According to the Britannica Dictionary, a sport is ‘a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other’. Fishing, or angling, is the activity of catching or attempting to catch fish, freshwater or saltwater, from the wild for sport, recreation or food. So-called ‘sport fishing’ is usually done with a rod, reel, fishing line and ‘tackle’, in the form of hooks, weights and floats. As such, while opinions vary as to the level of physical exertion required, casting the line and retrieving it, when a fish is hooked, or continuously, in the case of fly fishing, inevitably involves some physical activity. Furthermore, in competitive sport fishing, anglers go head to head against each other for a variety of prize and awards, but are nonetheless governed by national rules, local byelaws and individual competition rules.
Thus, it is difficult to argue that any form of fishing in which anglers compete against each is anything but a sport. Indeed, the global governing body for sport fishing, the Confédération Internationale de la Pêche Sportive (CIPS), which was founded in Rome in 1922, is affiliated to the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), formerly SportAccord, such that sport fishing is officially recognised as a sport.
Interestingly, the GAISF definition of sport includes a clause that reads ‘…sport should in no way be harmful to any living creatures’, which appears to be at odds with animal rights organisations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA argues that even ‘catch-and-release’ fishing causes fish pain, physical injury and physiological stress, which can ultimately lead to their demise when returned to the water.