Fishing is the activity of catching fish. It is an ancient practice dating back at least 40,000 years. Since the 16th century fishing vessels have been able to cross oceans in pursuit of fish and since the 19th century it has been possible to use larger vessels and in some cases process the fish on board. Fish are normally caught in the wild. Techniques for catching fish include hand gathering, spearing, netting, angling and trapping.
The term fishing may be applied to catching other aquatic animals such as shellfish, cephalopods, crustaceans, and echinoderms. The term is not usually applied to catching aquatic mammals, such as whales, where the term whaling is more appropriate, or to farmed fish. In addition to providing food, modern fishing is also a recreational sport.
According to FAO statistics, the total number of fishermen and fish farmers is estimated to be 38 million. Fisheries and aquaculture provide direct and indirect employment to over 500 million people. In 2005, the worldwide per capita consumption of fish captured from wild fisheries was 14.4 kilograms, with an additional 7.4 kilograms harvested from fish farms.
Fishing is an ancient practice that dates back at least to the Upper Paleolithic period which began about 40,000 years ago. Isotopic analysis of the skeletal remains of Tianyuan man, a 40,000 year old modern human from eastern Asia, has shown that he regularly consumed freshwater fish. Archaeological features such as shell middens, discarded fish bones and cave paintings show that sea foods were important for survival and consumed in significant quantities. During this period, most people lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and were, of necessity, constantly on the move. However, where there are early examples of permanent settlements (though not necessarily permanently occupied) such as those at Lepenski Vir, they are almost always associated with fishing as a major source of food.
Spearfishing with barbed poles (harpoons) was widespread in palaeolithic times. Cosquer cave in Southern France contains cave art over 16,000 years old, including drawings of seals which appear to have been harpooned.