NATURAL RI­VALS

Isn’t it right that seals, cor­morants and ot­ters take salmon, too? asks

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Casting About - Richard Donkin

YOU’RE TIRED AT the end of an­other tough week, and as you break down your rod the bits of elec­tri­cal tape you used to se­cure the sec­tions fall into the grass be­neath the rod rest. Never mind, the gillie will pick them up. He has to earn his tip. That old ny­lon line you bun­dled up and stuffed into your fish­ing vest to dis­pose of later – where did it go? Could that be the tan­gle an­other fish­er­man has just come across on the water’s edge? Why should he go around tidy­ing up af­ter oth­ers, he asks him­self. It’s not his mess. Oh well, he shrugs, he can snip it into lit­tle bits. It’s the least he can do. Those bits will break down in the en­vi­ron­ment, won’t they? It’s easy in such dis­cus­sions to di­rect ob­ser­va­tions at oth­ers, grum­bling at dis­carded line, beer cans or fish hooks, shak­ing one’s head at poor fish han­dling or curs­ing farm­ers for in­con­sid­er­ate plough­ing. Like the bad driv­ing we en­counter all the time on the mo­tor­way, it’s never us. But some­times it is. It must be. Please, you’re think­ing, not an­other preachy ar­ti­cle about the need to pre­serve our en­vi­ron­ment for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. The ar­gu­ments over catch-and-re­lease have been re­hearsed ad nau­seum, af­ter all. What’s the harm of one for the pot? Be­sides, how can we call our­selves game­fish­ers if we never kill any­thing? Isn’t the hunt­ing in­stinct deeply im­printed within our DNA? To fish or to en­gage in hunt­ing of any kind is to ne­go­ti­ate an eternal mine­field of eth­i­cal con­cerns and, just to com­pli­cate matters, the mine­field is shift­ing daily, moved by chang­ing opin­ions and by fresh ev­i­dence to fuel op­pos­ing ar­gu­ments. As in­di­vid­u­als, we must find our per­sonal level on the eth­i­cal scale. At one end are those Jain­ist monks who will sweep a path be­fore their feet, lest they harm an in­sect. At the other ex­trem­ity we might fol­low the ex­am­ple of Charles Dar­win who made a sup­per of many of the an­i­mals that in­spired his On the Ori­gin of Species, be they ar­madil­los (they taste of duck, he said) or the gi­ant tor­toise. Dar­win would have been amazed by the care we take in re­turn­ing our catches to­day. But times have changed. We are top preda­tors, the most pop­u­lous large mam­mals on the planet and, as such, we must ac­cept a cus­to­dial re­spon­si­bil­ity for the en­vi­ron­ment. In the past, con­ser­va­tion was fo­cused on cre­at­ing the most favourable con­di­tions for our pur­suit and for the tar­get species. You may still en­counter grayling dis­carded at the side of chalk­streams by those who seek to thin their num­bers in favour of trout. Is that okay? The natural com­pe­ti­tion, preda­tors such as heron, cor­morants, goosanders, seals, ot­ters, mink and pike, oc­cupy a kind of hi­er­ar­chy of en­mity among an­glers. Dol­phins are tol­er­ated, partly be­cause they’re one of the higher mam­mals. The rest seem to be or­dered on the hi­er­ar­chy, de­pend­ing on vo­ra­cious­ness, stom­ach ca­pac­ity and dis­tri­bu­tion. When­ever we en­counter a seal bask­ing in an es­tu­ary we can only imag­ine the num­ber of fat salmon di­gest­ing in its stom­ach It’s galling to watch a seal swim into your pool and seize a fish, tak­ing what might have been yours and emp­ty­ing the pool in the process. Yet those who’ve lived long enough to re­call a time with­out ot­ters and heron or es­tu­ary seals might re­mem­ber the river as lack­ing in di­ver­sity. If that’s what we crave, then we should take up golf. Per­haps there should come a time in every an­gler’s tra­jec­tory when self­ish­ness is sup­pressed in favour of the com­pe­ti­tion. We have mixed views on the com­pe­ti­tion. Even where we can bring our­selves to ac­com­mo­date other an­glers, too of­ten we can­not stop our­selves from try­ing to out­fish them, seek­ing brag­ging rights by catch­ing a big­ger fish or a big­ger bag. Is this what it’s about? As a younger man, I used to look at the older chaps chew­ing the fat on the river­bank, won­der­ing why they were wast­ing valu­able fish­ing time. To­day I like to take the time to sit for a while and ap­pre­ci­ate the other things of the river, whether it’s watch­ing the danc­ing of mayfly on a warm evening, or fol­low­ing the hap­haz­ard path of a but­ter­fly. There’s noth­ing new about this to trout fish­ers who’ll find some re­ward in wait­ing for a feed­ing fish, while hang­ing back out of sight, then claim­ing a strike from a sin­gle well-aimed cast. So much fish­ing is about ob­ser­va­tion and care that we should adopt a more holis­tic and in­clu­sive ap­proach to the en­vi­ron­ment and what we en­counter there. Pick­ing up the mess dis­carded by oth­ers should not be a big deal or an ex­cuse to feel sanc­ti­mo­nious, but an al­most au­to­matic re­sponse to our sur­round­ings. In the same way, we should think about where we store our used line and how we dis­pose of it. And we should be more for­giv­ing of our fel­low preda­tors. They have rights, too. Richard Donkin is a jour­nal­ist and has fished in Nor­way and Ice­land. His favourite river is the Aberdeen­shire Dee

“You may still en­counter grayling dis­carded at the side of chalk­streams by those who seek to thin their num­bers in favour of trout. Is that okay?”

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