Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Sportfishing must change its image
As with land animals, there is now no excuse for killing endangered large marine fish for sport and trophies. Despite this a significant minority of people in the sport fishing community are still killing these fish as proof of their endeavours in a similar vain to the great white hunters of the 1950's.
Due to intensive industrial overfishing only 10 percent of all large fish species including sharks, tuna, swordfish, marlin and sailfish are left in the sea. The era of "iconic" fish that inspired legends and novels is now well and truly over and every single animal is now precious.
Large predatory fish are usually slow maturing and a 500kg fish may be upwards of 30 years old with the largest and most sought after fish almost invariably female and quite often pregnant.
Whilst it is the commercial fishermen who still endanger these fish the most it is the sport fisherman - who kills their prey instead of catching and releasing, and then gets their photo in the popular press - who is by far the most visible aspect of an almost unimaginable disregard for marine life.
The irony is that the sport fisherman, unlike the hunter on land, can have his cake and eat it. By catching, recording and releasing the fish they can provide a sustainable income for the region and invaluable information for conservation science.
The attitude of the media must change as well. Just as they would not dream of publishing a picture of a big-game hunter standing next to a shot rhino, it must now be unacceptable to show people standing next to a shark or marlin strung up by its tail.
At the beginning of the 20th Century intensive over-hunting had caused the hugely numerous wild land animals to become endangered. At about the time Ernest Hemmingway wrote 'The Old Man and the Sea' in 1951 a growing wildlife protection movement for land animals was forming. By the 1960's and 70's the movement was in full swing (Joy Adamson's non-fictional book 'Born Free' was written in 1960).
No such large-scale conservation movement has been formed for marine animals, especially fish. If there is any hope of conserving these magnificent animals public attitudes to their slaughter will have to play catch-up with land conservation and change dramatically.