Fishing is a huge industry. The 44 million Americans who consider themselves recreational anglers spend a whopping $41 billion each year on the sport. When you consider the additional economic activity that fishing generates, like gas to and from the site or food for the trip, just to name a couple, you're looking at roughly $116 billion in total revenue [source: Reiss]. That's a lot of money. If you only considered the economics of fishing, then catch and release makes a lot of sense. When fish are caught and released back into the habitat, they'll breed and spawn more fish that can potentially be caught and released.
The fishing industry is mostly self-supported as well. The agencies that oversee and regulate the sport are largely paid for by money generated from the sale of fishing permits. The concept of catch and release and fishing for sport in the United States is relatively new. While the United Kingdom has been using catch and release as a method of conservation for the past 100 years, Americans didn't catch on until the early 1950s, and even then it didn't gain in popularity until catch-and-release fishing tournaments were born in the early 1970s. Previous to this, anglers fished for one reason -- to put food on the table. And while recreational fishing is still a viable means of providing food, an increasing number of fishermen are in it for the sport.
So should you always catch and release? Not necessarily. It's acceptable to fish for your dinner as long as you abide by the limits imposed by the state agencies. A lot of research goes into the kinds of limits imposed, and the governing bodies have a good hold on what kinds of fishing practices are best for any given region. Limits are generally imposed on the size of the fish and the total number of fish you can take from a body of water. If you fish within these limits and during the allowed time frame, then you aren't doing anything to decimate the fish population. Low income families in some parts of the United States still depend on rivers and lakes to provide a portion of their food, so in these cases it's not so much sport fishing as a means of providing sustenance.
The argument for strictly catch-and-release practices is mainly built around conservation. In Florida, where fishing is extremely popular, about 50 percent of fish that are caught are released back into the water. This amounts to more than 70 million fish released each year [source: Fish and Wildlife Research Institute]. In Australia, 30 to 50 percent of the recreational catch is released each year for a total of about 47 million fish [source: Science Daily]. If these fish and others caught worldwide were all kept, the fish population would be in even more trouble than it already is.
The National Park Service of the United States encourages 100 percent catch and release of native species. When non-native fish are introduced into the water from a practice known as stocking, they compete with the native species for food and space. The National Park Service no longer stocks its waters with non-natives, but they depend on catch and release to help maintain the native species. The key here is to keep non-native fish according to the region's limitations. If only non-native fish are kept, then the native varieties are allowed to thrive, and the population can be restored.