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Fisherman needs to evolve

By Daphne Haneman - posted Thursday, 31 January 2008

The primal urge to jam metal hooks into sea creatures, suck out a prawn’s guts or break a crab’s legs and swallow like there’s no tomorrow, is bewildering.

Naturalist Charles Darwin was no slouch when it came to the curious sport of fishing. In his book Darwin’s Bass: The Evolutionary Psychology of Fishing Man, he declared “I am willing to accept that … setting steel in the jaw of a big fish is what life is truly all about”.

He described the fishing fascination as “the delicious tension that fills the body with hope and anticipation,” an “ancient excitement” that “answers one of the whys of angling”.


But Darwin’s later description of “fishing man” as a “knuckle-dragger with long reachers and a fly rod”, may have been more apt.

Alas, fishing man has not substantially evolved since Darwin’s days. He remains a knuckle-dragging, bottom-dwelling predator that is primed to stalk the oceans until they’re empty of life, after finding the evolutionary process (upwards) tricky.

Each weekend, television news captures clichéd images of children and adults parading freshly killed, quivering fish in a gruesome fish pageant. Little Johnny smiles pleasantly as he clutches his huge dead bream or flathead. If that parade included whales, would these same exhibitionists drag their slain giants in front of the TV lenses? I wonder at the sympathy and emotion for whale massacres when human slaughter of other marine species proliferates.

Australian fish species such as orange roughy (sea perch) and dory are near extinction due to overfishing. Swordfish was added to Australia’s overfished list last year and locally caught eastern gemfish (hake) and school shark (flake) are now rarely available at the seafood counter. School shark has been declared overfished since records began 16 years ago, yet its status remains unchanged, its population left to evaporate.

Fathers and grandfathers lament the old days when catching a fish in Australia was fast work. Today, fishers must inhabit the piers longer to hook a decent catch.

Frustrated recreational anglers are now common.


And so are beached, half dead turtles, as the fingers of fishing contaminate other marine species.

After fishing for about 20 years, a Brisbane fisherman I know said he had never seen so many dead or dying turtles as in the last five years. “They come bum-up from the water, they’re bloated, starving, exhausted and can’t dive for food.”

It happens, he said, after turtles swallow plastic waste, get stuck in old fishing lines and crab pots or get run over by boats. He said since last January he had rescued about one turtle a week, last month it was a half-metre-long turtle in Queensland’s Raby Bay.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on January 25, 2008.

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About the Author

Daphne Haneman is a freelance journalist.

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