|An osprey with freshly caught fish in its talons
When people see our lake for the first time they usually ask two questions: “Are there alligators in that lake?” and “Are there fish?”
The first question is easy. I always answer, “Yes. In Florida, there’s at least one alligator in just about any body of water.”
The second question is more difficult to tackle.
Our lake does have fish but we don’t catch them. However, if I say that, it elicits a completely baffled response. The person asking is obviously an angler who’s looking at our lake - our pristine, secluded pond – like he’s stumbled upon Paradise Found.
So instead, I offer up an ambiguous, “Yup. Sure are.”
My answer is honest because there are fish in our lake. There are enough bass, minnows and assorted other species to satisfy the needs of herons, ospreys, egrets and other water birds.
Although it sounds like blasphemy to admit, in our lake fishing is taboo - at least by humans. Fishing is for the birds and the occasional raccoon, bobcat, gator or hungry otter. I love looking out the window as a great blue heron patiently stalks its prey but it would spoil my view to see a human doing the same.
I realize my attitude is hypocritical. After all, I’m not opposed to eating fish. I fill my shopping cart with packages of flash-frozen wild salmon and flounder. I’m well aware that catching my own fish would be fresher, healthier and a more honest endeavor. I don’t do it because I don’t want to kill fish any more than I want to kill the rabbits that hop through the tall grasses, the wild turkeys that strut by or the bobcat that occasionally appears. I don’t want to hunt the animals that share my surroundings and the way I see it, fishing is just another form of hunting. I don’t need to eat the fish in my lake and I have no desire to catch fish for sport.
On the occasions when I allow myself to be lured into discussions with anglers, the issue of ‘catch and release’ inevitably arises. “Oh, I don’t kill them,” the fisherman proudly insists. “I catch and release.”
If this is supposed to be comforting and reassuring, it’s not.
No one knows for sure if fish feel pain when hooks puncture their skin or if they suffer when forced into an alien atmosphere after being reeled in and yanked out of water. A 2009 study by a Purdue University professor and his Norwegian graduate student concludes that they do feel pain but other studies disagree.
However, I don’t need scientists to tell me what seems obvious to anyone who has even seen a fish flopping around in the bottom of a boat gasping for oxygen while an angler tries to remove a hook from its mouth. Of course it hurts!
The question isn’t whether fish feel pain but what reason is there to fish? If done strictly for food, fishing makes sense. If done for sport, fun or to while away the hours… not so much.
My feelings are personal and only concern the lake surrounded by our property. I don’t have a problem with people fishing elsewhere. I just don’t want it done here on property I consider a nature sanctuary.
In discussing this with my husband, he offers a challenge: “What happens when one of the grandkids wants to fish? How are you going to deal with that?”
Ralph, who’d gladly dine on fish from our lake if they would only jump into the frying pan pre-cleaned and filleted, doesn’t share my strong feelings on the topic. He harbors no desire to do the actual catching but he’s not opposed to looking out at other people reeling in their supper.
None of our kids or their spouses ever expressed an interest in angling but another generation is on the way. I can see how someday the question, “Can we go fishing, Grandma?” might well come up. If it does, I’ll probably say, “Fine.” I’d try to be flexible and understanding.
Until that time, as unpopular as my position might be with the hook and line crowd, our lake remains a no-fishing zone. Sometimes you just have to go with what feels right even if your position elicits blank-eyed stares of bewilderment from eager anglers.
The way I see it, if fish can swim against the tide, surely I can too.