BlogOctober 2016

Underwater Photography and Fish Conservation

Underwater Photography and Fish Conservation

By Andy Whitcomb

Oct 03, 2016

Underwater photography helps us better understand, appreciate, and protect fish.

It is difficult to understand fully the underwater world. For the most part, we are left with a fleeting glimpse of a dark shape slipping between rocks in the river, a blip on a screen from a depth/fish finder, or maybe we actually get to land a fish and pose for a quick “grip and grin” shot before releasing it back into its mysterious domain.

Underwater photography can help us get a better handle on the big, wet picture. To view a fish on its own terms, underwater photography requires special equipment and great patience. Some fishing shows manage to capture and incorporate videos by having divers or underwater video cameras mounted on sticks or towed in front of lures.

With this unique perspective, we can improve our understanding of this environment by viewing such things as vegetation type and concentration, substrate particle size, submerged structures, relative fish densities, and other species they may associate with.

We can use this information to help fishing conservation practices and monitor how sustainable the fishery is. For example, noted underwater photographer, Eric Engbretson, has noticed a surprising decline in the size of pan fish.

“I spend 70-90 days a year in lakes taking fish pictures. That’s a lot of time underwater where I observe many fish. In an average year, in dozens of different lakes, I might see only one or two 12 inch bluegills a year. That’s how rare they are.”

He also shared that fish managers in Wisconsin lakes have noticed this drop in the quantity of larger pan fish. One possible reason is due to the pressure on the “size structure” from continued angler preference of mainly the largest pan fish. Because of information like this, fisheries managers are constantly tweaking regulations to maximize angler enjoyment but yet keep the fish population healthy and sustainable.

The technology now exists to help us view fish, not just out of water. We no longer have to rely on an artist’s interpretation. These images help us fully appreciate and thus protect all things underwater. Not only does underwater photography help water get the attention it deserves but it excites viewers to get more involved with the activities of fishing and boating which contributes to protect and conserve our fisheries and waterways. The best way to be part of the movement is to make sure you have a fishing license.

Andy Whitcomb
Andy Whitcomb
Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.