Between house-work, work-work, sleep, other minor hobbies, and various other concerns I manage to fish somewhere between 2-3 times per month to 2-3 times per week. I’ll fish anywhere, anytime, anything I get the chance to. On a recent tough day of fishing, I began reflecting on the destructive nature of the hobby.
I enjoy cooking and gardening. Both these activities are improved as interest in them grows. If I buy a rare plant or an interesting kitchen implement, the store makes a profit. The storeowner notices an uptake in commercial interest and begins looking for other exotic things to stock. On my next visit I find something new and exciting still, and maybe I buy it. In this way, the hobby is bolstered by more and more people engaging in it.
By contrast, fishing belongs to the unfortunate class of activities that is diminished by one’s participation. When I catch a fish, I either kill it for food or release it. In the former case it is totally unavailable for another person to catch, and further breeding, and in the latter it is perhaps a bit smarter and harder to catch next time.
Fishing also exists in a very limited space. Though the earth is 70% water, only 10% of that water holds fish. They tend to congregate near structure, the right temperatures, etc. That means only 7% of the planet is fishy. While everyone in the whole world could be cooking in their kitchens at the same time, all the fisherman in the world have to share a very limited space.
Combine all that with the fact that fishing has its ‘days’. There are seasons for every fish. And in every few seasons there is a day, an hour, or sometimes just a few minutes where the conditions are so right that everything is magic and electric. By contrast, I could cook in my kitchen anytime, all I need is lighting, gas, and ingredients; all things I can mostly control.
Fishing is competition, not only against the fish, but against your fellow man. That’s why I am always surprised by the ‘promote fishing’ campaigns. There are right now more people alive than have ever lived before. Even if there is a 1% decline in fishing interest in a year, there is more than 1% increase in population growth. There are always more people fishing than there ever have been.
As for me, I’d be ecstatic if everyone but me and my few fishing buddies quit the hobby altogether. That is, I’d be happy until everyone else made it illegal for me to fish because it was such an obscure and arcane hobby. No in truth, anglers often make the best fish conservationists. They know they need to protect the resource that supports their addiction. Hence this article.
So what can we do as fisherman, to keep our sport going? I have a few ideas of my own that I’ll share, but I encourage you to think of your own. Here are three simple things you can do.
1) Be mindful about the fish you buy. The fact is commercial fishing has a much greater impact on fisheries than sport-fishers do; they simply take the most fish. That means we can influence fisheries through the purchasing decisions we make.
There are lots of fish out there, from all over the world and obtained through all sorts of methods. Some fish is wild and harvested sustainably; managed so that the population can replenish itself faster than we take it. Some fish is hunted to the point of endangerment and beyond. Some fish is farmed in a way that doesn’t endanger ecosystems. Some aquaculture is irresponsible; releasing toxins, disease, and even genetically modified species out into the wild breeding populations.
As fishermen we need to educate ourselves about what fish is harvested responsibly and doesn’t negatively impact our sport. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a seafood watch website to help. They even have an ap for smart phones. This is an easy way to ensure the health of our world fish populations and in the long run will have the greatest impact.
2) Practice catch and release. This one is really a no-brainer if we’re to have a future with fish in it. If you’re reading this article, especially this far, chances are you probably practice C&R already. Our grandfather’s lived in a time of keeping your limit; we live in a time that necessitates limiting what you keep. If you’re keeping fish, you are taking it and its future offspring out of play. Really think about how much fish you can eat, and do your best not to waste what you do take. Everyone knows that fresh fish tastes way better than frozen. Live and fish season-by-season, keeping and eating what is available and fresh.
3) Conserve water. This is especially important in desert environments like Southern California. Our water comes from the Sierra snowmelt, the Colorado River, and the Sacramento delta. Pumping so much water all across our state causes a myriad of environmental problems. The pumps in the Sacramento Delta inhale the Delta Smelt, which resonates all the way up the food chain. Low water in our lakes and reservoirs lead to increased water temperatures, algae blooms, and fish die-offs. The power required to pump water all over the state adds daily pollution to our water and air. The list goes on and on. To put it simply: fish live in water therefore saving water saves fish.
Think about these 3 things as you live and fish and maybe in time we can achieve equilibrium with our fish populations. I won’t bore you with the details of the declining fish biomass on the planet, but suffice it to say they are continually declining. At the turn of the 20th century it was widely believed that the ocean’s resources were inexhaustible; we now know that to be false. Biologists project that by 2048, a mere 37 years from now, wild fish populations will no longer exist. I don’t know whether it is too late to act, but I sure hope not. I intend to try.