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Recreational fisheries exist in developed countries as a pastime and in underdeveloped countries as a tourist attraction. The former is highly evident in North America's Great Lakes and in coastal areas of Australia. In Europe enthusiasm for recreational marine fishing is less keen because of the greater exposure to the elements and the lower temperatures in the open sea. However, in freshwater lakes and rivers, recreational fisheries are predominant to the extent that commercial fisheries are insignificant. In some areas, local economies are far more reliant on the expenditure that recreational fishers pay for their sport than the value of the catch from commercial fishing vessels. Hence, commercial fisheries play a secondary role, sometimes limited only to weekdays, allowing for recreational fishing on weekends (e.g. Moreton Bay, Queensland).

In other areas, the impact of recreational fishers has called for licensing and "bag limits" in order to ensure that the recreational catch combined with the commercial sector catch does not exceed sustainable limits. Furthermore, bag limits must be set at a low enough levels to avoid the phenomenon of "shamateurs" - fishers posing as recreational amateurs, but who are actually financially dependent on their "pastime", but to avoid paying for a commercial license.

In developing countries there are many instances where the tourism industry has added "big game" fishing to their attractions. The large pelagics such as tunas, marlins and swordfish provide a particular sporting image with large fish, blue seas, clear skies and excitement. In this situation commercial fleets are often discouraged so as to avoid competition because of the much higher revenue that recreational fisheries can bring to the local or national economies.

Yet another recreational activity which has emerged in recent years is the scuba diving to observe the wonders of aquatic environment. In efforts to ensure there are enough fish for these tourists to see, commercial fishing is often banned in such areas through the establishment of marine parks, and discouraged in surrounding areas. Promoters of such reserves have even gone so far as feeding small sharks by hand to provide a spectacle or "unforgettable experience".

In several countries, the rights of individuals to catch fish in their spare time have been curtailed because of the growing pressures on fish stocks by commercial fisheries. This assumes great significance in countries where the rights of indigenous populations to catch fish have been agreed (or assumed) in treaties, as in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America. Such unlimited rights are inconsistent with fisheries management and opposed vehemently by fishers who own or have purchased rights to participate in the fishery for the same species. For offshore species on the west coasts of the United States of America and Canada, for example, indigenous populations have been allocated quotas even though they have had no history of fishing for these species.

 
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