Readers respond with advice for fish flogger
Last week I described an encounter with a woman on Philbin Beach in Aquinnah ("Bluefish's throes spark plea from beach passerby"). The woman saw a bluefish my young friend had caught and decided to keep for his dinner.
He had pierced the gills with a knife. The fish, however, continued to flop.
The woman and her male companion and a small dog walked past me. The woman thought it necessary to return to tell me that the fish was suffering.
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I resisted the urge to respond with a wise guy crack. I told her the fish was cut and that I knew what I was doing. My manner made it clear that I did not appreciate her unsolicited advice.
I invited readers of this column to e-mail me and tell me how they might have responded. I received comments that reflected an interesting mix of politics, philosophy, and the fault lines that divide the hunters from the gatherers, even those who roam the supermarket aisles.
Some were one-liners. "Not nearly as much as the guy standing beside you," said one person.
Bruce said, "Thanks for your concern; the fish will taste great with lemon and butter."
A reader obviously unconcerned about the pain and suffering inflicted on the poor soybean just to keep people in tofu said the appropriate response was, "It's dinner, not a dogfight. I don't judge how your food comes to your table, so walk on."
Eve suggested I turn the tables on the woman. She suggested, "I object to the way you have domesticated your dog. He would be happier running free with a pack of his brothers, and you have taught him to lead a sad, confined life full of anxiety and depression. He secretly resents you, and that is why he chews your sunglasses and pees on the hall carpet."
Some folks saw a deeper political theme in my encounter. I had never thought of bluefish as uniquely sympathetic to Democrats or Republicans.
One reader wrote, "She must be a Democrat. It wasn't Hillary Clinton was it?"
Regina told me that she thinks there is no shortage of folks who feel self-selected to tell us how we should live or who we should support. She related her own encounter. "Several years ago I pulled my smoking Caravan into Cronig's Market, carefully parking it so a sweaty and rather stout maven could wriggle out of her space beside me," she wrote. "She backed up her Volvo, and then, as I was standing at the side waiting for one of my kids, she descended on me and proceeded to upbraid me for my (gulp) Bush and Romney bumper stickers on my car. After calling me the polite version of an ignorant slut, she stomped off leaving the kids and I with mouths agape.... Rather than let her get off the last volley, I just smiled and said, well, I guess that's why God made chocolate and vanilla. Guess I should be grateful that she obviously missed the 'G' word and released me on my own recognizance. As the Wicked Witch of the West was heard to say after getting belted with a bucket of water, 'What a world, what a world.'"
Some readers were understanding. Chip said that he does not think that people come here to boss around Islanders and suggested it was I who was too sensitive and the White House not enough.
He wrote, "People are entitled to their own opinions and feelings - let them be, and don't be so sensitive. The lady in question didn't criticize your mentoring or fishing skills per se, she just thought the fish was suffering. I think she probably meant well... and let's not play up any more divides such as those between Island and non-Island. We get enough of that from that White House in Washington, D.C."
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A reader named Tom said he was almost in total agreement with me. He wrote, "About the only thing that keeps me from saying 100 percent is the realization that the woman in question was reacting as much to the shock of seeing something that isn't something you see on the beach every day and can be mistaken for cruel behavior if you don't understand fishing."
Fair enough, but what about the overweight guy I had to watch disrobe and go for a swim the next evening on Philbin? People do not act like that in Vineyard Haven. What about my shock?
Anyhow, Tom said that the ideal response would be to take 10 extra seconds to explain to the woman that while it might look like the fish is suffering, a knife through the gills in this situation is actually both practical and humane. Tom said that if she continued to get on my case, I should tell her, "I really think you need to learn more about fishing and about the sensory capabilities of bluefish before you criticize someone you don't know doing something you don't understand."
Right. To his credit, Tom admitted that there is no way he would have come up with a response quickly or had enough patience to do so.
The philosophical divide between People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and people for eating tasty animals (peta) was also a theme.
Placing my tale in a wider context, Fred, a retired Connecticut conservation officer, said he thought I handled the situation correctly. Speaking from experience, Fred wrote, "When it comes to dealing with the general public, I have learned that the old line, you can't please everyone all of the time, is completely true. Probably trying not to create more of a problem, I most likely would have said, thank you, I will attend to that in just a moment. I would have continued re-rigging my rod in the hopes that that would satisfy her."
But Fred was realistic enough to concede, "If she were truly from one of the anti-hunting and fishing groups, nothing would have really pacified her. We can't lose sight of the fact that one of the great things about this country is that everyone is entitled to their opinion. We, the avid sportsmen and women, need to be as strong and as vocal of our rights and opinions as the antis are these days."
Scott was more in favor of an in-your-face approach. "I wouldn't have given the woman the satisfaction of a response at all," he wrote. "I would have ignored her totally and let her stew with the horrors of a suffering fish in front of her eyes. Non-fishermen don't understand, and the PETA types especially don't get it."
It's important to note that some inexperienced or in some cases simply ignorant fishermen and hunters create problems for the rest of us.
I think it is both humane and good technique to bleed a fish. When I used to fish the bluefish blitz at Wasque, I would always create a small ditch with my foot and put any fish I kept in the cool sand covered with damp seaweed.
David said that while he is a catch and release fisherman he occasionally takes a fish for the table. But he is bothered by what he sees on the beach.
He deplores fishermen who keep a fish out of the water longer than necessary to take photos, or leave a pile of fish destined for the dinner table sitting in the hot sun. "Why do so very many fisherman display such complete disrespect of the fish by drop kicking them back into the surf," he asked. "I'm not talking about flipping them back in with your foot, I'm talking about the full leg kick destined to rupture any internal organs that get in the way. We were hunters and gatherers and farmers long before there was Stop and Shop, and if we treat those resources with respect they will be around a lot longer."
Janet focused in on the problem of how perceptions vary among individuals and pinned it on Walt.
"I really don't believe that critters, especially fish, have the same sense of pain that we do," she wrote. "Walt Disney didn't do us any favors when he gave all the little animals and fish voices, and feeling. I have a cute story. A friend of mine raises her own animals to eat. Someone approached her about her pigs. They said, 'You kill them!' She replied, 'It's much easier to eat them when they are dead.'"
I believe we human beings are given the gift of these creatures to sustain us for food. The only cruel act would be killing them and letting them waste. I have a big sign hanging on the beam in my kitchen. It reads, Live and let live!"
My guess is that woman would not see the humor or cuteness in Janet's anecdote. But Janet focused on what I think is the real dividing line. The fact is that many people who hunt and fish are comfortable with killing living things for food. In fact, we enjoy the entire experience.
Some people are comfortable with letting other people kill living things for food as long as it occurs in a processing plant and the food is nicely packaged and available for purchase. I suppose the experience of going up the aisles of a nice supermarket is akin to an evening on Philbin.
As for the folks who truly do not eat meat or fish and can walk by a big plate of smoky barbecue ribs, how do you do it?
Lost Tackle Box
A tackle box found on Chappaquiddick last week was brought into Coop's in Edgartown. Check there if it's yours.