to enable and/or facilitate him/her to perform four basic actions: introducing the hook (usually with a bait) into the fishing ground, observing and signalling a bite, hooking the fish, and landing it. These four basic activities make up angling, i.e., fishing using a rod. On the other hand, in the context of recreational fishing, another additional task of the rod that is decidedly more difficult to specify and more “metaphysical” is to provide a certain amount of pleasure from landing the fish to the angler. It should be noted that the fishing rod has been used successfully for a long time in purely commercial fishing [4,118].
It can be said that the hook is the essential and most important component of a fishing rod that is present and functions in all angling types and methods. It is used both in fishing using natural baits, float and feeder methods, and in any methods using artificial baits, i.e., spinning and fly fishing. It is also essential in vertical methods, including those using mixed (artificial + natural) baits, e.g., in ice fishing using a mormyshka (a type of fishing lure) [119]. The design of a modern fish hook is rather simple (Figure 3), with the basic parts comprising it being the shank (Figure 3a) and the bend (Figure 3b). At the end of the bend, there is the tip of the hook (Figure 3c), with a barb located beneath the tip in barbed hooks (Figure 3d). At the other end of the hook, its shank terminates with a part for attaching the line (Figure 3e), which usually has the form of either an eye (a ring) or a flat eye (spade). The primary purpose of the hook as a component of a fishing rod is to effectively hook the fish by penetrating the tissue of the mouth and remaining there during the landing until the fish is removed from the water. In addition, the hook is used for the attachment of the bait and for the presentation of the bait steadily to the fish in the fishing ground. On the other hand, in the context of C&R fishing, a properly selected hook should further minimise injury and damage to fish tissues while maximising the fish’s chances of survival after release.

3.1. Types of Fish Hooks

The welfare and safety of released fish and the associated impact of the type of hook selected by anglers on their survivability has been the subject of numerous scientific studies (e.g., [27,28,29,83,87,103,105]). However, in Central and Eastern European countries, certain alternative hook types are basically unknown and not used in practice [29]. This applies, for example, to circle hooks which, despite numerous publications on their role in C&R [25,30,62], are virtually unavailable in Polish physical stores and online shops [29]. It appears that this situation is related to C&R angling, which is still developing, albeit very rapidly, e.g., in Poland [29,40]. On the other hand, we are observing an increasing interest in, e.g., barbless hooks, particularly on closed private fishing grounds and online sales (the authors’ own observations).
There are a lot of hook types, as can be seen when entering any large angling shop, so it is difficult to make a clear and detailed division of them. However, there are certain criteria by which several basic types of fish hooks can be distinguished. Apart from differences in hook sizes, which can be enormous (Figure 4a), the first division can be made according to the number of tips, with the simplest one being obviously a single hook (Figure 4Ba), followed by a double (Figure 4Bb) and a triple hook (Figure 4Bc). The next division, particularly important in terms of fish welfare, takes into account the presence or absence of barbs. Therefore, hooks are divided into barbed (Figure 4Ca) and barbless hooks (Figure 4Cc), as well as the so-called micro-barbed hooks (Figure 4Cb). Additionally, hooks with barbs on the shank, serving to hold the bait, can be distinguished (Figure 4Ca). The next category of fish hook division is the position of the tip in relation to the shank. Hooks with the tip positioned parallel to the shank are classic J-type hooks (Figure 4Db), while where the hook tip is bent and directed perpendicular to the shank, the hook is referred to as a circle hook (Figure 4Da). Moreover, hooks can also have the tip offset from the shank axis (Figure 4Ea). Based on the line attachment manner, hooks can be divided into ones with the eye (Figure 4Fb,Fc) and with the flat eye or spade (Figure 4Fa). Other subdivisions take into account the way the hook bend is bent as well as the section of the bend (round or flattened in the forging process) (Figure 4H) and the shank length in relation to the width of the opening between the point and the shank, i.e., the gap. The so-called jig hooks may have an additional weight at the end of the shank (Figure 4Aa). However, the type of hook has very little effect on the size of the fish caught [29,89,120,121,122,123]. The size of the hook [30,120] and the type of the bait used [63,101] have a far greater impact on the size of fish caught.

3.2. The Hook–A Crucial Component Affecting Fish and Angler Welfare

An earlier section of this article described the most important factors affecting fish survival while also pointing out that the hook type and size are crucial in this context due to the correlation with the duration of fish exposure to the air. The time during which fish is exposed outside water contributes considerably to stress and any subsequent behavioural disorders [63,88,91,92]. One of the main components of the total time of this exposure to the air is the time required to successfully remove the hook [29], which has an enormous impact on post-release fish survival [82,89,90,93,94,119]. As far as the hook size is concerned, smaller hooks can be swallowed more deeply [26], causing increased mortality [124], although they may cause less tissue damage as compared with large hooks [125].
It appears that the shape and design of the hook may be more important than its size, as the ease of removal is often mainly determined by these. Even such details of the hook design as the tip’s vertical offset from the shank may have an impact on fish survival [126], and non-offset hooks appear to be safer for fish [30,127]. However, single hooks appear to be safer for fish than double or triple hooks [25,128], although some studies did not confirm such a relationship [62,129,130]. It is generally accepted that barbless hooks are safer for fish than barbed ones [62,102,103], as classic barbed hooks usually need more time to be removed than other hook types used for fishing. This is the case, for example, when fishing for the rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss [87]. Kapusta and Czarkowski [29] empirically found that the situation was similar for the fishing for cyprinids, despite the differences in the mouth structure. According to these researchers, it takes the most time to unhook fish caught using classic barbed hooks, slightly less time to unhook fish caught with barbless hooks, and the shortest time to unhook fish caught using circle hooks. Alongside other studies related to ice fishing, they also observed a shorter time of unhooking fish caught using barbless hooks [119].
It should be noted that the anatomical hooking location (AHL) and its depth have an enormous impact on the time of hook removal, as the deeper the location, the longer the time of unhooking, which may translate into higher fish mortality rates following release [29,129]. In general, the AHL can be divided into deep (critical) and shallow (safe) locations. The critical locations include deep hookings in the area of the gills or oesophagus or even deeper (Figure 5a) [63,101]. As regards the cyprinids, these locations include all hookings in the back of the palate, behind the eye line but usually in front of the pharyngeal teeth (Figure 5b) [99], which is related to the different structure of the anterior part of the digestive tract, particularly the chewing apparatus which mostly closes the way for the hook to reach further locations [29]. The safe locations include hookings by the upper lip (Figure 5d), the lower lip (Figure 5e), a corner of the mouth (Figure 5f), and a shallow hooking by the skin of the body (Figure 5c) [29,63,99,101].
A number of researchers have concluded that the AHL is a key factor affecting the post-release survivability of fish [83,84,85,86]. The J-type hooks, both with and without a barb, get fish hooked at similar locations [29,103,119]. The location of hookings using circle hooks is usually different when comparing both J-hook types, as fish caught with circle hooks are most often hooked in the corner of the mouth, irrespective of the fish species and the structure of the mouth [29,131,132] (Figure 4 and Figure 5). This is most likely due to the design of this type of hook and the mechanics of its operation once the fish has swallowed the bait [29,133]. Kapusta and Czarkowski [29] concluded that the occurrence of the so-called deep hookings at critical locations was similar for barbed and barbless J-hooks, while dangerous deep hookings of fish caught with a circle hook occurred much less frequently. A number of researchers have confirmed a similar relationship and found an advantage of circle hooks in terms of the safety and welfare of the released fish [27,83,85,86,101,105,134]. Vecchio and Wenner [126] not only confirmed a similar relationship of the shallower hooking by circle hooks as compared with classic J-type hooks but also as compared with offset hooks.
It has been empirically established that damage to fish tissues occurs least frequently when using alternative hook types, i.e., barbless and circle hooks [29,87,99,119]. It is also known that blood discharge due to the penetration of tissues by the hook can considerably increase the risk of fish death after release [25,63], but this is rather the case of severe bleeding due to fish being hooked in the area of the gills or other important and heavily blooded organs [29].
The use of alternative hook types, particularly barbless hooks, has another advantage that is very important while often overlooked in publications. Barbless hooks appear to be safer for humans. In angling practice, it is not uncommon for anglers to have a hook stuck into their body. If the hook has a barb, it is difficult to remove it on one’s own under field conditions, and an intervention of a doctor or paramedic is often needed, especially if children are involved [135]. Human tissues appear to be more “dense” than the fish mouth tissues, and it is rather difficult to remove a barbed hook, especially on one’s own, from the area of the palm. A barbless hook is safer for anglers as it is relatively easy to be removed from the body. The scale of the problem is not small. Patey et al. [136] report that in three years alone on the east coast of Newfoundland, they recorded as many as 173 cases of hooking that required medical intervention in hospital.

3.3. The Type of Hook and Fishing Efficiency

Cooke and Suski [30] proposed that the fishing efficiency of new gear solutions, particularly alternative hook types, plays a significant role when introducing gear that is safer for fish. Recreational anglers will only use solutions safer for fish provided that there is no noticeable drop in fishing efficiency [29]. These researchers found that the lack of differences in the overall efficiency between alternative hook types and the commonly used barbed J-hooks was beneficial and paved the way for the possible promotion of alternative hooks among Eastern European anglers [29].
Numerous papers have been drawn up on the impact of the hook type on fishing efficiency [29,38,86,101,121,134,137]. The overall conclusions of the study indicate that the hook type has little significance and impact on overall fishing efficiency, including the Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE). The lack of these differences is particularly noticeable in float fishing for cyprinids [29,99]. A similar situation was noted in a study into ice fishing for perch [119]. Having compared the effectiveness of barbed and barbless hooks in marine fishing, both Schaeffer and Hoffman [120] and Alós et al. [86] reached similar conclusions. The lack of differences in the CPUE between circle hooks and classic J-hooks was noted by Skomal et al. [132] when fishing for the tuna Thunnus thynnus, Garner et al. [101] when fishing for the perch, and Weltersbach et al. [109] when fishing for the European eel Anguilla anguilla.
When comparing the effectiveness of circle hooks and classic J-hooks, some authors indicate lower fishing efficiency of circle hooks, even though it is determined by the fish species and fishing conditions [30]. This is confirmed by research into the red drum Sciaenops ocellatus [138], the largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides [89], and the walleye Sander vitreus [139]. In contrast, Falterman and Graves for the yellowfin tuna Thunnus albacares [140], Serafy et al. for billfishes Istiophoridae [141] as well as Twardek et al. for the walleye [142], noted the higher effectiveness of circle hooks.
In the context of fishing efficiency and effectiveness, certain coefficients appear to be important, which inter alia contribute to the final effect of the fishing and may be associated with the hook type used [29,30,131,132,143]. Kapusta and Czarkowski [29] distinguished three such coefficients: biting efficiency (BE), hooking efficiency (HE), and landing efficiency (LE). It appears that the BE coefficient is not directly determined by the hook type but more by the skills, specialisation, aptitudes, mental and physical form, and the angler’s response [29] which have an impact on fishing performance [98,144,145,146,147]. However, the HE coefficient depends directly on the hook type, with the barbless J-hook piercing tissues most easily, which is due to its design, as a straight tip with no barb offers the least resistance when penetrating the tissues of the mouth [29]. As regards the LE coefficient, the opposite is true, as the landing efficiency is usually the lowest when using barbless J-hooks. This is also due to the hook design, as the lack of a barb makes it easier for an embedded hook tip to retract [29]. The situation may be different when fishing vertically when the risk of line loosening is considerably lower [29,119].

4. Conclusions

C&R has become a permanent, integral, and important part of modern angling, particularly in its recreational and touristic aspects. The application of C&R minimises the impact of fishing on a particular area while maintaining important socio-economic benefits of angling. It should be noted, however, that the application of C&R always and everywhere is not uniformly beneficial. It all depends on the biological conditions, economic and social determinants, and technical factors associated with angling. In this era of the rapid development of angling tourism, the proper selection of angling gear and equipment by anglers is crucial to the success of the strategy for managing fish stocks and recreational fishing.
The hook is an integral and, probably, the most important component of a fishing rod, which, in addition to achieving high fishing efficiency, is also designed to minimise damage and increase the chances of fish survival after release. It appears that the selection of the hook type by anglers is very important for the success of the C&R strategy. Alternative hook types, such as a barbless hook or circle hook, are safer for fish and their use reduces the risk of post-release fish mortality. However, the use of alternative hook types does not necessarily entail a dramatic reduction in fishing efficiency. The conclusions of the study give hope for the effective promotion of alternative hook types among anglers, especially recreational anglers or tourist anglers, who are increasingly specialised, familiar with technical “novelties”, and interested not only in the fishing itself but also in fish protection, even in countries in which the most fish have until recently been taken.
In order for the C&R strategy to make a real contribution to the preservation of the proper status of natural resources, anglers need to know how to handle fish. Therefore, it is education, both for anglers and recreational fisheries managers themselves, that is of particular importance here. This is why all educational activities undertaken by government activities and social angling organisations, supported substantively by scientific bodies, appear to be so important. It is also important to continue research into technical and biological solutions to minimise the adverse factors affecting fish during recreational angling while ensuring that appropriate fish welfare is maintained. It is hoped that the information and conclusions presented in this study regarding catch-and-release fishing, particularly in relation to the proper selection of hooks, will not only aid in the management of recreational fishing but also contribute to more effective conservation of freshwater ecosystems and the enhancement of tourism opportunities in areas closely tied to water.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, T.K.C., A.K. and K.K.; investigation, T.K.C., A.K., K.K. and A.H.-B., resources, T.K.C., A.K. and K.K.; data curation, T.K.C., A.K. and K.K.; writing—original draft preparation, T.K.C., A.K., K.K. and A.H.-B., writing—review and editing T.K.C. and K.K.; visualization, T.K.C. and K.K.; supervision, T.K.C. and K.K. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 2. A fishing rod and its design, with a simple float fishing rod as an example: a—pole, b—line, c—hook, d—float, e—weight.
Figure 2. A fishing rod and its design, with a simple float fishing rod as an example: a—pole, b—line, c—hook, d—float, e—weight.
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Figure 3. The design of a fish hook: a—shank, b—bend, c—tip, d—barb, e—eye (or flat eye).
Figure 3. The design of a fish hook: a—shank, b—bend, c—tip, d—barb, e—eye (or flat eye).
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Figure 4. Various types of the fish hook: (Aa)—a large hook (No 5/0) with a weight (head); (Ab)—a small hook (No 22); (Ba)—single, (Bb)—with two tips, (Bc)—with three tips (a treble hook); (Ca)—a barbed hook with additional barbs on the shank, (Cb)—a hook with a microbarb, (Cc)—a barbless hook; (Da)—circle, (Db)—J-type; (Ea)–a hook with offset tip, (Eb)—a hook with a straight tip; (Fa)—a hook with a spade, (Fb)—with a small eye, (Fc)—with a large eye; (Ga)—a barbed hook with a long shank, (Gb)—a barbed hook with a medium shank, (Gc)—a barbless hook with a short shank, (Gd)—a barbless hook with a long shank, (Ge)—a micro-barbed hook with a medium shank, (Gf)—a barbed hook with a short shank; (Ha)—a barbless forged hook with a V-bend, (Hb)—a barbless hook with a J-bend, (Hc)—a barbed hook with a J/U bend, (Hd)—a barbless forged hook with a U-bend. Scale bar = 1 cm.
Figure 4. Various types of the fish hook: (Aa)—a large hook (No 5/0) with a weight (head); (Ab)—a small hook (No 22); (Ba)—single, (Bb)—with two tips, (Bc)—with three tips (a treble hook); (Ca)—a barbed hook with additional barbs on the shank, (Cb)—a hook with a microbarb, (Cc)—a barbless hook; (Da)—circle, (Db)—J-type; (Ea)–a hook with offset tip, (Eb)—a hook with a straight tip; (Fa)—a hook with a spade, (Fb)—with a small eye, (Fc)—with a large eye; (Ga)—a barbed hook with a long shank, (Gb)—a barbed hook with a medium shank, (Gc)—a barbless hook with a short shank, (Gd)—a barbless hook with a long shank, (Ge)—a micro-barbed hook with a medium shank, (Gf)—a barbed hook with a short shank; (Ha)—a barbless forged hook with a V-bend, (Hb)—a barbless hook with a J-bend, (Hc)—a barbed hook with a J/U bend, (Hd)—a barbless forged hook with a U-bend. Scale bar = 1 cm.
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Figure 5. Basic anatomical hooking locations (AHL): (a)–deep by the oesophagus in the perch; (b)–deep behind the eye line in front of the pharyngeal teeth in the cyprinids; (c)–shallow external by the skin; (d)–shallow by the upper lip; (e)–shallow by the lower lip; (f)–shallow in the corner of the mouth.
Figure 5. Basic anatomical hooking locations (AHL): (a)–deep by the oesophagus in the perch; (b)–deep behind the eye line in front of the pharyngeal teeth in the cyprinids; (c)–shallow external by the skin; (d)–shallow by the upper lip; (e)–shallow by the lower lip; (f)–shallow in the corner of the mouth.
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Czarkowski, T.K.; Kupren, K.; Hakuć-Błażowska, A.; Kapusta, A. Fish Hooks and the Protection of Living Aquatic Resources in the Context of Recreational Catch-and-Release Fishing Practice and Fishing Tourism. Water 2023, 15, 1842.

AMA Style

Czarkowski TK, Kupren K, Hakuć-Błażowska A, Kapusta A. Fish Hooks and the Protection of Living Aquatic Resources in the Context of Recreational Catch-and-Release Fishing Practice and Fishing Tourism. Water. 2023; 15(10):1842.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Czarkowski, Tomasz Kajetan, Krzysztof Kupren, Anna Hakuć-Błażowska, and Andrzej Kapusta. 2023. "Fish Hooks and the Protection of Living Aquatic Resources in the Context of Recreational Catch-and-Release Fishing Practice and Fishing Tourism" Water 15, no. 10: 1842.

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