Nothing suggests fishers are becoming as sensitive as fish themselves, but even discussing fish sentience & suffering marks a sea change
SARASOTA, Florida––Cruelty to fish, just a few years ago, was a topic attracting little attention, and only derision from media serving recreational fishers, but three topics hotly discussed in Florida during October 2020 suggest the worm may be turning, and not just on a hook.
Tim Trone, of Havana, Florida, in mid-October landed a 110-pound blue catfish on the Chattahoochee River, which forms part of the Georgia/Florida border. Caught on the Georgia side, the five-foot catfish, 48 inches in girth, broke the state record by 17 pounds.
But along with congratulations, self-described fellow “sportsman” Mitchell Willetts of McClatchy Newspapers reported, Trone “is also catching heat for the rare fish’s death.”
“I always cut them loose”––so why catch them?
Added Willetts, “Trone was upset the fish died, saying he worked hard to keep it alive long enough to weigh and release back into the wild.”
Claimed Trone, “I never keep bluecat. I always cut them loose. This fish went from wide open to just nothing. I babied this fish, can’t describe how I feel. Depressing for sure.”
That fish story broke just three days after Miami Herald reporter Gwen Filosa on October 13, 2020 detailed multiple charges filed against Yansel Garrido, 32, of Callahan, near Jacksonville, for posting videos and photos to Facebook showing “a protected Goliath grouper being filleted, a batch of undersized lobster on the grill and an undersized nurse shark placed in a swimming pool that is treated with chlorine at his vacation rental in Marathon, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.”
Jailed pending $18,101 bond
Garrido, Filosa continued, was “locked up at a Monroe County jail,” pending posting $18,101 bond.
“The investigation began on September 23, 2020,” Filosa wrote, “after someone sent Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission captain David Dipre a video” showing the shark being “‘tormented’ by being placed in chlorinated water and being repeatedly handled.
At about 24 inches long, the shark was less than half the legal minimum of 54 inches long for being a legal catch.
Denounces fish farm
Florida Sportsman contributing editor David McGrath on October 16, 2020 vehemently denounced a “proposed fish farm in the Gulf of Mexico for which a Hawaii-based company, Ocean Era Corp., is seeking a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”
The “reported location of 45 miles southwest of Sarasota, Florida, puts it smack dab in the middle of the state’s fishing grounds,” McGrath objected.
“A chain link cage, anchored to the sea floor 130 feet below, with 20,000 almaco jack fish packed in like cattle, in a suspended swarm with waste and pharmaceuticals, would alter the ecology and pollute and deform the uncorrupted Eastern Gulf,” McGrath specified, describing similar problems already occurring at the Ocean Era facility in Hawaii.
“‘Leakage’ is common and escape risk high”
“‘Leakage’ is common and escape risk high for the penned fish,” McGrath charged, adding that the fish are “invariably infected with skin fluke parasites.”
Ocean Era, McGrath said, also admits “to hazards for large fish and mammals (dolphins and whales) attracted to the cages,” who “can become trapped inside and die, as happened recently with an endangered tiger shark and a monk seal.”
But the environmental arguments were only the beginning of McGrath’s case against the proposed fish farm.
“I plead also on behalf of the caged fish”
“I plead also on behalf of the caged fish,” McGrath wrote. “I know the freedom, speed and magnificence of the nearer dwelling native amberjack, to which the almaco jack is a close cousin, an offshore pelagic, a silvery torpedo high in the food chain who prowls the open ocean for prey (not pellets) in depths of 800 to 1,000 feet.
“In Ocean Era’s net pens, they cannot roam,” McGrath summed up, sounding more like an animal rights advocate than someone who kills fish for fun. “They are confined in a watery cell at a shallow and unaccustomed depth; and they lead an artificial, immured existence before being slaughtered and frozen for shipment.”
Conservation issues, however, remain almost the only concern for fish voiced at the regulatory level––even warm-blooded fish, like tuna, and fish as potentially long-lived as sharks, and even when international policy decisions favor some of the most aggressively exploited fish species.
Tuna released from Mediterranean sea pens
From Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, for instance, came word via Victor Paul Borg, writing for the digital newspaper The Shift, that “3,500 tuna held in two massive cages affixed to boats that had been drifting at sea for a year have finally been released,” as result of “legal action in the criminal court by the Department of Fisheries & Aquaculture.
Each of the allegedly illegally trapped tuna was potentially “worth thousands of euro,” Borg noted, but the Malta Department of Fisheries & Aquaculture “had come under huge pressure from the European Union Commission, which initiated legal proceedings against Malta last May over slack controls of the tuna penning industry in breach of E.U. regulations.”
That “huge pressure,” however, was meant to permit further commercial use of tuna, whose numbers circa 2000 had fallen so low as to jeopardize the continued profitability of the tuna industry.
Tuna farming covers for poaching
The E.U. regulations in question, along with “two recommendations by the International Commission for Conservation of the Atlantic Tuna,” Borg explained, are “part of a recovery plan” for the tuna “designed to run from 2007 to 2022.”
Added Borg, “Controls are also being progressively tightened to counter pirate fishing. The potential for the farms to launder pirate fishing became dramatically evident in late 2018 when a Europol investigation named Operation Tarantelo found that an estimated 2.5 million kilos of illegally caught tuna – double the amount of the legal catch – was entering the European market every year. Malta was one of the main sources of illegally caught tuna. The farms were smuggling the tuna overland to Spain under cover of duplicate, fraudulent paperwork.”
Quest for COVID-19 vaccine could kill sharks
Sky News reporter Aisha Zahid, meanwhile, amplified a September 28, 2020 warning from the California-based organization Shark Allies that the discovery and production of vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus might mean that “Half a million sharks could be killed for squalene.”
Squalene, Zahid explained, is “a natural oil made in the liver of sharks,” which is often “used as an adjuvant in medicine––an ingredient that increases the effectiveness of a vaccine by creating a stronger immune response.”
The British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline “currently uses shark squalene in flu vaccines,” Zahid continued. “The company said [in May 2020] that it would manufacture a billion doses of this adjuvant for potential use in coronavirus vaccines.
“Shark Allies suggests that if the world’s population [each] received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine containing the liver oil, around 250,000 sharks would need to be slaughtered,” Zahid wrote.
“Scientists are testing synthetic alternatives to avoid threatening shark populations,” Zahid finished on a hopeful note.
SHARON PAGE says
Keeping and breeding small (1-2″ long) tropical aquarium fish has made me much more sensitive to fish intelligence and fish needs. I would never go fishing, though I fished as a kid. (Even then, I used to rescue the bait and take it home as a pet).
I believe our fish are happy, as they are tiny and in huge tanks, as big as what they would travel in nature. Up to 30 species of plants per tank and fed live food (freshly hatched microscopic baby brine shrimp) daily. The fact that these difficult-to-breed egg layers, who require perfect pH, oxygenation, water flow, tannins in the water, etc. are breeding is a sign they are well cared for. When one got sick, I bought equipment to set up a hospital tank. The fish had cost $3, the hospital and meds totalled $200.
I can’t understand how people can breed and catch fish under these cruel conditions, including letting them suffocate or freeze to death over many hours, eviscerating them without anesthetic, etc. I do eat meat (and very occasionally, fish), but there must be a better way where they can be caught in an environmentally friendly way and killed humanely and instantly.
I found out here in my state of Wisconsin, it is actually illegal to keep lake fish in water to humanely transport them home AND illegal to kill them at the point where you catch them. You must transport them gasping and suffocating, either with or without ice. I haven’t checked into this myself, but heard it from an experienced fish club member who also fishes for food.
Jamaka Petzak says
A long time ago, I adopted a fish someone was going to flush. He was a “Jack Dempsey” cichlid who grew to rather enormous size. My folks had a 40-gallon tank. We put him in there and he proceeded to kill the other fish in there, so they put in a glass partition for the survivors’ safety. Jack Dempsey would ram his head into the glass trying to get at the other fish, whom he ended up outliving. He was well cared for, under the circumstances.
Fast forward several years. My apartment manager was keeping some goldfish in a plastic bowl in the (completely dark) laundry room because, he said, they didn’t get along with his other fish. I asked if I could take them. I bought a large glass fish bowl, pump, plants, stones, etc. and cared for them as best I could. They got ick and passed away.
Having fish in tanks is, to me, like having caged birds. They don’t belong there. They aren’t happy there. They can’t live normal lives there. They, or their ancestors, have been caught and taken from their habitats, in most cases with many, many casualties involved. So I would never elect to have them.
I’m not a purist and not perfect, but to me, it is important to make informed choices and to try to live as compassionately as possible.
Sharing to socials with gratitude. And:
Merritt Clifton says
From John Melo, founder of the sugarcane-based biosynthetic squalene manufacturing company Amyris, at the web address cited above:
“We could make enough squalene for a billion vaccines in about a month. That squalene is pure, it’s consistent, it’s stable, and it can meet the specifications or exceed the specifications of any squalene that would come from a shark. And do it consistently every time. I think that’s the benefit (of sugarcane). It’s fast. From a cost perspective, you could think about squalene from sugarcane as about 1/3 of the cost as squalene from sharks. So its cheaper, its faster, sustainable, doesn’t have the same impurities, and its consistent every single time.”
Mary Finelli says
Thank you for sharing those sad stories, Jamaka, and especially for having rescued those fishes. Fishes are the most populous companion animals in the U.S., and they suffer some of the worst neglect and abuse.
I’d like to share your comments on the Fish Feel website, if it’s alright with you: https://fishfeel.org/action/your-page/ and also on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FishFeel.org If so, please contact me at: Info@FishFeel.org
Also, there is a petition calling for alternatives to be used for squalene rather than sharks: https://www.change.org/p/us-fda-food-and-drug-administration-of-the-united-states-of-america-stop-using-sharks-in-covid-19-vaccine-use-existing-sustainable-options
Donna Jensen says
The fact that someone got arrested and has bail of almost $19,000 for wildlife violations is close to being literally the best news of 2020. And not even a charismatic trophy animal. Fish!
Mary Finelli says
“Conservation issues, however, remain almost the only concern for fish voiced at the regulatory level”
This is largely true of those who fish, too. Their concern tends to be that “trophy” fishes, or animals too small to be legally kept, are not returned to the water so they have an opportunity to catch (i.e, torture) them, too.
Mr. McGrath makes a compelling case against offshore fish farms, and I’m glad to see his article getting so much media attention. However, if his expressed sympathy for captive fishes is genuine it’s ironic that he apparently has no compunction in torturing/killing, and promoting the torturing/killing, of the same fishes. A typical case of cognitive dissonance.
I had no idea about the shark/squalene issue. That just floored me. Of course, if you bring up the suffering/extinction of sharks in relation to any discussion of a COVID vaccine, you will be drummed out of the conversation for worrying about animals in the midst of so much human suffering. The pharmaceutical companies should have been implementing other ways of producing squalene long before it came to this. It is no mystery that sharks are in trouble; even most laypeople are aware of this.