Tracking a stealthy smelt seller
Reality TV would be foolish not to reel this one in
There are reality shows on the boob tube these days dealing with every conceivable subject matter, programs with intellectual edification, profound enlightenment, at their core.
Some give us a voyeur’s view of bachelors and bachelorettes using tongue kissing as the critical criteria for choosing a mate.
Still others allow us to listen attentively as the “housewives” of America deliver clear-cut evidence of why so many millions of them shocked the world and voted for Donald Trump: “like, ah, he’s, like, the sweetest guy, and, like, his wife Milania, she’s so gorgeous, and, like, her clothes are to die for.”
In case you’ve labelled me as a television viewing snob, I will admit there are several reality shows I regularly watch, a reflection, I guess, of my addiction to the outdoors: the wilderness shows from Alaska and Canada’s own “Survivorman,” for example, programs that go beyond French kissing and socalled cat fights.
There are also shows I enjoy in which cameramen follow wildlife officers in pursuit of poachers and the like, all sorts of lawbreakers on the water and in the woods.
And it is the producers of that particular genre of reality shows who may have missed the boat, so to speak, in Newfoundland last week (perhaps they had bigger fish to fry).
Because there was an incident here that just begged for extensive, behindthe-scenes coverage, a way of showing the public how fisheries officers in this province — well, at least four by my count — used their expertise to bring down, apprehend and prosecute a criminal who boldly and arrogantly violated wildlife regulations; in the end, these valiant souls were successful enough to publicly embarrass, with total justification, a lawbreaker who was obviously destroying the outdoors for future generations of Newfoundlanders. The applause for the fisheries officers was thunderous, and understandably so.
Of course, I’m referring to the case of the 12-year-old smelt seller, Jayden Harris of Gander Bay South, a criminal if ever there was one, a lowdown character whose blatant violation of the laws designed to protect our wildlife just begged for an investigation and arrest. Just think about the videotaped drama, an example to their colleagues worldwide of the type of the investigative talents of several brave fisheries officers in Newfoundland.
The producers could have had a cam- era tracking the fisheries officer as he went undercover, a dangerous move in these circumstances, to prove Jayden the Jailbird was selling smelt at the outrageous price of two dollars a dozen. Oh, the horror.
A camera and tape recorder could have documented the officer as he made telephone contact with Jayden’s father, the man who dared to let his son catch and sell smelt to save up money to build an ice hut so he could further ravage the smelt population for a profit (he’ll be killing seals next); and a hidden camera could have been rolling as the officer showed up at the Harris house in Gander Bay South to consummate the deal from hell.
Cameras could have also shown how the officer, aware of the dangers of the case, sought backup — three other officers, according to media reports — to actually make the arrest.
It was Harris Sr. who was actually arrested (Jayden, the ringleader, was at school), but a camera crew could have followed the father as he tried to explain to his son how he had flagrantly violated the wildlife laws of Newfoundland.
And there were photographs that could have accompanied the program: a snapshot, for example, of Jayden on the ice, a few smelt at his side; some viewers could mistakenly think they were seeing an innocent-looking youngster, a smile from ear to ear, in his glee, in his element, embracing the joys of the outdoors; but the reality show would have been able to portray Jayden for what he really was, a down-and-out crook, a frown of disdain for authority obvious to anyone willing to look beyond that fake smile. Where were the handcuffs? If the reality show producers had actually filmed the actions of the officers throughout the case, the province’s Department of Tourism could have bought the footage and used it to promote throughout the world the laudable work being done by fisheries officers as they brought down Jayden Harris and his dad, just part of their mandate to protect the Newfoundland wilderness.
Wildlife officers from Alaska to Colorado would have given the exploits of their Newfoundland colleagues the thumbs up.
“Did you see what those guys in Newfinlind did? They nabbed a 12- year- old selling smelt at two dollars a bag. Way to go, men!” And the impact would have been enormous on outdoorsmen who might dare to break wildlife laws in the future. (The news stories alone this week have been intimidating; I know I, for one, will never ever have 13 trout in my basket again; I don’t want to be mentioned in the same breath as Jayden Harris).
And can you imagine the television ratings?
Who would need bachelors and bachelorettes necking in a sauna?
We would have had the case of — drum roll — “The Sly Smelt Seller of Gander Bay South.”
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at email@example.com