Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Catch and Release

September 2, 2016

CARHead

Trevor Sithole, a very bright young lad from the most rural of environments in Natal, recently posed a question on social media about catch and release. Essentially asking for advice about how to respond to people who question the logic of capturing a fish only to let it go, you know the thing “why catch it if you aren’t going to kill it?”

I am sure we have all faced variations of this question in our angling lives and some of us might still be battling with that very same conundrum within our own minds.

Trevor comes from a tribal background , deeply rooted in animal husbandry, having grown up in Thendela in the Kamberg. A place were communal values still hold sway, where the elders enjoy both respect and influence, an environment where the spirit of “Ubuntu” (Human Kindness) combined with a level of understanding and respect for the powers of both the natural and supernatural drive behaviours and social structures.

CARThendelaImage courtesy of Thendela Fly Fishing www.thendelaflyfishing.co.za

Trevor’s people live to a large degree in harmony with nature. Certainly they harness it, control it to some extent, breed cattle selectively to get the results that they want but despite most lacking a formal western education, or perhaps because they lack that western view, they see themselves as part of the natural world not apart from it. It is incredible how important that space after the  “a” can prove to be..  That all got me to thinking, “why would we go to the trouble of catching a fish only to release it?”

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Let me say that my views weren’t always along the same lines, there was a time where I pursued trout with worms and spinners, by fair means and foul. Where any fish of “legal size” was dispatched to be enjoyed later with brown bread and butter. My thinking has however changed over the years.

I can recall a “postscript” in the book “The Trout and the Fly” by Goddard and Clarke on the subject of “barbless hooks” and thinking “ what a couple of tossers”. (I have to confess I am a little embarrassed to recall those thoughts, but they are part of my history none the less.)

I can still see in vivid detail the very first sizeable trout that I released, the monumental psychic struggle to give up my bragging rights not to mention supper. This all well before the advent of waterproof digital cameras and social media. Equally at a time where such actions weren’t mandated by regulation.  I put that fish in and out of the water half a dozen times before I managed, finally, to release my grip and in that moment life changed. Watching my prize swim free was suddenly worth giving up any thoughts of lunch. To me, watching that fish swim away was the most amazing thing to experience; it looked far better finning in the crystal clear water than it ever would have in a frying pan. From that day on I have rarely killed a trout and never one from a breeding stream.

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Fishing is probably unique in that it is the only field sport where the demise of one’s quarry isn’t assured. Once you have captured your fish you now find yourself in, the perhaps unenviable position, of tremendous authority. You now have the power of life or death literally in your hands. You have the influence of the Gods, the Thumbs up, Thumbs down , life or death paradox of the Roman games and with such power comes undoubtedly tremendous responsibility.

Just because, as human beings, we have the power to destroy something, doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility of consideration as to whether or not we should. The majority of fly anglers can’t claim that they “need” the fish for food, the price of the average fly line would keep you knee deep in sushi for the better part of a year.
Outside of the medical professions, and the occasional homicidal and sociopathic dictator, anglers are some of the few who genuinely get to hold the choice of life or death over another being within their grasp, and it is a power that really needs to be considered very carefully.

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It is perhaps equally a metaphor for much else that we humans do to our planet, our technological advances have given us massive power over our domain. We can drill holes into the very floor of our home to extract oil and gas, we can rape the seas of all life and dangerously we convince ourselves that we can protect each other from the consequences. We imagine that we can kill all the fish in the sea and then make up for the loss of food by genetically engineering other sources. With such power comes great responsibility and one has to wonder if most of us behave as responsibly as we should.

Going back to Trevor’s apparently naïve query it turns out that the question isn’t quite as simple as it first appears. All creatures, given the opportunity to breed hold within them the very matrix of survival. They represent the seeds of future generations and something that the tribesmen of Thendela understand, which sadly most modern westerners don’t, is that a living animal with breeding potential holds within it the power of compound interest. That a bull left unslaughtered can produce more of its kind, that when nurtured instead of exploited the natural world can provide for us almost endlessly. Indeed it has done so for tens of thousands of years.

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Were a herdsman to kill all his stock he could potentially have a fine feast, but of course the very next day he would be poor. So it is with fish, if you kill a fish , not only do you deprive everyone else of that fish but equally of its potential. You steal the existence of that fish’s progeny not just from other anglers but from future anglers, from your children and grandchildren. And of course you end a blood line that has evolved over millennia. In effect, just like the herdsman who has a feast and becomes poorer as a result. When you kill a fish you make all anglers poorer, indeed you make the very planet poorer.

It is nice to imagine that, what we consider to be, more primitive people, live harmoniously with nature in some utopian fairyland, understanding that they are part of the whole, that over exploitation will see their own demise. It is simple to think of these people as foolish or naïve, failing to take more than they need in fear of upsetting some imagined deity. To dream that the Salmon People of North America don’t take too many salmon in case the salmon spirits cease to visit their home rivers. To think that the Yanomami tribesmen of the Amazon basin view the forest as their nurturing mother, seeking constantly to avoid offending her.. It is a nice notion, and to a point true, but equally they don’t have the power to exploit. They don’t have the technology to catch or kill more than their share and are therefore not obliged to exercise the same restraint which seems all too lacking in modern westernised society.

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In reality then, it is our very advancement which brings with it greater responsibility, with our technology, our cars, our freezers. With our carbon rods and fine nylon tippets, our chemically sharpened hooks and hi tech plastic lines, we have enhanced our effectiveness to the point where we are able to do real damage. Add to that our numbers and one quickly realises that it would only require that each angler took one fish to decimate a population.

All of that is too much for a conversation in a pub or on a river bank, so I have found that when asked “why don’t you eat the fish you catch?” I generally just say “I don’t kill them for religious reasons”.. Remarkably everyone seems to be quite happy to accept that as an answer.. If I told them it was for the future of the planet they would more than likely laugh their heads off.

In the end, the argument for releasing the fish that you catch is the same as it should be for much else. Humans have the power of life or death over great swathes of our natural heritage. We have the technology and numbers to rape the oceans, to fracture the foundations of our home in search of gas, to chop and burn and drill and slaughter to our hearts content. We have the power to kill and destroy, to consume and exhaust all manner of natural resources. But as I said to Trevor: “Having the ability to do something doesn’t mean that one should do it, and certainly doesn’t absolve one of the responsibilities that come with such power.”

Basically I don’t kill the fish I catch because I choose not to, and that’s about the best answer I can come up with.

“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money”.

“If you like flowers you cut them and put them in a vase, if you love flowers you leave them in the garden and water them daily”.

“With great power comes great responsibility”.

 

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Oscar’s Release

August 4, 2014

OscarHead

Although I am a trout fisherman and this blog is mostly about trout fishing, a little story of something, as Monty Python would say “Completely Different”. A story about little Oscar and his imminent release from captivity..

Down along the Cornish coast, on the banks of the Camel Estuary is the town of Padstow, renowned for its picturesque fishing village views, safe harbor and more pasty shops than you could wave a stick at. Although some of the fishing industry remains, the place has been transformed (as a Cornishman and fisherman I have to think sadly so), into a tourist centre, with those pasty shops, boat rides and yachting now taking precedence over the traditional pursuits of lobstermen, mackerel fishermen and such.

OscarPadstow

Still it isn’t a location without charm or for that matter a long list of historic tales to tell. The harbour was at one time a thriving hub of fishing and import, catering for both local fisher folk and vessels from further afield. In particular ships bringing timber from Canada and offering passage to emigrants on the return trip. One interesting tale or perhaps it would be better said to be legend, revolves around a particularly nasty sandbar which “guards” the harbour and which accounted for many shipwrecks, particularly in the age of sail.

Known as the “Doom Bar”, local legend has it that this particular nautical inconvenience was the work of a rather disenchanted mermaid who with her dying breath cursed the bank into existence having been shot by a local man. The reason for the shooting apparently unrecorded. The sand bar also gives its name to Sharp’s Doom Bar Ale, the flagship ale of the Cornish micro-brewery based in Rock, a village on the opposite banks of the estuary to Padstow. (As an aside I grew rather fond of Doom Bar whilst exploring the various hostelries in the West Country)

OscarDoomBar

So then you may well imagine that with prospects of fishing, pasties and local beer it didn’t take too much arm twisting to have me heading towards Padstow on a recent visit to my erstwhile homelands. Although in reality it wasn’t the mackerel, alcohol or foodstuffs that drew me as much as a desire to visit the “Padstow National Lobster Hatchery”, which is situated on the estuary banks and which serves to redress the imbalances of overfishing of lobster, habitat degradation and such, by hatching out and releasing baby lobsters back into the environment.

OscarLogo

Like many marine animals, the lobsters are in a a spot of bother, for example according to the NLH Mediterranean and Scandinavian stocks of lobster have completely collapsed and are showing little sign of recovery, in Corwall they are doing something constructive about it. (The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations state that over 75% of the world’s major fisheries are either: fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or recovering)

Now I am at heart something of a conservationist and such enterprises hold a particular fascination for me it must be said. The National Lobster Hatchery, is housed in a rather unimposing building and to start with the place looks far too small to be producing any significant numbers of lobster, so it was enlightening to visit and understand a bit more about how they achieve their goals.

The first surprise is that you don’t need many female lobster to produce a lot of young, a female lobster can produce some 20,000 eggs of which in the wild one would be fortunate enough to reach maturity. In the wild the baby lobsters, larvae really, are so vulnerable that they would have less than a one in a hundred chance of getting past the first few weeks or so of life. In the hatchery, with constant monitoring and careful husbandry including their very own space after a week or two (to avoid the aggressive babies doing each other harm) the success rate leaps up to over 40%.

OscarOnFinger

In fact they only need to be held in captivity for around three months before they are ready to settle down, those first few months of being pampered have a huge impact on the baby’s chance of survival to adulthood.

The role of the hatchery however isn’t simply about producing pampered baby crustaceans, it is also about changing public perceptions and education, particularly of the youth in terms of sustainable practices, particularly related to fishing. There are some most interesting video’s on how lobster and crab traps work, how they can be improved to avoid unwanted by-catch or damage to the animals caught. They also are leaders in lobster breeding research and the NLH is now a recognized international authority on lobster and lobster breeding programs. The NLH is also involved with various studies on survival rates, tagging and even the creation of artificial habitats. It was all interesting stuff.

 OscarInBottleActually baby lobsters are remarkably cute.

Anyway, that is where “Oscar” comes into the picture. As one of some 40,000 visitors to the NLH every year I had the opportunity to “adopt” a baby lobster, and so Marianne and I became the proud surrogate parents. When I got the papers Oscar wasn’t much more than a flea sized squiggle in a bottle but shortly he is due to be released to fend for himself off the Cornish Coast. When you adopt a lobster you can check out when and where they are released. Currently Oscar is still languishing in the marine equivalent of the Ritz Hotel (the penthouse not the kitchen) but sometime soon he is due to be swimming free and if he’s fortunate he might just be in line for a telegram from royalty congratulating him on reaching his centenary. 🙂

It is something of an anathema that on leaving the National Lobster Hatchery one can wander a few yards across the carpark and get to eat one of Oscar’s larger cousins at Rick Stein’s restaurant, but at least I know that before he potentially ends up on a plate, Oscar might just sire another generation of babies and if they are lucky, they too will get hatched out in the relative comfort of the NLH and have a better than average chance of survival, just like their dad.

OscarWhopperYou never know, Oscar might just outlive me and become a real “Whopper”

One of the really great initiatives from the NLH is their “Buy One, Set one Free” program which actually works with restaurants and gives patrons the chance to donate towards the nurturing and release of a lobster when they eat one. That might sound a bit grim but it provides restaurateurs with a way of demonstrating their commitment to sustainable use of seafood whilst at the same time helping the NHL to do their work. Plus it offers at least a nominal “feel good” factor for those enjoying chomping down on Oscar’s relatives..

 

Links:

The National Lobster Hatchery Website:

You too can adopt a lobster, click on the image below.

 

OscarAdopt

Watch a video clip about the NLH.

 

 

 

Paradise

March 15, 2014

ParadiseHead

A quick trip to paradise

Not more than a 90 minute drive out of town lies a remote kloof, a canyon I suppose you might suggest. It is steep sided with a gradient to match, remote, rocky and unspoiled, unspoiled in a way that so few places really are. Through this little piece of paradise flows the most crystal clear water outside of an Evian processing plant, water with the transparency of London Dry Gin, and in that water, camouflaged by eons of natural selection hide trout.

Glorious trout, pretty trout, near invisible trout, even some large trout, trout given of a green hue and pink side bar which can bring tears to the eyes of fishermen and artists alike. Trout of which dreams are made, fish that appear and disappear in ghostlike fashion as they hover over the boulders, trout that really make you wonder if God wasn’t an artist who just got a little carried away putting on the dots.

StreamXRelease1Crystal Clear water and trout which are as pretty as hell.

In fact some of the ancestors of those trout were carried into the canyon over twenty years back by myself and other anglers to re-stock a stream that was becoming seriously under populated. Manually portaged in as tiny fingerlings ensconced in highly oxygenated water, sealed in plastic bags and stuffed into back packs. Carrying haversacks filled with swashing water and baby trout up a steep sided valley is something that would only be undertaken by the dedicated or insane, it was hard work and took the entire day. Stocking trout like this is analogous to planting a shade tree, you have no idea if you will ever reap the rewards of your labour but at least hope that others will benefit in the future, the ultimate example of “Paying it forward”.

Over the intervening years myself and many others have reaped such benefit, the trout thrived for a while although numbers now seem to be somewhat diminished once again. The fish that remain however still manage to reproduce, perhaps more effectively some years than others, and whilst it can be hard fishing it still is wonderful fishing. A rare venue of genuinely remote aspect, difficult to reach and totally unspoiled by the excesses of the modern world. Too remote to be over utilized and too steep and rugged to offer any hope of commercial intervention, building, farming and such. The water continues to quietly erode the sandstone cliffs my microns each year as it has since the beginning of time and the fish lead relatively untroubled lives hidden away in the deepness of the natural world.

StreamXPMClimbing  The climb in to the remote sections isn’t for the faint of heart.

That said the valley hasn’t been without its political troubles, at one time the powers that be changed the regulations in an ill-considered attempt to encourage the masses to embrace nature. Increased numbers were provided permits, a car park of sorts was built and bridges across the small streams that stand as sentinels to valley were manufactured. It quickly became apparent that such intervention threatened the wellbeing of the river, the paths became eroded, the car park washed away leaving a badly scared landscape. The bridges broke and the signboards that sang the praises of a natural world which they themselves sullied by their presence have been lost to the vagaries of winter weather.

Quietly the kloof is returning to its natural state but the experiment led to its complete closure for a while and even now one can only gain access with a special permit issued by lotto once a year. That lottery offers little assurance that one will get to visit this special place and absolutely no control of when you may get the official nod to do so even if you are lucky.

StreamXTroutinWaterA spotted green ghost hovers in a pocket.

So it was that this past weekend I had permission to enter the kloof, at a time when business commitments, workloads and all manner of other worldly interventions threatened my opportunity. In the end the only option other than to waste the chance was to make a rapid fire trip and we decided to hike in and fish high up the canyon, sleep rough overnight to avoid a potentially dangerous hike out in fading light and return to the car first thing in the morning.

What keeps this valley in its pristine state as much as anything is the difficulty of access, the hike into the upper section were we would make camp is an hour and a half from the parking spot. The fishing took us well up the river with an arduous 90 minute boulder hopping, rock jumping, cliff climbing and river wading trip back to camp.

The river proved well worth the effort, we found fish, not perhaps a lot but then again more than enough, many hovering in small pockets of the crystal clear water, frequently only revealing their presence by the cast of their shadows on the stream bed. The low water made presentation tricky and we didn’t win all the competitions between angler and fish. Floating tippets on the calm water provided sufficient warning that was not all well to have the fish distain our efforts more than once but then again in some spots we prevailed.

StreamXPMFishAfter hours of driving, hiking and climbing, Peter claims his reward.

One particularly lovely and large fish taken by Peter on a small Goose Biot Parachute Caddis after we stalked the feeding trout for a few minutes, tracking it carefully as it disappeared in and out of areas of shade that mottled the surface of the pool.

StreamXRelease2Trout pretty enough to bring a tear to your eye.

The light was just beginning to fade when we turned tail and legged it down the river and back to camp, “tired but happy” as my mother would say. It had proven to be a spectacular day, with perfect conditions, virtually no wind and the water beginning to cool nicely as the evening temperatures dropped with the onset of autumn.  Having slept rough we packed up at first light and followed the trail out arriving back at the car by 9.30am and ready for the drive back to the city.

StreamXTRHikeoutAfter a brief visit it was time to pack the bags and hike out.

Even after a single night out in the bush town seemed hectic, traffic pushing and shoving, racing to the nearest shopping centre. People, oh my goodness there seemed to be so many people, all in a rush despite it being the weekend, all apparently too busy to consider the beauty of the remote places that lie all around them. Before we had reached the centre of town I was more than ready to turn tail and head back to the stream. Back to some quiet solitude, glorious scenery and of course those trout. Who knows when I can go again? That quite literally is a crap shoot, but at least we made it this time and that is enough for now.

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The Ultimate in Catch and Release

February 25, 2010

Two Oceans Aquarium release Mandy and Noodle

The Ultimate in Catch and Release.

You may well think that it is at times pretty tricky to safely let go a 12” trout, fins catch in net mesh, fingers get speared by barbless hooks and you take great care to ensure that your quarry is returned unharmed, well rested and in full possession of their faculties. So have a think about this.

On Wednesday the Two Oceans Aquarium, www.aquarium.co.za, transported and released two Ragged Tooth Sharks in Gordon’s Bay. Mandy and Noodle had served their time helping educate the public with respect to the beauty and importance of sharks in our environment.

These two gorgeous girls had been captured in the wild:

Mandy outside of East London in Feb 2009 and Noodle in Struisbaai in April 2008, both were now going home. Released to join their compatriots on what appears to be an annual migration North towards Durban.

I was privileged to be able to participate in their release and quite some operation it was. Moving two aquatic animals weighing in the region of 170Kgs each isn’t for the feint hearted or the disorganized for that matter.

The fish were sedated in their holding tanks to both reduce stress to themselves and provide some measure of safety for the team working with them. They were then hoisted out of the holding tank, weighed, tagged, measured and lowered an entire story to the waiting tank truck for the journey along the N2 to Gordon’s Bay.

At the harbour their level of sedation was checked and first Noodle and then Mandy were lifted by crane onto the support boat into a shallow tank for the final leg of their trip to deep water off Rooi Els.

Divers in the water helped support the sharks for the first few moments until such time as the clean water flushed the last remnants of sedative from their systems and they were able to make their way into the ocean depths.. what a special moment..

Dawn in Cape Town, Ragged Tooth Sharks "Raggies", Mandy and Noodle will be transported from the Two Oceans Aquarium in the shadow of Table Mountain and released back into the ocean.

V & A Waterfront Cape Town

Dawn at the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town South Africa. The Two Oceans aquarium has been temporary home to Ragged Tooth Sharks Mandy and Noodle for the past year or so, it is now time for them to go home. Back into the ocean and what will probably be a leisurely trip along the coast, heading north for the winter.

Noodle is helped into the sling to start her journey.

Two Oceans Aquarium

First step, the sedated sharks are removed from their temporary holding tank in preparation for weighing, measuring and tagging.

Both the “Girls” had put on some weight from the fine seafood dining at the waterfront.

The sharks were removed from the tank in a specially designed harness.

Two Oceans Aquarium

The sharks are lifted out of the holding tank in a special sling, measured weighed and tagged before being lowered to the ground floor of the aquarium into the waiting tank truck for transportation to Gordons Bay Harbour.

A very large mobile goldfish pond, with some pretty special goldfish.

Two Oceans Aquarium:

The sedated sharks are lowered into the tank truck and ready for the road trip part of their journey.

At the harbour the process is repeated and the sharks are lowered by crane into a small tank in the waiting boat.

Gordons’ Bay Harbour:

The sharks are lifted by crane truck and lowered into a small tank on the waiting Two Oceans Aquarium boat.

They are but a short boat trip from freedom.

A slightly undignified return to the ocean but freedom is only moments away.

Off shore Gordon’s Bay

After a short boat ride the sharks are lifted manually from the small holding tank and released into the sea. A team of divers is on hand to swim with the sharks to insure that they have worn off the effects of the sedative and are able to balance their buoyancy properly before the fish swim off into the depths.

Goodbye Mandy, a breath of fresh sea water to flush out the sedative and Mandy is on her way.

Off shore Gordon’s Bay.

One last affectionate pat from the divers and Mandy is ready to leave.

WHY WERE THESE SHARKS IN THE AQUARIUM IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Mandy and Noodle were part of an ongoing programme to educate the public about sharks, to allow them to get a new perspective on these magnificent apex predators and to recognise their perfection and beauty. Most people are wholly unaware of the importance or sharks to our environment or for that matter to the wholesale slaughter of these wonderful creatures at the hand of mankind..

SHARKS AND PEOPLE: MASS MURDER ON THE HIGH SEAS.. A PERSPECTIVE

Humans Kill Millions of Sharks Every Year.

Humans kill a hundred million sharks a year, many simply having their fins chopped off for the shark fin soup industry, only to be thrown, still alive, back into the water to an agonizing and unnecessary end.

To give those numbers some perspective think about this:

South African will host the FIFA World Cup this year. If we chopped off the arms and legs of all the spectators at all the games during the tournament we still wouldn’t come close to the numbers of sharks similarly damaged. The average stadium will house 70 000 spectators, violently removing the limbs of the spectators we would need to keep going for a thousand games of soccer with full house capacity to reach the target of a hundred million or so. When you think of it in those terms the mans callous disregard for the oceans in general and sharks in particular become all the more horrifying.

Think of these as arms and legs, maybe you will get the picture.

Why should this appear on a fishing blog? Because I like to think that many, although sadly not all, fishermen are at least in part conservationists. Hopefully the efforts of the Two Oceans Aquarium Crew will serve as inspiration to us all to take care of our fish stocks and our aquatic environments, both fresh and saltwater.

Catch and release.

There are detractors to catch and release, there are even countries where it is banned but I would be willing to bet that in many of those countries you can still buy a tin of shark fin soup. We can only look after the planet one person at a time, one animal at a time, one decision at a time,  so take some solace in knowing that there are people out there doing good for this planet and you as an angler can contribute to that process without having to give up on your sport.

Fish Catch and Release, use barbless hooks, carry a soft mesh net when you are fishing to minimize damage to the fish. Take care to revive them properly before letting them go and avoid fishing for cold water species such as trout if the water temperature gets too high. Sport fishing isn’t incompatible with looking after our planet but it does require some commitment and maybe a change of outlook for some.

The World Wildlife Fund estimate that one hundred million sharks are killed annually.
This post contains approximately 5000 letters.
ONE SHARK IS KILLED FOR EVERY LETTER ON THIS PAGE EVERY HALF AN HOUR.