The term fishing may be applied to catching other aquatic animals such as different types of shellfish, squid, octopus, turtles, frogs, and some edible marine invertebrates. Fishing is not usually applied to catching aquatic mammals such as whales, where the term "whaling" is more appropriate, or to commercial fish farming.
In addition to providing food through harvesting fish, modern fishing is both a recreational and professional sport.
According to FAO statistics, the total number of fishermen and fish farmers is estimated to be 38 million. Fisheries provide direct and indirect employment to an estimated 200 million people. In 2005, the worldwide per capita consumption of fish captured from wild fisheries was 14.4 kilograms, with an additional 7.4 kilograms harvested from fish farms.
Fishing is an ancient practice that dates back at least to the Paleolithic period which began about 40,000 years ago. archeology features such as shell middens, discarded fish bones and cave paintings show that sea foods were important for survival and consumed in significant quantities. During this period, most people lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and were, of necessity, constantly on the move. However, where there are early examples of permanent settlements (though not necessarily permanently occupied) such as those at Lepenski Vir, they are almost always associated with fishing as a major source of food.
The ancient river Nile was full of fish; fresh and dried fish were a staple food for much of the population. The Egyptians had implements and methods for fishing and these are illustrated in tomb scenes, drawings, and papyrus documents. Some representations hint at fishing being pursued as a pastime. In India, the Pandyas, a classical Dravidian Tamil kingdom, were known for the pearl fishery as early as the 1st century BC. Their seaport Tuticorin was known for deep sea pearl fishing. The paravas, a Tamil caste centred in Tuticorin, developed a rich community because of their pearl trade, navigation knowledge and fisheries. Fishing scenes are rarely represented in ancient Greek culture, a reflection of the low social status of fishing. However, Oppian of Corycus, a Greek author wrote a major treatise on sea fishing, the Halieulica or Halieutika, composed between 177 and 180. This is the earliest such work to have survived to the modern day. Pictorial evidence of Roman fishing comes from mosaics. The Greco-Roman sea god Neptune is depicted as wielding a fishing trident. The Moche people of ancient Peru depicted fisherman in their ceramics.
One of the world’s longest trading histories is the trade of dry cod from the Lofoten area of Norway to the southern parts of Europe, Italy, Spain and Portugal. The trade in cod started during the Viking period or before, has been going on for more than 1000 years and is still important.
Recreational and sport fishing describe fishing for pleasure or competition. Recreational fishing has conventions, rules, licensing restrictions and laws that limit the way in which fish may be caught; typically, these prohibit the use of nets and the catching of fish with hooks not in the mouth. The most common form of recreational fishing is done with a rod, reel, line, hooks and any one of a wide range of baits. The practice of catching or attempting to catch fish with a hook is known as angling. In angling, it is sometimes expected or required that fish be returned to the water (catch and release). Recreational or sport fishermen may log their catches or participate in fishing competitions.
Big-game fishing describes fishing from boats to catch large open-water species such as tuna, sharks and marlin. Sport fishing (sometimes game fishing) describes recreational fishing where the primary reward is the challenge of finding and catching the fish rather than the culinary or financial value of the fish's flesh. Fish sought after include marlin, tuna, tarpon, sailfish, shark and mackerel.
There are many techniques for fishing. Fishermen may use hooks and fishing line. Fishing nets, fish traps, and trap nets may be used to capture fish. Lobster and crab pots use a similar method. Hand fishing consists of fishing with the hands or through the use of minimal equipment. In spear fishing, the fish is killed using an ordinary spear or a specialized variant thereof. Closely related to spear fishing is bow fishing. Trained animals can assist in fishing; one notable example is Asian cormorant fishing.
Kite fishing allows the fisherman to cast far into the water, even without a boat. Dredging is sometimes used to collect scallops or oysters from the seabed. Poisonous plants can be used to stun fish so that they become easy to collect by hand; cyanide is also sometimes used for fishing. Other fishing techniques include electrofishing and dynamite fishing. Some techniques are bottom trawling, seining, driftnetting, handlining, longlining, gillnetting, dragging, tiling, and diving.
Almost any equipment or gear used when fishing can be called "fishing tackle". Some examples of tackle are lures and bait, lines, rods and reels, nets and trawls, downriggers and outriggers, gaffs and harpoons, clevises, floats, and traps.
Commercial fishing is the capture of fish for commercial purposes. Those who practice it must often pursue fish far into the ocean under adverse conditions. Commercial fishermen harvest almost all aquatic species, from tuna, cod and salmon to shrimp, krill, lobster, clams, squid and crab, in various fisheries for these species. Commercial fishing methods have become very efficient using large nets and sea-going processing factories. Individual fishing quotas) and international treaties seek to control the species and quantities caught.
Commercial fishing gear includes nets (e.g. purse seine), seine nets (e.g. beach seine), trawls (e.g. bottom trawl), dredges, hooks and lines (e.g. long line and handline), lift nets, gillnets, entangling nets and traps.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, total world capture fisheries production in 2000 was 86 million tons (FAO 2002). The top producing countries were, in order, the People's Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan), Peru, Japan, the United States, Chile, Indonesia, Russia, India, Thailand, Norway and Iceland. Those countries accounted for more than half of the world's production; China alone accounted for a third of the world's production. Of that production, over 90% was marine and less than 10% was inland.
A small number of species support the majority of the world’s fisheries. Some of these species are herring, cod, anchovy, tuna, flounder, mullet, squid, shrimp, salmon, crab, lobster, oyster and scallops. All except these last four provided a worldwide catch of well over a million tonnes in 1999, with herring and sardines together providing a catch of over 22 million metric tons in 1999. Many other species as well are fished in smaller numbers.
Today, fisheries are estimated to provide 16% of the world population's protein, and that figure is considerably elevated in some developing nations and in regions that depend heavily on the sea. The flesh of many fish are primarily valued as a source of food; there are many edible species of fish. Other marine life taken as food includes shellfish, crustaceans, sea cucumber, and jellyfish. Roe are also harvested.
Fish may also be collected live for research observation or for the aquarium trade.
Fish and other marine life have uses apart from food. Pearls and mother-of-pearl are valued for their lustre. Traditional methods of pearl hunting are now virtually extinct. Sharkskin and rayskin which are covered with, in effect, tiny teeth (dermal denticles) were used for sandpaper. These skins are also used to make leather. Sharkskin leather is used in the manufacture of the hilt of traditional Japanese swords. Sea horse, star fish, sea urchin and sea cucumber are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Tyrian purple is a pigment made from marine snails Murex brandaris and Murex trunculus.
Sepia is a pigment made from the inky secretions of cuttlefish. Fish glue is made by boiling the skin, bones and swim bladders of fish. Fish glue has been valued for its use in products from illuminated manuscripts to the Mongolian war bow. Isinglass is a substance obtained from the swim bladders of fish (especially sturgeon), it is used for the clarification of wine and beer. Fish emulsion is a fertilizer emulsion that is produced from the fluid remains of fish processed for fish oil and fish meal.
Environmental issues include the availability of fish to be caught, such as overfishing, sustainable fisheries, and fisheries management; and issues surrounding the impact of fishing on the environment, such as by-catch. Scientific studies have questioned the sustainability of current fishing practices. Fisheries management, which draws on fisheries science, aims to provide for sustainable exploitation of fisheries.
Christianity's first Pope was a fisherman apostle Peter and a number of the miracles reported in the Bible involve it. Additionally, the Pope's traditional costume include a fish-shaped hat which some say is a representation of the Philistine god Dagon.