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Canadian Projects

Canadian Blog

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA's Canadian Representative


Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)

Catch and Release

Cruelty in the name of sport

Published 07/14/08

The boat in my driveway was pulled away last night by its happy purchasers, who plan to use it at their cottage on Rice Lake, Ontario. It belonged to all of us at Cormorant Defenders International, some of whom had used it to monitor and film the culling of cormorants by Parks Canada staff in Lake Erie, last spring. While we opposed the culling, it went ahead anyway, although of the 4,000 they planned to kill, they managed to kill only 211.

The boat had been purchased for that one purpose, and now we hoped to get some of our money back. I had space on my driveway, so that’s where it stayed for several weeks. I didn’t sell it; that was the job of my friend and colleague, Julie Woodyer, since she was familiar with the craft and our most experienced boater.

And during those weeks Julie and I had to hold check on our feelings as potential purchasers who came to look at it indicated that they were interested in using the craft for fishing. Several even asked if it had a fish-finder on it. I guess to outwit a creature with a brain the size of a pea you need all the high tech help you can get.

Where I live in Ontario is within a two-hour drive to the nearest of literally tens of thousands of lakes and countless rivers and other wetlands, even closer to easternmost of the Great Lakes — the largest body of fresh water in the world. Fishing is something of a mania for many Ontarians and tourists.

On June 17, I was delighted to read that Switzerland had just passed a law, due to go into effect in September, which would require, in the interest of reducing cruelty to animals, to do some things currently unthinkable in North America. For example, dog owners would have to take a course on how to care for, and walk, dogs.

Also outlawed would be catch and release fishing. Either you kill the fish you catch, or you don’t catch it.

Not having, myself, eaten any part of any fish for three decades, I know that most people don’t “need” to eat fish. Those who fish for “sport” presumably take pleasure from the act of catching the fish, and indeed, many fishing tournaments require the fish that are caught to be subsequently released, a process called catch and release fishing.

The kicker is that we are supposed to feel all warm and fuzzy about this; the fish gets to fight another day. No offense; it was all in good fun. Now go away in peace and do your fishy thing. You’re free.

Apart from the inconvenient truth that many such fish fail to survive the fun, and die anyway, the “sport” is one way. Humans are supposed to benefit from participating in sport, by having fun, by getting healthy, by competing, even, in the case of the cream of the professional crop in the most popular sports, to get absurdly wealthy.

But not the fish; it just suffers. And the greater the suffering, the better it is supposed to be. Fish who have the size and strength to struggle for a long time are most valued. Some provide so much sport that they get to be killed and stuffed as permanent mementos of the epic struggle between human and fish. Of course those that are released are spared such fate ... they are just tormented for fun.

Anglers may cite scientific studies proving fish don’t feel pain, while animal protectionists will cite scientific studies proving they do, while the fish, meanwhile, give every indication to my eyes that they don’t enjoy having a hook penetrate their mouths, and being pulled up into the toxic air. I prefer to err on the side of caution and assume, like the Swiss, that they do suffer. There’s a word for people who cause suffering for fun: sadists.

Oh, and the people who bought the boat? They don’t fish. Indeed, their young daughter, who was looking forward to tubing behind it, is a vegan. The boat has a good home.

Blogging off,

Barry

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