Given the fundamental differences in the three fisheries sectors, and even the immense amount of intra-sectoral diversity (e.g. within the recreational fishing sector there are very different fisher typologies such as specialist anglers, those that release all fish and those that harvest all fish), each sector is first discussed on their own, covering both historical and contemporary perspectives.
In North America, the historical importance of fish in the food economy of any tribe depended on the species of fish available in the area, the type of fishing equipment and skill possessed by the tribe, and the tribe's attitude towards fish as a food (Rostlund 1952). Certainly in British Columbia, fish have been a staple food, with anthropological evidence suggesting an exceptionally high consumption rate of 91 kg fish−1 person−1 yr−1 (Pearse 1988). For context, in 2007, the annual consumption rate for fish in Canada (for all groups) averaged 23.8 kg person−1 yr−1 (FAO 2007). Similarly, tribes around the Great Lakes (e.g. Hurons, Iroquois, Ojibway) relied heavily on fish in their diet (Notzke 1994), with archaeological evidence indicating the existence of subsistence fishing on Lake Huron for at least 2700 years (Pearse 1988). By contrast, tribes living on the plains rarely utilised fish (Notzke 1994). This was due in part to limited access to the resource, and the belief by many members of the Blackfeet that fish were unclean (Ewers 1958). For many tribes, fishing activities not only provided food for immediate nutritional needs, but also materials for trade (Ferguson & Duckworth 1997; Buklis 2002; Gobalet et al. 2004). Fish also represent a cultural and spiritual significance in many tribes and as such are used in family and place names, educational stories and ceremonies (Garibaldi & Turner 2004). The involvement of youth in fishing activities and ceremonies also presented a way to pass on traditional knowledge on fish natural history and fishing techniques to younger generations, and keep the aboriginal spirit alive (Barnhardt & Kawagley 2005).
A variety of fishing gears have been used by aboriginal groups over time to collect fish including gill nets, dip nets, seine nets, fish wheels, spears, weirs and rod and reel. The species caught are as diverse as the gear types used and are dependent on the geography of the tribe and the water bodies fished. Pacific Northwest aboriginal groups for instance focused on charr (Salvelinus spp.), salmon (Onchorhynchus spp.), smelt, Osmerus mordax mordax (Mitchill), trout (Onchorhynchus spp.), lake whitefish, Coregonus clupeaformis Mitchill, as well as burbot, Lota lota L., suckers (Catostomus spp.) and northern pike, Esox lucius L. (Buklis 2002), while lake sturgeon, Acipenser fulvescens Rafinesque and whitefish were particularly popular as food fish with aboriginal groups from the Great Lakes region (Whitaker 1892; Ferguson & Duckworth 1997). Many of the same species of fish are harvested today and in historical fishing grounds in instances where fish populations have not been impacted by development; however, numerous short duration trips are made as opposed to longer traditional expeditions (Berkes et al. 1995).
Information on the current harvest rate of aboriginal fisheries is difficult to obtain as these numbers are not consistently recorded across North America, and data are often held by tribes and not shared with state/provincial fisheries agencies emphasising the need for coordinated and integrated information management systems. Estimates by Pearse (1988) suggested that the aboriginal fisheries sector in Canada harvested approximately 9000 t yr−1 in the 1980s. Some of the most well-documented aboriginal harvests are in Alaska, where the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence conducts comprehensive surveys of even the most remote rural communities (see Magdanz et al. 2010). A total of 104 kg fish−1 person−1 yr−1 was reported for rural Alaska in 2001 (ADFG 2001). While some tribes in North America have increased harvests over the years, others are stable, and some harvests are declining. Declining trends reflect availabilities of other food sources (e.g. wild game and domesticated livestock), and particularly in the Arctic, a decreased use of fish as food for sled dogs (Pearse 1988; Fall 1990). Fluctuations in harvest rates can also depend on changes in aboriginal fishing rights and availability of fish and fishing areas owing to changes in population abundance and habitat alteration.
Understanding native fishing rights is complex, as even within Canada, there are regional variations (Notzke 1994). Treaty rights, aboriginal rights, natural resources transfer agreements, constitutional rights and comprehensive land claim settlements often give assurance to aboriginals that they are permitted to carry on traditional fishing, but increasingly they are subject to some level of governmental regulation (Pearse 1988). Similarly in the US, there is much federal regulation on aboriginal fishing rights (see Meyers 1991; Buklis 2002). The continued preservation of traditional subsistence fishing will best be guaranteed by providing North American aboriginals with an effective role in managing their affairs (Meyers 1991). Indeed, co-management has become more common since the 1990s (Notzke 1995), and there have been efforts to build capacity for stock assessment and management, such that some tribal groups (e.g. Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre) have become leaders in the generation and provision of both ‘western’ science and traditional ecological knowledge to support fisheries management.
Inland commercial fisheries in Canada commenced on the Great Lakes in the early 1800s (Pearse 1988), with the first production records collected as early as 1867 (Baldwin & Saalfeld 1962). Initially, the majority of the catch was exported to the US to support growing urban markets (Kennedy 1966). With increasing market opportunities and the construction of the railway, inland commercial fishing operations expanded to the west and the north (Adams 1978; Gislason et al. 1982). Commercial fisheries were established in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1882 (Grant 1938), which saw exports to the US exceeding local sales within 2 years (Kennedy 1966). Development of a commercial fishery on Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories occurred in 1945, but there, like in other places in the northern prairie provinces (e.g. Lake Manitoba, Lake Winnipeg), fishing conditions were challenging owing to prolonged winters and profits were low due to high transportation costs (Kennedy 1966; Pearse 1988). In 1969, The Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC), a federal crown corporation, was established in an effort to stabilise and improve the economy through productive commercial fishing operations (Ashcroft et al. 2006). The FFMC was the single buyer for small commercial fishers in north-western Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories, while the larger fishing enterprises on the Great Lakes had access to a greater number of buyers and processors (Fisheries & Marine Service 1978). In 1974–1975, the commercial harvest in Canada was 43 765 t with a landed value of approximately $18 million dollars (CAD) (Falkner 1976). In 2006, the total landings were 32 029 t of fish, with an approximate landed value of $68 million (CAD) (DFO 2008). Canada's inland fisheries employs approximately 10 000 people directly (mostly in Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan) and provides additional jobs to industries supporting the transportation, processing, servicing and marketing aspects of commercial fishing, not to mention the nutritional benefits of providing fish protein (Pearse 1988).
In the US, inland commercial fisheries also began in the 1800s with developments on the Great Lakes (Bogue 2000), as well as other inland waters such as the Mississippi River (Carlander 1954) and Lake of the Woods (Carlander 1949). The volume of the fisheries resources in these areas led to increased settlement, particularly in the Great Lakes region (Whitaker 1892). Indeed, the 1890 census showed one-sixth of the entire American population occupied the six states surrounding the Great Lakes (Whitaker 1892). In 1954, the total catch of the freshwater fishery in the US was 64 071 737 kg, which came mainly from the Great Lakes, Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake, Lake Namakan, and the Mississippi River (Anderson & Power 1956). At this time, it was believed that inland fisheries in the US as a whole were largely unexploited and that there was much potential for this industry to produce large quantities of fish for food and other purposes (Riggs 1958). Low exploitation of freshwater fisheries was due mainly because fish were not a favoured protein source in America compared with beef, pork and poultry, and also owing to conflict with sport fishing interests (Riggs 1958). For example, in Florida in 1946, the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission promulgated rules which prohibited the sale of any freshwater game fish, and made it illegal to use most types of fishing gear popular to commercial fishing (e.g. haul seines, wire pots, pound nets, hoop nets, gill nets, trammel nets), presumably in recognition of the economic benefit of the recreational fishery (Dequine 1950). Multi-sectoral conflict continued to affect inland commercial fishing and saw eventual closing of the industry in the US waters of the lower Great Lakes in favour of recreational fishing (Pearse 1988). While determining the current landings and total economic value of inland commercial fishing is challenging owing to combined reporting of both freshwater and marine fish by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA; note – although NOAA does not manage inland waters they are responsible for generating national statistics for the UN FAO statistical reporting), the industry is still alive in the US and employs approximately 700 full-time fishers in the Great Lakes region alone (Brown et al. 1999).
In general, the main targeted species for North American inland commercial fisheries, particularly in northern regions, have included lake whitefish, northern pike, lake sturgeon, rainbow smelt, walleye, Sander vitreus (Mitchill), white sucker, Catostomus commersonii (Lacepède), yellow perch, Perca flavescens (Mitchill), arctic char, Salvelinus alpinus alpinus L., inconnu, Stenodus leucichthys (Güldenstädt), sauger, Sander canadensis (Griffith & Smith), Pacific salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha (Walbaum), alewife, Alosa pseudoharengus (Wilson), and American eel, Anguilla rostrata (Lesueur) (Rodger 2006). In the Mississippi River, commercial catches are dominated by carp, Cyprinus carpio L., buffalo, Ictiobus cyprinellus (Valenciennes), catfishes (Ictalurus spp. Pylodictis spp.) and drum, Aplodinotus grunniens Rafinesque. While the popularity of some species increased as populations of other species declined [i.e. paddlefish, Polyodon spathula Walbaum, became a main source of caviar when sturgeon populations decreased (Carlson & Bonislawsky1981)], others have remained consistently favoured [e.g. yellow perch and walleye in the Lake Erie fishery (Koonce et al. 1999; Kinnunen 2003)]. The baitfish industry, which has become an important economic component of inland commercial fisheries [estimated at $29 million USD per year in 1985 in Ontario, and $145 million US$ per year in 1992 for six north-central states combined (Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin)] targets small-bodied species such as shiners, dace, minnows and darters that are sold to recreational anglers (Litvak & Mandrak 1993; Meronek et al. 1997).
Just as target species have changed over time, so have the use of a variety of gear types and vessels. As inland fisheries in North America take place on a wide variety of water bodies, ranging in size from a few square kilometres to more than 82 000 km2 (i.e. Lake Superior), vessels range from small boats with outboard engines to 25-m ships that fish in the Great Lakes (Pitcher et al. 2002). The choice of gear also depended on location, and innovative technologies (Brown et al. 1999). Pound nets used to be the most popular gear on the Canadian side of Lake Erie, but decreased steadily as restrictions on gill net tugs were relaxed, and continued to decrease with legalisation on trap nets in 1950 (Kennedy 1966). Seine nets, fyke nets, set lines and otter trawls have also been used, and have all seen modifications based on changes in material fabrications (e.g. twine mesh, to cotton mesh, to monofilament mesh) and other technological innovations, as well as shifts in fish distribution and behaviour associated with habitat changes (Kennedy 1966; Brown et al. 1999).
Shortly after European settlers arrived in North America, recreational fishers began to exploit the rich waters present. Early recreational fisheries would have involved fishing from shore or use of non-motorised wooden boats or canoes in lakes, rivers and streams. In northern clines, ice fishing would have occurred during winter months. Natural lakes are common, particularly in Canada and the northern parts of the US, creating extensive inland fishing opportunities. Streams and rivers were also immensely popular for early recreational fishers, especially for those targeting salmonids or other diadromous fish. As mills were constructed and agriculture expanded, small impoundments and farm ponds became important inland recreational fisheries, particularly for warmwater fish such as largemouth bass, Micropterus salmoides (Lacepède), crappie, Pomoxis nigromaculatus (Lesueur), sunfish (Lepomis spp.) and brown bullhead, Ameiurus nebulosus (Lesueur). Beginning in the 1940s, both private and public (e.g. put-grow-take fisheries for rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss [Walbaum]) sportfishing ponds grew in popularity as the science and management of ponds and small impoundments advanced (Meehean 1952). The number of ponds in the continental US grew from approx. 20 000 in the 1930s to over 2 million by 1965 (Swingle 1970). Current estimates exceed 2.6 million ponds and small impoundments (Willis et al. 2010). In 1991, 35% of 30.1 million inland anglers in the US fished in ponds smaller than 4.2 ha (USDI 1993). It is believed that the majority of pond fisheries harvest more fish than are released, with protein being used for private consumption (Willis et al. 2010). With growing demand for hydroelectricity and need for flood control, the 1900s saw the creation of many large reservoirs that provided important recreational fishery opportunities. In 1970, reservoirs accounted for ~40% of all inland fisheries opportunities in the US (Jenkins 1970). Reservoir science has also advanced rapidly, although these fisheries tend to be supported with stocking programmes (Miranda & Bettoli 2010), presumably due to habitat limitations and degradation (Miranda et al. 2010). Although various angling clubs have held competitions for decades, in the 1970s competitive angling events became commonplace, particularly for black bass and walleye. Event format has changed through time with most now being primarily live release. In North America there are over 120 000 such events in freshwaters on an annual basis (Schramm et al. 1991), and these are somewhat unique to this continent, especially given the level of celebrity and financial benefit for the winners.
Catch-and-release was rare among early recreational anglers in North America with many archival photographs of large stringers of trophy fish signifying that fish were both large and plentiful and society in general was not conservation oriented. During that period there was little monitoring of fish harvest or effort in the recreational sector so it is difficult to provide commentary on long-term trends or historical fisheries. More recently, the development of a strong conservation ethic and move towards selective harvest has resulted in the voluntary release of a significant proportion of the recreational catch (Arlinghaus et al. 2007). Although catch-and-release dates back to Europe prior to discovery of North America, it is perhaps most vigorously embraced in North America and somewhat unique relative to other areas where release rates tend to be lower (reviewed in Arlinghaus et al. 2007). Use of harvest regulations that mandate release of some fish has further elevated release rates in North America. In Canadian inland waters in 2005, there was a total estimated recreational catch of 215 million fish and harvest of 75 million fish (i.e. release rate of ~ 66%; DFO 2006). Similar data do not exist at a national scale for US inland waters. Despite high release rates, there is some evidence that inland recreational fish populations in North America are in decline, which is partly associated with threats that are external to the sector. Nonetheless, a seminal paper by Post et al. (2002) revealed that a number of high-profile recreational fisheries in Canada were showing evidence of collapse including rainbow trout, walleye and northern pike, which appeared to be associated with internal threats. The declines were attributed to the complexity of angler behaviour, lack of long-term monitoring and failure to consider recreational fishing as a potential threat.
Recreational fisheries are also important aspects of the culture of some regions, particularly in rural areas where freshwater abounds (e.g. Minnesota, northern Ontario), and are the focus of various festivals, mascots for sports teams and larger-than life replicas. A wide spectrum of the population participates in recreational fishing including women and children, although participation rates have been in decline in recent years (~2% per year for adults between 1995 and 2005 in Canada; DFO 2006). In Canada, 3.2 million adults fished at least once in inland waters in 2005 (DFO 2006) and in the US, inland recreational anglers numbered over 25 million in 2006 (ASA 2008). The social benefits of recreational fishing are well known in North America, especially as it relates to leisure, relaxation, and connection to friends, family and the natural world (Arlinghaus & Cooke 2008). In urban areas there have been great efforts to engage youth (e.g. hooked on fishing, not drugs programme). Economically, recreational fisheries are very important because of the many ancillary economic spinoffs related to, for example, travel, fuel, vehicles, boat sales, fishing gear, tackle and guides. In Canada it is estimated that $7.5 billion was contributed to the economy in 2005 as a result of the direct and indirect expenditures on recreational fishing (DFO 2006). In the US, over 767 000 jobs are associated with the inland recreational fishery with a total economic value of $95 billion (ASA 2008). In both Canada and the US, anglers directly support fisheries management, access and education via licence sales (in both nations) and excise taxes (in the US, for example, the Dingle-Johnson, Wallop-Breaux Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act in the US collects excise taxes on fishing equipment, fish finders, motorboat fuels, small engine fuels and import duties).