The Fisherman’s Paradox
Are we who we think we are?
Recreational anglers are a varied lot. We come from all walks of life, from all over the globe. Some tend towards sustenance fishing; others are pure sporties who keep no fish. Internally, we fit into categories that are pretty obvious to those who fish - freshwater versus saltwater, cold water versus warm water, fly versus artificial versus bait, and so on.
Most of us found our way to fishing through some kind of family or friend connection in our youth. Our mentors often taught us how to cast, how to set a hook, and most likely the importance of taking care of our fish, which in ultimately means taking care of fishing.
Recreational fishing is rife with potential paradoxes. But that last thought, taking care of fishing, is worth some focus. “Taking care of fishing” can be boiled down to “conservation,” and most fishermen think they understand conservation and practice it.
Of course there are varying degrees of conservation (or lack thereof) in the fishing world, from those who blatantly throw trash overboard and poach fish to those who dedicate their lives to bettering our fisheries in every way possible. By and large, almost all of us are way closer to the latter end of that scale than the former. We feel like we do our part, we look down on those who fish but don’t seem to get it.
We also hear constantly that “nobody does more for fishing conservation than fishermen” or something along those lines, which is true I am sure.
But nobody outside of the fishing culture cares what each of us does individually. To them, we are all the same person – someone who takes from nature, someone who leaves fishing line hanging from trees, and someone who creates oil sheens on the lake from our boat motors, and so on. There aren’t fly fishermen to them, there are fishermen. There aren’t inshore specialists to them, there aren’t shad run aficionados. There are just fisherwomen and fishermen.
If you scale back far enough, nobody is wrong. Yes, most of us put effort (in varying degrees) towards conservation. And yes, as a whole, we have the potential to make a mess. To us, we are a collective group who share a passion, who appreciate the beauty of nature, who recognize the art within the sport regardless of the style of fishing we do. To them, we are takers and/or polluters.
The other day I read another article about algae in Lake Okeechobee, and the scientist discussing it was explaining just how bizarre the situation in the lake is, which he followed with “and fishermen are the only ones who see it.” We see things, and we act upon it, maybe by forming conservation groups.
That same day, a friend (who is a fisherman) started a text to me “$#(*!^ Fishermen! Why do they feel they can just throw their garbage on the shore, and pull mangrove saplings out, and leave their fishing line behind?” Yep, we do that too. And unfortunately, even though this is a small percentage of anglers, this is likely what sticks in the mind of non-fishers. They don’t notice the clean fishing spots – why would they? That is ‘normal.’ They notice the mess that one person left behind.
That’s the way it goes. One kid farts in class, and it is unpleasant for everyone.
We are stereotyped, we are type-casted. So what?
There are really two problems here. One is that the outsiders are at least partially right – as a whole group, we sometimes make a mess. We have the real potential to have a devastating impact on the resources we rely upon for our passions and past times, whether it is depleting stocks or polluting or something else.
This is hard to say, because I want to argue with myself. We DO fight for conservation. As individuals, as an industry, as members of social fishing clubs – we often don’t just try, we do. It’s hard to accept the reality that in some places, and in some cases, we simply need to do better.
The other problem is this image we have to non-fishermen can be a real barrier when we anglers advocate for conservation or our right to fish. We are often not just defending ourselves or the fish, but our image. Most of the time the people we are appealing to, such as politicians or land/water managers are not fishermen, which makes the perception of us as a group very important. To us, we are a group trying to be responsible and do the right thing. To them, we might be whiners who want, want, and want.
As a fisherman, you can help, and you should. If you already do, thanks. Even still, read on and see if any of the following suggestions spark an interest for you to do even more, because there are no wasted efforts when it comes to protecting our fisheries.
- Pick up. For sure, don’t leave your own trash behind. Don’t stomp shoreline trees to create casting lanes. Bring a small bag and pick up a few things that were there when you got there. It is good for the earth, good for our collective image, and good for your soul. You’ll be glad you did, I promise.
- Log your fishing trip in the Angler Action Program. This is not just a shameless promotion for our free data collection gig. This is truly our best way to combat the image that recreational anglers are an unaccountable mass of ‘users.’ The clout we earn from this database is immeasurable, and it is simple and free. No excuses, just log.
- Join a conservation group. There are plenty out there. I happen to think we are a worthwhile club to be associated with, and I hope you’ll agree and become a SGF member. It helps far beyond your membership dues. Strength in numbers is real.
- Next time you brag about your catch, brag about your conservation effort of the day too. “…AND I picked up a bag of trash on the beach.” Maybe the person you are talking to will see the same light and do the same thing. Or maybe that non-fisher will have a slightly different perception of who we fishermen are. Either way, it is a win.
- Learn more about our fish and their relationship with the ecosystems where they live. The plants, the forage fish, and the habitats – the more you know, the more you will want to be an active part in protecting them and our ability to interact with them as fishermen. Put your search engine to work.
We have passed the time when we as individual anglers can be passive conservationists. There are just too many of us, with too much at stake. Take action, and don’t keep those actions secret. Take pride in your place in the fishing community, and do your part to elevate the perception of what a fisherman is.