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Fishing Responsibly in New York State

From small headwater tributaries and tiny ponds, to large rivers and lakes, New York is blessed with abundant fishing waters. To help ensure that the state's fish populations remain healthy, New York's Department of Environmental Conservation continually monitors the resource and employs a wide range of fishing regulations. These fishing regulations are frequently evaluated to ensure the best possible fish populations are maintained in the Empire State's diverse waters.

Anglers can assist this effort by fishing responsibly. Be sure that you know and understand the regulations for the waters that you will be fishing. In addition to following fishing regulations there are other ways that you can insure that your fishing will not harm aquatic resources or others enjoyment of them. Through following the simple guidelines below, anglers will help make sure there will be great fishing for future generations to enjoy.

Non-toxic Sinkers and Jigs

The loss of sinkers and lures is a routine part of fishing. Unfortunately, lost sinkers, especially split shot, may be mistaken for food or grit and eaten by waterbirds such as ducks, geese, swans, gulls, or loons. Toxic effects of even a single lead sinker can cause birds to sicken and increases the risk of death through predation, exposure, or lead poisoning.

As responsible anglers, we should seek to reduce the unintended effects on the natural environment and leave no trace of our presence. A trip to your favorite tackle shop will reveal a variety of alternatives to lead split shot, sinkers and jig heads. By switching to non-toxic sinkers with your next purchase, you can assure that your fishing tackle choices are helping to reduce the risk of lead poisoning to birds.

New York State passed legislation that will prohibit the sale of certain lead sinkers. Beginning in May 2004, the sale of lead fishing sinkers (including "split shot") weighing one-half ounce or less will not be permitted.

The new legislation (Environmental Conservation Law, Section 11-0308) regarding the ban of sale of small lead fishing sinkers states:

S 11-0308.* Sale of small lead fishing sinkers prohibited.

  1. No person shall sell at retail or offer for retail sale lead fishing sinkers weighing one-half ounce or less. Each day of sale or offering for sale shall constitute a separate violation of this section.
  2. For the purposes of this section, the following terms shall have the following meanings:
    1. "sinker" shall mean any device that is designed to be attached to a fishing line and intended to sink the line. Such term shall not include artificial lures, weighted line, weighted flies or jig heads.
    2. "sell at retail" or "retail sale" shall mean the sale to any person in the state for any purpose other than for resale.
  3. The department shall provide notice of the prohibition of the retail sale or offering for sale of lead fishing sinkers weighing one-half ounce or less in the state fishing regulations guide.

* NB Effective since May 7, 2004

See how difficult it is to distinguish split shot from pebbles. Can you tell the difference? Search this photo for the eight lead sinkers (split shot).

A photo of lead split shots mixed with pebbles

small image of pebbles and splitshotGive up? Click on this small image for the answers.

Protecting Wildlife and Fishing Privileges

When fishing, anglers need to be conscious of their effects on the environment, and make sure they practice their sport in a manner that has a minimal impact on all the state's natural resources. Discarded monofilament line, along with old fishing lures and gear can potentially harm wildlife. For some species, the results can be fatal. It's up to all anglers to be responsible and protect the state's wildlife and environment.

Monofilament Line

Experienced anglers recognize the need to frequently cut back or change to fresh monofilament fishing lines. The relatively soft composition of these popular lines makes them easily damaged while playing or landing fish. When replacing or fixing damaged line, be sure to properly dispose of any excess. Monofilament line degrades slowly in the environment, with heavier lines taking much longer to break down than light lines.

Carelessly discarded monofilament line can seriously harm wildlife. Animals can become entangled in, or ingest the line, whereby starvation, strangulation or deep wounding are possible. So, be sure to remove any discarded line as well as any other monofilament line that you may encounter while fishing.


An unspoiled setting greatly adds to most people's enjoyment of their total angling experience. Too often litter identifies popular fishing spots and often some of this litter such as bait containers, lure packaging and discarded monofilament line is undeniably associated with the presence of anglers. When you leave garbage behind, you not only affect wildlife-- you also leave the impression that anglers are thoughtless and don't care about the environment. Affected landowners may close the area to fishing. So, be responsible and try to leave the area you visit even cleaner than when you arrived.

Retrieve All Lures and Gear

Including those that got snagged in tree branches or on submerged vegetation or logs where possible. Animals may mistakenly ingest, or become entangled in, or get accidentally hooked by fishing equipment carelessly left by anglers.

Non-Native Plants and Animals

Many waters in New York State have been affected by the unintentional introduction of non-native plants and animals such as zebra mussels, Eurasian water milfoil, water chestnut and the river ruffe. Often, when species such as these are first introduced, there is an absence of natural mechanisms such as predators or diseases to control these new organisms and so their numbers can skyrocket out of control. The new invading species may rapidly displace native species by outcompeting them for resources such as food and growing space. As a result, the entire natural balance and species composition of the aquatic system can be seriously disrupted, including the fisheries.

Anglers can help maintain the state's great fishing by carefully following a few simple guidelines to prevent the spread of unwanted aquatic species.

To Stop Aquatic Invaders:

  • Remove all mud and aquatic plants from all gear, boats, motors and trailers before departing from an access site.
  • Drain all water including bilges, live wells and bait tanks before departing from an access site.
  • Dry boat and equipment thoroughly after use, or flush bilges and clean boat with very hot water or steam clean.
  • Do not transport fish from one body of water to another.
  • Do not release unused bait into any body of water.
  • Do not dispose of fish carcasses or by-products in any body of water.
  • Do not assume that a body of water is already contaminated and ignore protective measures.

Fish as Bait

As previously mentioned, the introduction of non-native fish species into a body of water disrupts the established delicate balance of nature, and can have disastrous affects on local fisheries. As an example, many of New York's lakes and ponds that once supported outstanding brook trout fisheries have become heavily populated with baitfish or small panfish that outcompete the native trout for food and living space. Round whitefish, an Adirondack native species, has become endangered in New York State, largely from aggressive competition from non-native species.

In many instances, it was anglers that unknowingly introduced these non-native species by emptying their bait buckets into the water at the end of the day. To guard against such unwanted introductions, as well as the spread of other undesirable aquatic organisms such as zebra mussels and the parasite that causes whirling disease that can be present in the water in a bait bucket, DEC places some restrictions on the use of baitfish on certain waters in the state. Before using baitfish, anglers should make sure it is okay to use them on the waters they plan to fish, and remember:

  • Never use baitfish in waters where their use is prohibited.
  • Never release live bait from your bait bucket into any of New York's waters.
  • Never stock any species of fish in any water without first obtaining a free Fish Stocking Permit from your Regional Fisheries Manager.
  • Always dispose of water from your baitbucket on land, never pour it into a lake, pond or stream.
  • Always encourage others to follow these guidelines to help New York's native fish populations to remain healthy and keep fishing productive.

Catching and Releasing Fish

While a fresh fish dinner represents the ideal conclusion to a fishing trip for many people, an increasing number of anglers prefer to return their catch to the water. Anglers do this so as to minimize depletion of a favorite fishery. Releasing larger game and panfish back to the water helps ensure that these mature, healthy fish can spawn again, and helps to perpetuate a fit population of quality size fish for future angling enjoyment.

When practicing catch and release, anglers can take a few simple steps to aid in the survival of released fish.

  • Quickly play and land fish-- do not fight fish to exhaustion.
  • Handle fish as little as possible and release them quickly-- unhook fish in water if possible.
  • Handle fish carefully to avoid injury-- be sure to avoid contact with the gills, and do not squeeze fish or remove protective slime. Pike and walleyes shouldn't be gripped by the eye sockets.
  • Consider using only artificial lures-- their use is mandatory on some waters.
  • Use barbless hooks if you plan to release most of the fish you catch. When a fish is deeply hooked, do not try to remove the hook-- clip the leader instead.
  • Trout and salmon caught from water depths greater than 30 feet often develop distended air bladders due to the sudden pressure reduction. Learn to release these fish by requesting the pamphlet "Fish for the Future" from DEC Regional Offices.

For those anglers who enjoy a good, fresh fish meal, remember to keep only those fish you will use, preferably a few medium-sized ones.

Reporting Violations

How to Report a Violation

If you observe someone violating the Environmental Conservation Law, or see the result of a violation, report it! Poachers are not sportsmen - they are thieves. Those who pollute our air and water, and destroy our environment, are criminals.

Support the efforts of the Environmental Conservation Police by reporting all poachers and polluters. There are 300 Environmental Conservation Police Officers and Investigators in New York State. They each must patrol an average of 400 square miles. That's a lot of ground and water to cover! Clearly, assistance from all of New York State's responsible sportsmen and women, along with other concerned citizens, is vital.

You can help by reporting every Environmental Conservation Law violation seen or suspected:

  • When a violation is observed, keep a distance from the violator. Do not approach or attempt to confront the suspects. They may be dangerous, could destroy evidence, or simply evade the officers if forewarned.
  • Write everything down. Make notes on what the poachers or polluters are doing. How many people are involved?
  • What did they look like? Determine and record identifying features such as age, sex, height, weight, hair color, and any other marks, scars, or characteristics that would aid in identifying the person(s).
  • How were they dressed? Note the type and color of the suspect's hat, coat, trousers, and shoes or boots.
  • What kind of vehicle was involved? Jot down license numbers, color, make, model, year, and anything else to help authorities track down the violator.

How to Contact the Environmental Conservation Police

Call 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-322-3267) to contact Environmental Conservation Police Officers through DEC's dispatch system. Officers work out of their homes and patrol an area in most cases about the size of the county in which they are located.

Answers to the Photo Search

A photo of pebbles with 8 lead split shots circled with yellow color

More about Fishing Responsibly in New York State:

  • Lead Fishing Weights and Loons - The common loon faces many threats linked to human activity, among them is lead poisoning from the ingestion of lead fishing weights.
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    Albany, NY 12233
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