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I read a column the other day that dragged up an inner distress that I’ve tried to subvert. The theme of the article was that we kill our fish cruelly – by suffocation.

“Animal Rights” has been an ever growing issue for many years now and I suppose some progress has been made. There are laws; there is the SPCA and there are organizations that deal with individual issues like bull fighting. Paul Watson, the bravest man I’ve ever known, fights to save whales. My friend Anthony Marr, founder and major player in Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE), fights for the entire animal kingdom every day of every year. Yet, somehow fish are nowhere to be seen.

Perhaps it’s all got something to do with Jesus, who not only didn’t rail against fishing but helped disciples to catch them.

When I was a child I would catch rock cod and watch them slowly die because it could take an hour or more. As I grew older, salmon and trout were put in a sack to breathe their last. I’m not proud of this but I was scarcely alone.

As I grew older, I was a pretty fair fly fisherman and as the years passed, became less and less enthusiastic about killing my catch. When “catch and release” became in fashion in the 70’s, I was relieved and my conscience shut up for awhile. Then I read an article by a fly fisherman Hugh Falkus – an Englishman whom I much admired – who said that: “catch and release” was immoral because what we were doing was tormenting fish – that what we should do is kill what we wanted and quit. Shit! I didn’t want to hear that so I kept on catching and releasing until one day, fishing the Tauranga-Taupo River in New Zealand, my absolute favourite, while landing a trout, I saw three or four swim up with her until I netted her. “For God’s sake”, I murmured, “don’t tell me they care!” My conscience spun into gear again!

A few days later, Wendy (also a fine fisherman), still in New Zealand, and I were at a Game Fish Club for dinner and saw  on the wharf, two Marlin and one Shark, hanging with blood down their flanks.

Why?, I asked. Where’s the need? These weren’t to go on an aboriginal’s table. It was a slaughter for the sake of slaughter.

On my record I was in no position to make a judgment and didn’t and don’t. But I quit fishing and, worst of all, tying flies which was a wonderful hobby for me. I would tie next to my computer and when an editorial idea struck just had to turn a bit and bang it out.

Through all this inner inspection process I began to think about fishing and especially commercial fishing and how their catches died. And more and more I was troubled.

What was the difference in leaving a trapped animal to die slowly until the trapper came along and throwing fish in the hold and letting them suffocate to death?

I used to console myself with the “cold blooded creature” argument that fish couldn’t feel but I knew and know that this is rubbish. Any sports fisher who has “played” a fish knows that they are indeed vexed at being hooked.

What now?, Rafe. I can’t call for an end to fishing! Many, many people the world over depend upon fishing, both of the commercial and “sports”. I have thousands of dollars of equipment that someone had to make and sell. I have a very large library of fishing books, many of them classics.

No, this is something that has to work its way through the consciousness of mankind as bear baiting, pit bull fighting, cockfighting,  and now, bull fighting has done.

All I can do is raise the issue.

5 Responses to “Is sport fishing cruelty to animals?”

  1. Philip Hicks says:

    As a living creature, you and I have as much right to live as any other. No guilt, no qualms.

    “There is no right or wrong, but thinking makes it so.” said Shakespeare. It’s a wonderful gift, the ability to be introspective and contemplate. But when it keeps you from living, the ability becomes a liability.

    To continue to live all living organism must ingest or take up nutrients, each as befits its nature. Wild protein is best and most honest as it keeps us closer to our real nature.

    The real problem/challenge in my view is, there’s too damned many people on the planet for our own good. As a species, we’re too successful. But that’s just me making my own ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’

  2. Anthony Marr says:

    I was honored as Rafe’s guest more than once when he was top host at CKNW. He had always known my views on hunting, but once, he asked me, on the air, what I thought of sport fishing. My answer was, “Any activity in which we derive pleasure out of another’s suffering is immoral.” This was obviously a general statement, but just as obviously, in this instant, it referred specifically to sport fishing. And I hope that it played a part in Rafe’s eventual departure from the “sport”. Since then, I have moved on to global warming and mass extinction. We are currently deep in the 6th mass extinction on Earth, losing over 100+ known species and perhaps 1000 unknown species every day. There was a case precedent, the 3rd, 251 million years ago, the End-Permian mass extinction, which drove 75% of all land species and 95% of all marine species to extinction, due, yes, to global warming. And the current 6th mass extinction threatens to equal or exceed the 3rd in severity. If we likewise lose 95% of all marine species, the fish species will take a major hit. Even when I speak about the planet in general, the fish are always included, and generally implied. You are a man of great integrity, Rafe, and have my deep respect.

  3. Kim says:

    We do need to eat. Having said that, I’m all for a complete moratoriam on fishing and harvesting any endangered species until sustainability can be assured. Problem is in convincing everyone else on the planet. Hopefully, mankind will exit in time for the garden to heal. We are parasites.

  4. Kirpal says:

    Mr. Mair, I have nothing but the utmost respect for you. I realise that you’ve been fishing for a long tme but your incredible heart took the high road & showed you the cruelness of fishing. Anmal cruelty keeps me up every night & I wish the human-animals would take notice that EVERY being has he same feelings that we do!

  5. Paul Kennedy says:

    Dear Rafe,
    I suppose that I too will question many things as I get closer to the end than the middle. I’m past that mid point already, but not quite ready to admit it. Still a bit of a brute when it comes to these things at least in my own mind. I grew up listening to a certain AM radio station, which was on in our house from dawn to dusk. Could not wait to hear your weekly fishing report with Kathy R. The first time I ever held a fishing pole in my hand, I was “hooked”. Never could quite understand hunting, but Fishing was my ultimate. I rarely keep a fish, and find comfort in playing each one, if I can keep them on my barbless hook for as little time as possible. When I’m near water, whether it be a river a lake or even the open ocean, I feel a deep connection to what lies beneath. I always say a quick little prayer for the rare fish that I do catch, and focus on the next task at hand. How can I convince this next trout that this little hand tied fly, is tastier than the real thing. I don’t often win this war, but once or twice a year, I prepare for battle. Good luck to you Rafe in your pursuit of the truth/answer to this quandary. In the meantime, I will scare more trout away from my hook, than I will ever lure towards it. Regards, Paul.

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