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Ronan's report

Sunday July 29th 2012

Paul's FP on Wednesday got me thinking. This paragraph in particular:

"However I can't understand why one would feel guilty about catching a lot of fish in the first place unless, that is, there is a little bit of guilt attached to each one, and after you've reached a certain number then the accumulated guilt has risen to an unacceptable level. Surely if it's completely acceptable to catch one, then it's also completely acceptable to catch them all?"

I think an element of guilt, or at least an awareness of the impact we have on the world just by being in it, is essential. We have to accept that everything we do has consequences. Most of these consequences will in isolation be insignificant; add them up, though, and they may come to slightly more than a hill of beans.

C&R has a lower impact (fish for fish) on the environment than C&K, but it still has an impact. Fish that are continually caught and released can end up with damaged fins and mouths (I'm amazed at how often pictures of fish with no maxillary bones make it into magazines). So I don't believe that there are no limits. For me there is a point where the fish are vulnerable enough that there ceases to be any challenge and it does feel a little like exploitation. The time when fish are on redds is a classic situation, so is fishing for freshly stocked fish.

This is why morals and ethics are so tricky. Things that are totally acceptable in some circumstances are not when taken to extreme. You can't say that because it's OK to catch some fish it's OK to catch all the fish, any more than you can say that it's wrong to catch all the fish so it's wrong to catch a single fish.

People like to have definite rules on this kind of thing and that's a big problem because the line between acceptable and unacceptable is almost impossible to define and probably moves around a lot. If I go fishing everyday for 200 days and catch a fish each day, am I more restrained than someone who goes once a year and catches fifty?

Say I've been fishing a river for a month and really struggling: am I justified in catching thirty on a day of great hatches and heavy rises?

The powers that manage/own fisheries get to set the rules and these can be seen as either an affront to freedom or as insufficient to protect the environment. One thing is for sure, as a species we have a terrible track record of leaving environmental management to personal choice (anyone seen a passenger pigeon lately?), so some form of regulation is needed.

Other than that it is left to us, when were alone on the stream, to find our own moral compass. No one's there to judge us or tell us when we've caught enough, you have to make your own mind up.

We have all had days when the fish go mental. At first you have a "fill your boots" mentality and, swept along by the joy of it all you catch fish after fish. After a while though it can seem monotonous; one fish blurs into the next and it's clear that this is less about your skills as an angler and more about the mood of the fish. This is probably the time to stop, but heck it might be the last time you get fishing this good all season. Better just catch another, it might be a monster. So you carry on. You can't stop yourself and anyway it's only you and only one day so it's probably OK. This is what you tell yourself, but deep down you know you've overstepped the mark. This is not your proudest moment, like trashing the room at a surprise party someone's laid on for you.

The hardest thing is spotting the line before you cross it. Most of us overshoot from time to time and the best we can do is to look back, shrug our shoulders, and sheepishly walk back to the right side. Busted.

Although not as innocently perfect as popular culture would have us believe, some hunter-gatherer societies had a better handle on these things than we do today. The Native Americans understood hunting to be a reciprocal relationship between the hunter and the hunted. They thought of a successful hunt as primarily the receiving of a gift from nature.

The focus was not on the actions and skill of the hunter, but on the consequences for the game being hunted. Constantly aware of the impact they were having, and thankful for the amazing gifts they were given, these people were more likely to set limits on what they took and to try and create a sustainable environment for the game they loved.


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