This is a commentary I originally posted on my face book page and then in the General forum here on FS. Since we have so many visitors to this region, who don't venture to other sections, I thought it would be a good idea to cross post it here.
Ethics, Odium and Tarpon Fishing
All this noise about ethical tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass has me asking why I enjoy it so much and what role ethics, real life personal ethics, plays in it and what happens between those competing in it. And I don’t mean "NASCAR" fishing tournament ethics, I mean competing interests in fisheries access which is at the heart of the debate.
Save the Tarpon screams about snagging and gaffing and dragging and weighing as being unethical, but where do we set our own ethical boundaries in catch and release fishing, let alone in the debate? Certainly it can be argued that catch and absolute and guaranteed safe release which they demand serves no purpose other than amusement and recreation, and in a very cruel way, when its given some thought. Is it ethical at all? Is a profession in it ethical?
So I ask myself, if I had to break it down, why practice catch and release since it doesn’t involve feeding myself?
Well, the first thing universal to all fishing is the hunt. That’s always a primitive and challenging satisfaction attached and sometimes its even the most fun part. Then, its getting the fish to eat which is not very challenging with live or dead bait. But there is something very rewarding about fooling the fish into eating something that I or someone else made.
But then, things begin to get a bit dark. I really like the fight. And it’s a fight that puts me at little risk, but certainly involves substantial risk to the fish’s health and maybe even it’s life. That hardly seems fair or ethical to simply provide me with an opportunity to demonstrate my domination by skill and superior technology over something with neither available in its own defense. So the enjoyment comes from the power I feel from control over something so powerful and elusive. That I enjoy that power is a troublesome thing when I consider the ethics of it.
Is dominating something simply for the enjoyment of it ethical?
What happens next is equally difficult to explain, yet an equally powerful experience. Releasing and reviving the fish is really an opposite action from what I was trying to do only moments before, but it is still just as rewarding emotionally. Again it’s control but of a different kind; having the fish’s very life literally in my hands to replace and return unharmed, having put it in harm’s way to begin with.
A good release where the fish swims away provides a certain catharsis, maybe from the guilt of the cruelty involved in catching it or the possible death of the fish if you fail. Is that ethical?
Well it’s an ethical question.
Deriving pleasure from a similar interaction involving any another kind of animal or person, would hardly be considered ethical but would be more appropriately described as a sociopathology and something to fear in yourself or another person.
Yet, it’s a fun game to play with a fish.
I can understand how animal rights believers don’t understand any of this and seek to prohibit catch and release fishing because it is a selfish and cruel and indefensible thing when examined in the cold light of a non-sportsman’s day. It’s an obvious ethical choice catch and release fishermen must make.
But all this only sets the foundation of the far more important and interesting ethical questioning of the human interactions that are set off between those who practice it, as we can well see in this fishery, and the latest version of this very old and tired debate.
This aggression, cruelty, and vengeful behavior between fishermen involved in this debate is far more profound than between fisherman and fish. And I can’t help but wonder if that same dark, visceral and primal need for domination is not also at work.
The ruthless and relentless pursuit, the deception, the unspoken yet all too obvious agenda involved, all now driven into a frenzy of emotions enabled by the anonymity and connection of web sites like a virtual fishing line distancing antagonist from defender.
But the key ethical difference is that within the debate there is no cathartic release, no pardon of the prey at the boat, no salute to a worthy opponent, just an anticpation of celebration at its ultimate demise and that power of dominance displayed in taking it as a trophy and hanging it on a hook dockside at the end for that final hero shot.
Where is the sportsmanship involved in that? What are the ethics involved in that?
It's very easy to use fishing as an analogy to describe any politic involving influencing anyone to do something where they have to choose to participate. And this debate is no different.
It seems though when we invest far more ethical consideration in catching a fish than we show in interacting with each other as fishermen, maybe then we need to examine our own values and sensibilities as sportsmen.