Scientists hold different views about environmental management. These views may drive their interest in the subject and help them to address a wide range of research issues, but they can also affect the ways in which research results are interpreted and reported. Studies that mix science and perspective can compromise public and scientific understanding of fishing effects, as perceived differences in evidence may actually reflect differences in interpretation. To improve the rigour of ‘fishing effects’ science, it would help if the benchmarks used to assess whether fishing effects ‘matter’ were always made explicit. These benchmarks might be the objectives set by the management authorities and/or a series of alternate objectives proposed and stated by the scientist. To demonstrate how the reported significance of fishing effects can depend on objectives, I use a simple model to predict the response of fish populations and communities to fishing. Fishing effects that would be reported as negative in relation to preservation or biodiversity objectives, such as declines in size, abundance and trophic level, occur at lower fishing intensities than those associated with meeting sustainability objectives for target species. When fishing pressure is so high that both conservation and fisheries objectives are not being met, the initial management actions to meet a range of objectives are likely to be compatible (e.g. reduce capacity, support alternate livelihoods).