Disappearing Fish

Open letter to the Sierra Legal Defense Fund:

Thank you for bringing to my attention the Department of Fisheries and Oceans study that claims to prove silt is at the root of the disappearing salmon problem and that in particular, logging road construction produces the silt that is causing the devastation experienced by the fishing industry.

I personally do not believe this to be true. Logging roads, not to mention an number of other roads, have been around far longer than the fish have been missing. For many years, when no consideration was given to silting or erosion at all, we saw some of the largest returns of fish. As well, the mighty, muddy Fraser river has enticed significant numbers of returning salmon over the last ever so many centuries. No, I think there is a different cause for the fish loss.

Some people say that the El Nino overheated water is the problem – that predatory fish that follow the warmer water north are enjoying juvenile salmon for breakfast, lunch and diner.
However, I disagree with that as well. I think the DFO’s “environmentally friendly” catch and release policies are the cause and definitely warrant much more research.

Consider the experience from a fishy perspective, of being hooked – the sensation of total shock when that insignificant meal turns out to be attached to your lower lip and it is now controlling you. And regardless of how hard you fight the excruciating pain you aren’t powerful enough to resist the relentless pull in a direction you don’t want to go. As you weaken, you’re being dragged away from all of your acquaintances and in the periphery of your senses you detect this huge plastic object with a bunch of yelling and waving humans in it. With the last feeble shwish of your tail, in the last desperate effort to escape, you experience the final indignity – the net.

Now, totally trapped, you are dragged from the net, some contaminating fingers are inserted in your gills and while you’re held in the most degrading position you’ve ever been in, a flash of light blinds you. All your dreams of spawning and leaving a million descendants to carry on for you come to an end.

But such is not yet the case, for you’ve been caught by a fisherperson who, by law, must follow the practice of “catch and release” for all salmon caught. Terrified, in pain, blind and disoriented, this individual drops you back in the water.

As a human being, consider the psychological damage incurred by a four year old cold blooded creature that has spent it’s entire life gulping down things that don’t do it any harm – suddenly to have a bait fish return such a horrific bite.

But it doesn’t end there. After this fish fully comprehends that he/she is once more free, a second psychological blow truly destroys the fish’s ego. Now waves of self doubt and inadequacy overwhelm this rejected fish. Yes, this fish now concludes that he/she was judged not worthy of retention, not even fit to be eaten, for while you may be able to see life from a fishy perspective, no fish has the ability to see life from a human perspective. This fish doesn’t view being released as an act of benevolent consideration; it simply feels rejected.

I’m sure that this fish, surviving such a traumatic experience, will, after a time of reflection, decide not to reproduce. A fish having knowledge of being caught and then rejected would want to spare their offspring a similar fate.

I’m convinced that the “catch and release” survivors have become sterile, probably by choice, or from psychological damage – something only further research could tell us. Quite possibly these fish are even presenting a convincing argument to their “in school” peers in favor of celibacy.

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