ENVIRONMENT: “Real truths”

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DONALD Trump’s presidency redefined the meaning of the word “fact”, at least for the 75 million Americans who voted for him at the last election. About 75 per cent of Republican voters apparently still believe in the “fact” that Joe Biden stole the election, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. A true fact under Trump had become whatever story he chose to tell.

The internet and associated social media provide platforms on which just about anyone can create a plausible story and present it as a fact, which can end up being widely believed and accepted. A couple of Saturday’s back a big sea was running off Sydney and a few of the local rock fishos decided to fish in the reasonably sheltered waters of Clovelly Bay. They’d scored a few luderick and bream but were copping a pretty hard time from the local swimmers and snorkellers who consider the Bay should be off-limits to line fishers, as it is to spearos. I happen to agree, but when the fishos decided to release their bags of luderick back into the Bay a couple of onlookers went ballistic. “What are they doing? Those fish are only going to all die anyway”.

Now the fish were lively and had been kept in keeper nets a clean, well-refreshed pool and anyone who fishes would know that they would most likely be fine. But anti-fishing activists have loaded up the internet with “facts” suggesting that fish which have been hooked all die and that C&R fishing should be outlawed, and plenty of non-fishers believe it. That assertion gets mixed together with animal rights arguments, to wit while it might just be justifiable to catch a few fish to eat it can never be right to catch fish for sport. And then animal cruelty advocates buy in, citing studies to” prove” fish feel pain, so recreational fishing should be outlawed. The studies are based on trials where fish are injected with noxious substances which, funnily enough, they don’t seem to like. Ben Diggles has written many thousands of words challenging these experiments and findings and there are several studies which indicate that being hooked has little effect on a fish’s subsequent behaviour.

So far in Australia there haven’t been serious attempts to stop C&R fishing or the use of live baits based on these “facts”, but in some northern European countries both these activities are now illegal. Generations of coarse anglers competed and kept literally thousands of fish in big keep nets and released them at the end of the day. Carp fanatics even have names for favourite big fish they’ve caught and released several times over. Cod fishermen here are much the same.

Having said all that, pressure on recreational fishing based on questionable facts will almost certainly increase in Australia. Those of us in in the fishing media or fisheries research will continue to question outrageous claims and demands. But that didn’t work in parts of Europe. All anglers here should commit to handling their fish carefully and respectfully, whether they’re going to be kept for the table or be released. Having fish flapping in a bucket or lying gasping in a shallow rock pool is not the look we need and will only supply more “facts” for our critics.

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