What do the anti-fishing movement and the aftermath of a recent bear attack in central Florida have in common?
In a word: Ignorance.
As urbanized society moves farther from nature, more and more people tend to attribute human qualities and feelings to fish and wildlife. And they are less likely to support activities that result in death or harm to fish and wildlife.
In other words, they view life through Disney-color glasses. They are ignorant of predator-prey relationships, of checks and balances, and of our pivotal role as dominant species on the planet. Rather, they want us all to hold hands, and fins, and paws together and sing, grunt, howl, and snarl “Kumbaya."
In Florida, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has been receiving hundreds of complaints annually about black bears for several years now, with the Longwood area being Ground Zero. The bears roam neighborhoods, tear up garbage cans, and try to enter houses. Until recently, however, no one had been injured. That all changed when a woman out walking her dog was attacked.
FWC responded by killing two bears that it trapped in the area of the attack, and some of the outrage expressed by people ignorant of how dangerous bears can be has been nothing short of bizarre, mostly because an “innocent” bear was euthanized.
Here’s what a newspaper columnist wrote:
“To be convicted in America, you must be judged guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
“Unless you’re a bear.”
And here’s an excerpt from one letter-to-the-editor:
“As a 14-year resident in the 32779 ZIP code, I had several bear encounters. I learned to live with them and follow the rules to keep us both safe.
“After reading about the bear attack and subsequent euthanasia of a female bear, I was saddened, but not surprised. Now with a second bear euthanized days later, it seems we are frightfully close to using the ‘kill ‘em all and let God sort it out’ tactic.”
See what I mean about humanizing wild animals? And I have news for the letter writer, you might “follow the rules” but a bear can’t read.
In fairness, FWC didn’t handle the situation well. In the big picture of bear management, killing two of them in an area where overpopulation obviously is a problem isn’t a bad idea. But it did not do a good job of explaining why it collected DNA samples but killed the bears before it received the results.
Florida’s big problem isn’t the bears; it’s the ignorant people who will oppose common sense methods to manage the bear population to minimize conflicts.
And, finally, here is how this all relates to fishing:
Animal rights activists are exploiting the same kinds of people who sympathize with the bears to mount a campaign against catch-and-release fishing. They argue that the degree of “pain and suffering” caused to the fish is not justified if it is caught for only the angler’s pleasure. In other words, fishing is acceptable only if it is done to put food on the table.
Of course, the ultimate objective is to end all fishing. But because of a populace increasingly removed from nature, railing against catch-and-release on bogus moral grounds is viewed as the best way to start, especially since it has been successful in some European countries, where the practice has been banned.
Previously, I thought that California would be the first state where the anti-fishing movement would try to implement a catch-and-release ban.
But I now fear that Maine might be the first. It’s already restricted use of lead and jigs, and now the state is considering a ban on soft plastic baits. If the anti-fishing folks win this one, you can bet that they will be emboldened to try something even more restrictive --- such as outlawing catch-and-release.
Then again, central Florida might be the place to start that campaign.
Florida’s Crystal River has been one of my favorite places to fish since I first visited there in the mid 1990s.
No, it’s not place to catch trophy bass.
I like it for the variety of fish that it offers, as well as its natural beauty and wildlife, including manatees, dolphins, and a multitude of bird species.
The most interesting thing for me is how the fishery has evolved since I first went there. In the 1990s, the aquatic vegetation was abundant, especially in the canals, and so were the bass. Additionally, sea trout and jacks were common, with redfish a little less so. Snook were rare visitors, as were tarpon.
Today, that grass is all but gone, gobbled up by the manatees, who keep it browsed down almost to the roots. And without the vegetation to soak up nutrients from runoff, algae blooms through much of the system and visibility is greatly reduced. Additionally, as winters have moderated, huge numbers of snook have moved in, competing with bass for both forage and habitat. As a consequence, largemouths aren’t nearly as numerous.
Still, it’s one of my favorite places.
I fished there yesterday with long-time friends Dave Burkhardt, and Matt Beck, photo editor and outdoor writer for the Citrus County Chronicle. Matt probably knows the fishery as well as anyone, and we had a great day on the water with him. (Matt tells me that he is going to include my new book, Why We Fish, in his two-part, gift ideas column.)
We caught bass, snook, redfish, jacks, and ladyfish. Sadly, the bite was slow and quality fish had lockjaw. The only real angling excitement occurred when Matt lost a nice snook near a dock. (I won't embarrass him by posting the photo of the small snook that he did catch.)
But the fish were there; we saw them moving. They simply weren’t inclined to bite. We also saw manatees, dolphins, eagles and another recent arrival, the wood stork, as well as some beautiful shoreline vistas.
By the way, Audubon Florida is concerned about those birds and fish having enough to eat. Check out this article about the need to protect baitfish.
Here is something that you didn’t know: You are a hypocrite if you practice catch-and-release.
That’s right. If you care enough to turn a fish loose after you catch it, then you should be smart enough to realize that you shouldn’t catch it in the first place.
Don’t laugh. That’s the latest strategy by animal rights activists in this country to kill recreational fishing. Twice now it’s been used in comments at my Activist Angler website. The latest was in response to a post of mine that ridiculed PETA for distorting facts to support its anti-fishing ideology.
I was accused of being so steeped in a “pro-fishing, pro-industry dogma” that I have lost perspective. “Attempting to demonize people who are concerned about the ethics of sport fishing is a clear act of bigotry,” said commenter Rob Russell.
“Any thoughtful angler will reach a point where he or she desires to lessen their impacts on fish. When you engage in premeditated C&R, when your only goal is ‘sport’ (gratification), how do you rationalize putting a fish’s life at risk?
“If you are not concerned about this, then you have some thinking to do.”
Well, Rob, I have been thinking about it, and I am concerned. And if you fish, you should be concerned too. As irrational as this ploy seems, it already has worked in Europe.
The Swiss Animal Welfare Act of 2008 makes catch-and-release illegal because “it is in conflict with the dignity of the fish and its presumed ability to suffer and feel pain.” A similar rule has been in place since the 1980s in Germany, where anglers also must take a course in fish handling before they can obtain a license.
“The argument runs (in Germany) that it is legally acceptable to go fishing only if one has the intention to catch fish for food,” say the authors of a disturbing study, “A Primer on Anti-Angling Philosophy and Its Relevance for Recreational Fisheries in Urbanized Societies.”
In other words, you can have fun catching fish in Germany, but don’t tell anyone--- and you must keep the fish. Tournament fishing is not allowed and economic benefits are not a sufficient justification for fishing.
“It all boils down to the individual benefits experienced by the angler, and here food provision is currently the only acceptable reason,” the authors add.
Think that can’t happen here, a country of nearly 40 million licensed anglers? Think again, and don’t be misled by the fact that 9 out of 10 Americans approve of legal fishing and support using fish for food.
The authors of that study discovered that when people are asked whether they approve of recreational fishing for sport, answers change dramatically. Twenty-five to 30 percent view angling for sport as cruel in more urbanized states such as Colorado and Arizona, while about 20 percent feel the same way in more rural states, including Alaska and the Dakotas.
And then there are the useful idiots. They fish but are so narrow-minded that they support anti-fishing activists in this campaign.
The second commenter at my website said this: “Sport fishing for catch-and-release should be outlawed! We are working to keep fish for real fishermen who enjoy the taste and food. We need to keep these so called ‘sport fishermen’ out of Minnesota lakes!”
How do we combat this strategy? We don’t engage in the false argument that catch-and-release is just one step on the road to enlightenment and that, if we really care, we must stop fishing for sport. That’s like trying to answer the question “Do you still beat your wife?” and not sound guilty. An attempt to answer either instantly puts the responder on the defensive.
The reality is that catch-and-release is a conservation practice, not an action prompted by concern for the welfare of an individual fish. Since B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott popularized the practice during tournaments in the 1970s, it has been embraced by anglers worldwide as a way to sustain fisheries. And it’s working. For example, Florida anglers keep less than 10 percent of the bass that they catch, with the vast majority released so that they can continue to reproduce, as well as be caught again.
And let’s not forget the value that we derive from catching and releasing those fish. Yes, fish as food nourishes the body, but fishing for fun nourishes the spirit. During this chaotic and angry time in our nation’s history, nothing is more important.
(This column appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)
Mr. Jakubowski doesn’t like competitive fishing and the fact that all --- instead of just most — of the essays aren’t about the idyllic aspects of fishing. I understand and respect that point of view.
But I would like to clarify a few points.
1. He says, “Too many essays extol the virtues of B.A.S.S. and the reputed contribution of competitive fishing to angling.” In fact, one essay is about B.A.S.S. and how we all have benefitted from its founding. Another is about that organization’s leadership in dealing with the largemouth bass virus more than a decade ago.
But if you don’t like competitive fishing, I guess that even two essays are two too many. As a matter of fact, though, I never have fished competitively and wouldn’t ever want too. My appreciation for fishing probably is more in line with Mr. Jakubowski’s. But tournament anglers have just as much right to the water as the rest of us, and we owe much in the way of innovation and conservation to B.A.S.S.
2. Mr. Jakubowski seems critical of my mention of a report in an essay about the anti-fishing movement and he says that I have provided “no reference.” I’m not sure what he is talking about here. I include the complete name of the report, which would enable a reader to further research it if he so desires.
3. Nor am I sure what this means: “Name calling and defining the opposition are not helpful when you need to have your ideas understood by the opposition.” If he is suggesting that I might offend those who oppose fishing, instead of persuading them to come over to our side, then possibly he is correct. But my essays are not written for them. They are written for anglers.
It is quite possible, as Mr. Jakubowski suggests, that non-anglers and casual observers see bass boats and tow vehicles and think “This is what I need to fish?” But I did not write this book to correct this misconception.
I wrote this book to celebrate with my fellow anglers the joy of fishing and, on a much smaller scale, provide perspective on how we came to be where we are and what the future might hold for recreational fishing.
As Mr. Jakubowski points out, most books of fishing essays are written by devotees of fly fishing. I fly fish too, but I’m not a devotee, just as I am not a competitive fisherman. Thus, I did not write this book in the way that a fly fisherman would, focusing solely on the idyllic.
Rather, I am someone who loves fishing in all of its forms and has been fortunate enough to combine that passion with a small ability to write. And during my years of writing about all aspects of fishing, I have learned to appreciate the “big picture” of why we fish. That is what I have tried to convey in this book.