November 28, 2010

Horrible Fishing Laws are Made Without Evolutionary Consideration

When fishing the ultimate goal, for most anglers, is to catch the biggest fish of the species you are fishing for. It's always exciting to reel in that lunker that you've been fighting for 10 minutes and not so much so to get a glimpse of a small fish coming in without stretching the line or diving back out of sight.

Yet, after the fight with the fish in hand, there is a question of what to do with the fish. Many people keep the biggest fish they catch as there is more meat on a larger fish. It is also more impressive to see a large fish on someones wall rather than a smaller one, for the type of people who are impressed with that sort of thing. Those are the main reason people keep bigger fish, but there is also another more subtle reason.

Size limits prohibit people from keeping the smaller fish, but they also have a more adverse effect as well. It helps create and maintain a potentially dangerous cultural belief. The belief is that it is morally wronger to keep a small fish as they, 'Haven't had a chance to live yet.'

I'm sure many people have heard this sentiment echoed when people would ask, 'Way did you keep those little fellas?' or 'Are you going to throw that little guy back?'  Questions about throwing the fish back or asking why you kept that fish are not nearly as prevalent when then fish is a larger one, then all that is asked is 'What are you going to do with it?'

Anyone who understands evolution will quickly grasp the result of such strong selective pressures, like the ones described above, have on species. Carl Sagan in his series Cosmos really put those words into reality when it talked about a type of Japanese Crab

Heikea japonica, or the Samurai Crab as it is less formally known, have been selectively pressured by fishermen to become the way they appear above. Carl explains the mythological back-story of how the crab came to be, but then he goes on to give the evolutionary explanation. 

The crabs when caught were not eaten when they looked like samurai or people, but instead are thrown back into the ocean, as an honor the the samurai killed in a battle long ago. While the crabs that didn't look as much like samurai were eaten. By doing that fishermen created the face on the back of the crab over numerous generations and selections they ensured it stayed that way.

This is the same process of forced selection for an individual characteristic that created Domesticated Silver Fox's in a famous Russian experiment, and it is the same type of selection that is currently ongoing in Canada's lakes, rivers and oceans. Through the actively seek out and eliminating the largest fish in the gene pool, it is being ensured that the smaller fish that are thrown back are the ones breeding, and passing their genes to the next generation of fish.

Both for the health of the species, and anglers delight it would be better to throw the bigger fish back. For nesting fish, it is much easier to be a larger fish to protect her eggs. Not only will her offspring have the genes to be large and more easily protect their nests, they will have a better chance of surviving to become a small fish.

Yet it doesn't stop there, as the most aggressive fish are the ones most likely to be caught, so people keeping fish will tend to lead to more passive fish in general. What fishermen in generations will be left with are smaller, slower growing, less active fish, if that's if nothing else goes wrong.

Size limits on fish don't make any sense as they currently exist, and if the government had any understanding they would actually have size limits the opposite of what they actually are, people wouldn't be able to keep as many trophy level fish as they wanted.

Limits on the number of fish caught are what are supposed to ensure that fist stay at a sustainable level and size limits are just a detriment to the whole process and limits on size are only there determining the future evolution of fish. 

A false mentality created by uninformed law is ruining the future of fishing, and weakening species.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic


  1. As you often do, you bestow upon us a deeper analysis of mundane things.

    Fishing for sport is a mystifying game to me; but the torture and execution of big fish for pleasure may not cause him to become extinct if natural predators do not cooperate in targeting the larger ones.

    Putting the larger fish on the wall as a trophy, does, however, serve as a more noticeable monument to the character of the sport fisherman.

    As humankind becomes more wise, which I think may be the trend, intellect will continue to trump brute force and this trophy will become useful as one of many quick indicators of how intellectually strong a fellow, a potential competitor in life, may be.


  2. Umm...what you say may be true, but it's situational. If a species is rarely fished, then your probably correct, but when a species is heavily fished that the pressure may be great enough no matter what the predators do, which would probably be the case of many species like Bass, Pike, and Walleye.

    It would also be the case for the animals at the top of their food chain, such as Muskie. This would likely be the case for many species where humans are the main predator, like deer, or bear as well.

  3. Together we can help protect the places we all love to fish. Respecting other anglers, keeping the environment around us clean and following fishing regulations are just some of the ways you can help.
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