Have you ever killed a fish because you felt like it didn’t deserve to live? If you have, you’re in a big club. Fishermen have a long, long history of tossing a fish up on the bank to die if they think it might be a competitor for the fish they really want to catch or if it’s something they think might be dangerous to them or somebody they know maybe someday.
Maybe it’s time to re-think those old ideas. As we have learned more about the world around us, we’ve come to realize that the notion of “worthless” parts of nature is misguided. Everything has its place – even the things we don’t like.
In fresh water, anglers commonly throw gar and bowfin (mudfish) on shore because “they eat up all the bass.” OK, but let’s think about that for just a quick second. There were bass living here for tens of thousands of years right alongside the gar and mudfish, long before there were any people around to kill the “bad” fish. If they were going to eat them all up, don’t you think that would have happened back then? The fact there are bass here still should tell you something.
The biggest limiter of bass populations is the number of juvenile bass that get eaten by their top predator: Larger bass. Yup, they’re cannibals. Take a look at bass lures. Almost every hard bait is available in baby bass. There’s a reason it’s one of the top color patterns.
Saltwater fishermen also kill a lot of fish. If you spend enough time pier fishing, you’ll see dead catfish, stingrays, toadfish and various other species wasted on the boards. While it’s true that stingrays and catfish can sting you, the way that people usually get stung is through careless handling when they catch those fish. Just avoid handling them, and the problem is basically solved.
If you think you’re doing somebody a favor by getting rid of their future problem, you’re not. There will be more stingrays, and lots and lots more catfish. And that’s a good thing. Having stingrays around means there’s a healthy population of shellfish and other aquatic invertebrates, which are also food for gamefish. Catfish do a lot of scavenging, and if there are a lot of them then it means there’s a lot to be scavenged – again, a sign of productive habitat.
On the reefs, other species get scapegoated. Barracuda, sharks and goliath grouper are the targets of a lot of hate. All three are known for attacking fish while they’re being reeled in. And they definitely do – but killing them won’t fix the problem. Like dolphins, all of these predators have learned that a hooked fish can’t run very well, making it easy to catch.
The big complaint is that the hunters are stealing “our” fish. But they’re not really our fish anyway. They’re the normal prey of those big predators, which they need to survive, and of course they take them when the pickings are easy. We’ve got to let the taxman take his share. We’re not starving if we don’t get that fish in the cooler.
Some people also gaff cudas and sharks because they’re afraid of being bitten but they want to take a photo. In those cases, killing a fish just for a pic is ridiculous – and gaffing the fish anywhere except the lower jaw is definitely killing it, even if it doesn’t die right away. If you’re not eating it, bring it to the side of the boat and lean over for your photo.
Some of you are going to call me a bunny-hugger for this column, and that’s fine. Because here’s how it it is: Just by going out there, we inevitably do damage. Trying to limit the amount of damage is just the right thing to do. If we want to leave a healthy Gulf for those who come after us, we need to stop actively hurting it. If you insist on going out and proving your human superiority by killing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, you’re just firebombing the future.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.