by Rafe Mair for August 3, 2001
There is a collision course in our society and one party to the
collision doesn't realize it yet. Any who heard Anthony Marr, the
fighter for the Grizzly Bear, on my show a couple of weeks ago may
recognize what I'm talking about. This interview was with both Paul
Watson and Mr Marr and was really about them as environmental activists
... but during the interview I asked Marr if he was opposed to all
hunting. His answer was an unequivocal yes. I then asked if he was
against sports fishing and he replied that he supposed that catching a
fish for supper was all right but he was against it as a sport and
definitely against catch and release. That, he said, was tormenting
animals for pleasure. We sports fishers ought to listen very carefully
to people like Anthony Marr because we are in the sights of animal
activists and the collision that is taking place now in Britain will
happen here - it's only a matter of time.
Let me state my own prejudices. I am a lifelong sports fisherman and
despite the misgivings I will express in a moment will remain one for
the rest of my days. I say that because I have thought long and deeply
about the subject and will shock you by saying that Anthony Marr is
right ... but that for me he can go to the devil. I don't mean that
personally, of course. I have terrific admiration for Anthony. But
logically he is right. In fact, one of Britain's best known flyfishermen,
the late Hugh Falkus, argued with both logic and typical anger, that
catch and release was morally wrong and that he simply wouldn't practice
it. When he went fishing it was to catch, kill and eat his quarry.
Falkus didn't argue wanton killing of fish - far from it. He simply made
the point that catching and releasing was just tormenting an animal much
as our forbears, not all that long ago, baited bears and watched cock
fights - much as many Latins enjoy bull fighting. The other end of the
argument was made 50 years ago by the late Lee Wulff when, extorting
people to catch and release, he said that a fish was too valuable to
catch only once.
Fish apart, I don't hunt. I could not bring myself to shoot a deer,
an elk or a bear. I shot a squirrel when I was a kid and can still see
him lying at my feet with me wondering why I did it.
Animal activists in England have already got a ban on fox hunting
through Parliament. Was it Wilde or Shaw that called fox hunting "the
unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable". I had trouble building up
sympathy for the fox hunter or the entire sordid exercise until I read
my British fly fishing magazines all of which had articles and
editorials saying, in essence, if it's the foxhunters now it will soon
be the bird hunters then the fishermen. And they're right. For logically
you can't make the case that tormenting a fish is any different than
tormenting a fox. In fact, the animal rightists have already started
hassling fishermen on British rivers, reservoirs and lakes. They go from
intentionally disturbing the fish to violent confrontations with
fishermen. It's only a matter of time before they come here.
It's started in Britain first because they got rid of their bears
centuries ago and deer hunting - indeed most bird hunting - is mostly
done in remoter areas of Britain on lands owned by aristocrats. Fox
hunting was up close and they could get at it. But they are already here
as Anthony Marr demonstrates and will soon be on your favourite stream
or fishing hole.
If I'm against killing and tormenting animals how can I continue to
fish? Good question. Probably it's no more complicated than I don't want
to stop. I have rationalized a difference between cold blooded critters
and mammals even though I know that I'm kidding myself. I console myself
with my own observations that hooked fish do not seem at all perturbed
until you tighten the line and restrict their movement - there doesn't
seem to be any pain as we know it. I excuse myself on the grounds that
those few fish I do kill are dispatched much more humanely than any fish
taken commercially, either from a farm or the wild, is.
I also know that without fishermen there will be no fish. It's a
great paradox that the fish rely upon their tormentor's skilful advocacy
to survive. Left to government or the marketplace, most fish would
become an occasionally encountered phenomenon.
I look at all my rods and reels, my extensive fishing library and my
fly tying bench and I can't bring myself to quit. I consider the many
hours I have spent in beautiful surroundings, in basically sole pursuit
of my quarry, and how much I look forward to future similar times and I
know I'm hooked for life.
Sports fishing has never been more popular. Fly fishing, once the
preserve of the aristocrat, is now the favoured way of the masses. But
the enemy has given us a whiff of the grape ... shots have been fired
across our bow ... we will have to face the Anthony Marrs of the world
sooner or later.
Much as many of us fishermen hate the thought of gunning things down,
perhaps like the fishermen in the UK we will have to recognize that the
enemy of our enemy is our friend putting us squarely alongside the man
who would shoot a grizzly bear simply for the fun of doing it and
getting a bearskin rug. Strange and perhaps unattractive bedfellows but
no less bedfellows for that.
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