Is It Legal to Throw Fish Guts in the Water?

Have you ever wondered what is the proper way to clean and dispose of fish guts while camping? Should your pack fish guts and dispose of them in household waste with regular trash or throw them in the water? 

But is it illegal to throw fish guts in the water? What you do with fish guts depends a lot on where you are. Throwing fish guts in the water is discouraged or illegal in many states across the U.S. The safest way to discard fish guts is to pack and dispose of them with regular household waste. 

Depending on where you are fishing, there might be other lawful ways to dispose of fish entrails safely. Read on to learn the best way to throw fish entrails while camping. 

Ways to Dispose of Fish Guts While Camping

Ways to Dispose of Fish Guts While Camping

The way you dispose of fish guts depends greatly on where you are. 

The thing that might surprise you is that biologists and ecologists agree that the best way to dispose of fish entrails is to throw them in deep water. There the guts can decompose to create essential nutrients without attracting animals. 

Please note, throwing fish guts in the shallows, where everyone can see and smell them, is a huge offense! 

Depending on where you are fishing and camping, here are the best ways to dispose of fish guts. 

Garbage Bag

While fish entrails are biodegradable, it’s illegal to throw them in the water in certain states. For example, in Washington and Minnesota, fish guts must be disposed of in zip-lock bags and thrown in with household waste.

Though it may sound gross, this means that you’ll need to carry fish entrails home with you, all the way from the camping ground. 

Put the zip-lock bag with fish entrails in the freezer until garbage day, to prevent your trash can from stinking like rotten fish,  


In some states, burying is a preferred way to get rid of fish guts while camping. However, burying fish entrails isn’t recommended in British Columbia.

Grizzlies and black bears have a strong sense of smell which may point them to the freshly-caught fish or fish entrails. If you are fishing in the bear country, always clean your fish a good distance from your camp.

Never bury fish guts near the lake, tracks, or camp. Choose a spot at least 100 yards away from the camp, trail, or lake to bury the remains. 

Throwing in Water – Depending on State Regulations

While ecologists and biologists agree that fish guts can be thrown in deep water, some states have laws against them. Throwing fish entrails in the water is not permitted in Wisconsin, Illinois, or Minnesota. 

In Washington, it’s allowed to dispose of fish guts in water at least 25 feet deep. Discard fish guts by puncturing the bladder, and you can even weigh the remains with a small rock to help them sink. 

Avoid throwing fish guts in shallow waters where they are likely to wash up on the shore.

Can you Do Anything with Fish Guts?

Besides burying, throwing in the water, or disposing of household garbage, there are other ways to discard fish guts. 

Here are other ways to throw fish entrails:

  • When you are home, flush the entrails (without the bones) down the toilet
  • If you have a chicken coop, feed fish entrails to chickens
  • Use fish guts as a fertilizer by burying them in your garden or adding them to your compost pile
  • Use leftover fish carcasses and bones for cooking homemade fish broth
  • Most garbage disposals can handle small fish bones, though it’s probably better to simply toss the bones in the trash
  • In some states, fish entrails can be used as inexpensive bait to catch fish, crabs, and other aquatic creatures. Keep in mind that exact rules and regulations may vary depending on the state you are fishing in. This applies to what type of fish guts you can use as bait and whether you can legally use fish entrails for bait 

Tips for Cleaning Your Fish at Camp

Bears and other predators are frequently found near lakes and streams. The smell of freshly-caught fish, fish entrails, and bait can attract bears and other forms of wildlife to your camp. 

You can take some simple precautions to avoid close encounters with bears and other predators (source). Here are some helpful tips for cleaning fish at camp:

  • Clean fish and do all the prepping at a reasonable distance from the camp
  • Keep the entire area as clean as possible
  • Don’t wipe your hands on your clothes after cleaning fish or handling fish or baits. Instead, wash your hands and utensils thoroughly to remove the smell of fish
  • After cleaning the fish, dispose of fish guts following state rules and regulations
  • Prepare and eat your catch as soon as possible if you aren’t planning to eat it at home

How to Store Your Fish While Camping?

Using a fish stringer is the best way to keep the fish fresh if you aren’t planning on eating it right away. A rope stringer is the easiest way to keep the fish immersed and alive in the water until you are ready to clean it. 

If you don’t want to use a stringer, clean the fish as soon as possible and place it in an ice chest to keep it fresh. Fish has the best flavor when eaten a few days after being caught. If you aren’t going to eat the fish right away, your best bet is to freeze it to keep it fresh.


The best way to dispose of fish guts depends on where you are. In some states throwing fish entrails in water is legal, as long as the guts are dropped in deep water away from shores and campsites. 

Burying and packing fish guts in a zip-lock bag and throwing it with household trash are other ways you can get rid of entrails while camping. Make sure to check local state laws on disposing of fish guts before your camping trip.