Home FAQ Are There Fish In Amsterdam Canals?

Are There Fish In Amsterdam Canals?

by Maja Świątnicka

Amsterdam is probably one of the best-developed cities in the whole world. The modern architecture plays along with 16th and 17th-century houses. One of the most popular things about Amsterdam is the canal system. Canal belt around the city center is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage. People often wonder if there’s life in the canals, I mean fish. So, are there fish in Amsterdam Canals?

The answer is ‘Yes’. There are fish in the Amsterdam canals. The city waters are home to all kinds of fish – there are around 20 different types of water animals down there. The most popular species are perch, pike, zander and small roach. What is more, the canal district is a great fishing spot.

Besides fish, many other species live out there in the Amsterdam canals. You will read some more about it below in the article. I’ve also gathered all crucial information regarding fishing in the canals, as well as the license you need to fish there. Enjoy!

Fish in Amsterdam Canals?

In my opinion, Amsterdam canals look a bit artificial, like no life can be there. The water looks quite murky. This is why it might look a bit surprising that a wide range of animals live in there. However, there are two reasons why fish live in the canals:

  1. Canals are 100% manmade. They have been there for many years and many animals just adapted to such conditions. As in nature, animals finally get used to different environmental conditions. They adapt to living in most cities and so they do in Amsterdam.
  2. The city of Amsterdam has been working hard to make the canals function as they should in a natural environment. They do their best to keep trash out. I must say, many actions have been made to clean the canals. As a result, there’s a great chance you’ll see a fish in some of the canals.

When I first saw a fish in the canal, I was extremely surprised. Then I found out that so many various kinds of fish live there! The following kinds of fish can be found there:

Rafal and Zander 2,5kg
  • Pike – one of the most common fish in Amsterdam canals. They can even grow up to 130 cm in length.
  • Roach – quite popular in the canals. Such fish are plentiful because they easily adjust to organic pollution.
  • Rudd – as above, they adapt quite easily.
  • Zander – one of the most popular fish in Amsterdam canals. Especially among fishermen. If you go fishing in Amsterdam, you’ll probably deal with zander! From my point of view, zander is nothing but tasty.
  • Perch – also, one of the most popular fish. They are little fish.
  • Eel – quite a rare type but still, you can find some down there.
  • Carp – as above, a rare type but not impossible to find.
  • Freshwater beam – they are bottom feeders, so you won’t probably see them for yourself in the canals.

If you want to see some more fish living in the Amsterdam waters, you should definitely go to Artis (the Royal Zoo). They have some seasonal displays of the wildlife in Dutch canals.

Fishing License

In order to fish on most Amsterdam canals, you need a license. You will probably need a VISpas (you can check more details here). The license lets you fish on almost all waters in Amsterdam and Haarlem. The VISpas is a credit-card size permit introduced in 2007. A standard license permits fishing with two rods and all permissible bait. Sometimes (in some particular parts of the canals) you will also need to become a member of one of the fishing clubs. Unfortunately, it might be impossible to obtain if you are just a one-time visitor in the city. The average amount you have to pay for a VISpas is 40 Euro. If you manage to become a member of a fishing club, you get the license automatically. Be aware that the license is only valid until the end of the year (always until December 31st).

You can order your VISpas via the website – you can easily pay with your credit card. Once the transaction is processed, you’ll receive a confirmation email. With the VISpas, you will also get a booklet with fishing waters you’re allowed to fish. After that, you can start fishing right away.

Can You Fish in Amsterdam Canals?

The Amsterdam water, including the canals, is just great for angling. When it comes to fishing, water in Amsterdam canals is considered to be very good fishing water. Even if it’s not clean enough to drink or swim, it’s perfectly okay as a fishing stock.

The Best Fishing Spots in Amsterdam

The best fishing spots in Amsterdam are the following:

  • IJ River,
  • The North Sea Canal (behind Central Station),
  • the canals running through the center of the city.

When it comes to the Netherlands in general, there are many exceptional fishing spots. The most popular fishing areas in the country are the North Sea, rivers and big lakes. Eastern part of Holland is also worth recommending (rivers and canals). There is a cool map of fishing spots throughout the country, created by Sportvisserij Nederland. It enables you to find recommended spots and also to filter species of fish, fishing spots’ facilities, fishing methods etc.

Fishing Rules

Make sure you follow some important fishing rules. Among the others, use only the permissible bait:

  • bread, potato, cheese, seeds and dough;
  • prawns and worms,
  • larvae and insects.

If you want to use any other bait (or if you want to fish with multiple rods) you need a separate fishing permit. Also, keep the following closed seasons in mind:

Species Closed Season
Salmon, sea trout Whole year
Brown trout, char, brook trout Oct 1st – March 31st
Pike March 1st – June 30th
Chub, barbel, nose carp, ide. dace April 1st – May 31st
Perch, zander April 1st – last Saturday in May

Be aware that your fishing permit only allows you to fish in certain areas. When you receive your permit, check if you are allowed to fish for specific species on specific times. The card included a link where all information is provided. Keep in mind, that it’s in Dutch only. There are also some special rules on night fishing. It’s only allowed from the beginning of June until the end of August. Between September and May angling is not permitted from two hours after sunset until one hour before sunrise.

What Else On Top of Fish?

There are many other species besides fish in the canal area. The cleaner the water, the more species it attracts. The following birds can be spotted in the neighbourhood:

  • Ducks – two types: the Mallard and the Muscovy ducks (I actually call them the pretty ones and the ugly ones). You cannot say you are an Amsterdammer if you haven’t fed them yet!
  • Gulls – different species – common gull, the lesser black-backed gull, the herring gull, the black-headed gull.
  • Swans.
  • Coots – they are smaller than duck, those are the dark birds with white foreheads.
  • Geese – nothing to explain about these birds, huh? They literally spread everywhere, and they protect their territory aggressively.
  • Herons – the long-legged ones.

Water Quality

Water management is one of the most important functions of the Amsterdam canals. They’re of course famous and popular, but their main role is to protect the city from drowning. The water should also circulate for some sanitary reasons. In 2007, a detail report was prepared. It said that the canal water quality didn’t comply with the standards. The report was based on the European Bathing Water Directive which evaluated water compliance with the values for fecal indicators. The water in Amsterdam canals was considered unsuitable for swimming. The report said that there’s health risk. The water quality back then was actually the result of so many houseboats existing out there (surprisingly). Until 2007 they were not connected to the city sewer system. What is actually means in practice, houseboats’ waste was deposited directly in the canals. The real improvements were introduced four years later, as new sanitation measures were presented.

How Does the City Deal with It Now?

Since 2007, the quality of water has started to be monitored in a better way. By the year 2016, almost all houseboats were connected to the city sewer system. The situation has been improving rapidly. At the moment, the water in Amsterdam canals is cleaner than it has been in the history of the city. The clean water is pumped up from the big lake Ijsselmeer. In order to make it possible, 14 of the 16 existing waterlocks around the city close up. It is proceeded three times a week. The dirty water is pushed out through the open locks on the other side of the city thanks to the current that creates pushes. What is more, there are some special cleaning boats with nets and big scoops. They patrol the canals on a daily basis and clean surface dirt whenever needed. The cleaner the water, the more life attracted inside down there.


As you can see, Amsterdam is a perfect proof that we can live in harmony with nature. Even a large, developed city like Amsterdam can make it possible for different water species to live in the very center of the city. To be honest, at first sight I was a bit surprised – I haven’t expected so many different species out there! It’s kind of optimistic, as it means that water quality in Amsterdam waters has been improving over past decades. This is good news not only for fishermen, don’t you think?

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