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started as a sport after the invention of the motorized boat. , a and early conservationist, is credited with founding the sport in 1898. Purpose built game fishing boats appeared shortly after. An example is the , in use at Cataline Island, , in 1915, and shipped to the following year. According to a newspaper report at that time, the had "a deep cockpit, a chair fitted for landing big fish and leather pockets for placing the pole."

Artisan fishing boats are usually small , appropriately designed for use on their local inland waters or coasts. Many localities around the world have developed their own traditional types of fishing boats, adapted to use local materials suitable for boat building and to the specific requirements of the and sea conditions in their area. Artisan boats are often open (undecked). Many have sails, but they do not usually use much, or any mechanised or electronic gear. Large numbers of artisan fishing boats are still in use, particularly in developing countries with long productive marine coastlines. For example, has reported about 700,000 fishing boats, 25 percent of which are , and half of which are without motors. The have reported a similar number of small fishing boats. Many of the boats in this area are double-outrigger craft, consisting of a narrow main hull with two attached outriggers, commonly known as in Indonesia and in the Philippines.

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According to the , at the end of 2004, the world fishing fleet consisted of about 4 million vessels, of which 2.7 million were undecked (open) boats. While nearly all decked vessels were mechanized, only one-third of the undecked fishing boats were powered, usually with outboard engines. The remaining 1.8 million boats were traditional craft of various types, operated by sail and oars.

According to the , in 2004 the world's fishing fleet consisted of 4 million vessels. Of these, 1.3 million were decked vessels with enclosed areas. The rest were open vessels, of which two-thirds were traditional craft propelled by sails and oars. By contrast, nearly all decked vessels were mechanized. Of the decked vessels, 86 percent are found in Asia, 7.8 percent in Europe, 3.8 percent in North and Central America, 1.3 percent in Africa, 0.6 percent in South America and 0.4 percent in Oceania. Most commercial fishing boats are small, usually less than 30 metres (98 ft) but up to 100 metres (330 ft) for a large or .