Thursday, November 3, 2011

Verboten!! Thoughts on ethics and fishing...

As it turns out, if you show up in an internet fishing discussion forum and suggest that fishing, per se, might raise some challenging ethical questions, you may very well find yourself in the minority position. Through no fault of my own, I am now banned from chat boards in 32 states and 7 foreign countries.  This is my story.

Some time ago, on a forum I no longer frequent the Finnish Sword Spirit posed an interesting question: why do we harm what we profess to so love? Of course, this question presupposes two things: first, that we love fish, and second, that what we do harms them.  I take it as a given that the former is true.  Does fishing harm fish? We know, without a doubt, that the fish we eat are killed, and we also know, without a doubt, that some of the fish we catch, and then release, also die. But of course, the carrots we eat also die – the issue, then, is whether the fish we catch actually suffer.

Although in some ways, this is the most important question, the real purpose of this post isn’t to answer that question, for two reasons.  First, this is actually a very complicated question that requires not only a careful definition of “suffer” but also that we decide if such a definition applies only to sentient beings- and this, in turn, requires that we first define “sentient being” and then determine whether fish are, in fact, sentient. For these reasons, determining whether fish feel pain and suffer for it is (in my opinion) largely under the purview of neurologists (And, it seems, still a fairly controversial subject in the field of neurobiology.) Second, if fish do not suffer, then this particular discussion is about as interesting as asking whether it is ethical to eat donuts.  So I’m interested in discussing whether fishing raising ethical questions because this, itself, is an interesting question.  Interesting is always better than uninteresting.  I also admit – no, proudly declare – that my thoughts on this subject are a work in progress. If your thinking isn’t a work in progress, then you’re functionally brain-dead, or at least brain-stagnant.  And that’s just not culvert.

So, we’re going to explore this problem under the assumption that fish do feel pain, and can at least experience something akin to “suffering”, though what and how much that might be we won’t specify right now.  When these discussions came up on-line, I was surprised at some of the vitriol I experienced when I suggested we might want to think about this.  This vitriol was, in my opinion, misguided for the following reasons. If we (i.e. fishermen) justify the ethical permissibility of fishing on the premise that fish cannot suffer, then we will be forced to accept that fishing is ethically impermissible if, at some point, scientists determine beyond any reasonable doubt that fish do indeed suffer.  If, instead, we can identify a justification for fishing that does not rely on the premise that fish do not feel pain, it won’t matter what scientists later discover.

There is an additional reason, also self-serving, why we should think about this topic. We will never convince an ardent opponent of fishing to go fishing or even that fishing is ethical. However, there is a large proportion of the population that does not fish, but is not – yet – opposed to the idea that those of us who wish to fish should be allowed to do so legally.  When these people see the “slob fisherman”, who leaves his empty beer cans along the river, tosses fish onto the bank to slowly suffocate, and treats with utter disdain those who might even wonder if fishing presents some ethical challenges, these fence-sitters move a little more in one direction.  When they see that fisherman are instead capable of thinking about, and even concerned about, the welfare of the fish they catch, then the fence-sitters move a little bit in the other direction.  Why should you care?  Because fence-sitters, by virtue of their numbers, have influence.

And, I have to get one more thing off my chest.  I’m not going to try to determine here whether fish do or do not feel pain or suffer.  But I have to address some of the arguments that I regularly see offered as proof of either the former or the latter. Perhaps more than anything else, I see the following: “If fish felt pain, they would not eat sharp things. Yet fish do eat sharp things; therefore, fish do not feel pain.” This argument is internally valid, but is based on a false premise.  The idea that fish would not eat sharp things if they felt pain is simply ludicrous. Natural selection favors traits, including behaviors, whose benefits, on average, outweigh the costs – and all traits have both benefits and costs.  Animals of all kinds do things that cause them pain precisely because the benefits outweigh the costs. The examples are countless, but consider the many male mammals (which we all reasonably infer feel pain) that will fight with rival males, often becoming mortally wounded in the process, for the chance to mate with females. Why in the world would males fight like this if they felt pain?  To get laid! Because any male who was unwilling to do so would not produce male offspring who, in turn, were also willing to do so.

One also regularly sees the argument that fish must not feel pain, because otherwise they would not fight against the angler.  The idea here is that by resisting, they would increase the pain inflicted by the hook.  Assuming that no animal would do anything that increases pain, it must follow, then, that fish do not feel pain. Of course, the assumption is bogus (particularly when one considers the fish’s options, as the fish must "see" it: resist and possibly live, or come in calmly and be killed). Interestingly, the same observation – that fish resist being captured – is also offered as evidence that they do feel pain or suffer. Unfortunately, the fact that fish, or any organism, can respond in a way as to avoid or mitigate damage is not evidence, one way or the other, on the pain and suffering question. Plants can detect damage from herbivores and respond by sending defensive chemicals to the site of damage.  Many single-celled aquatic organisms will respond to potential threats by swimming away.  These – and other “damage mitigating” traits – not only do not require a sense of pain, they don’t even require a nervous system or consciousness. Neurobiologists who study fish still do not agree on whether fish suffer, not because they disagree on what fish do when hooked, but because they disagree on how a fish’s brain processes the event.

But for the sake of this discussion, for reasons outlined above, we’re going to assume that fish do feel pain and suffer, at least to some degree. From here, I’m going to take what we might call a more-or-less utilitarian ethics perspective (as opposed to, say, a deontological one).  This is basically the idea that what is right is that which maximizes good and minimizes harm. Although some would disagree that a utilitarian approach ever justifies causing animals harm, most people probably fall somewhere else on the spectrum. For example, many people argue that some kind of research on animals is justified, provided that the benefits from that research (say, for example, towards curing diseases that cause great suffering) are sufficient. This argument usually assumes that, at a minimum, humans are justified in causing some animal suffering if the alternative is death, or perhaps also horrible human suffering.

Things that are necessary for us to live we could call “essential human benefits”.  All else we might call “non-essential human benefits”.   The problem gets complex, and therefore interesting, once it is no longer human life that is at stake but instead something that we might say “ranks lower” than simply sustaining a human life, i.e. those “non-essential human benefits.”  Let’s ignore, for the moment, that there might be some disagreement over what is or is not “essential”, or over whether something might be called a “benefit” or not.  Let’s just lump all those things that some humans do to improve the quality of their lives into this category (even if you, yourself, don’t necessarily do it).  What might some of these be, that include the use of animals and cause, perhaps, suffering?  Animal research that is not directly related to saving human lives, hamburgers, bullfights, hunting and fishing (among all but those who must live where agriculture - and relocating - is not an option) probably all qualify as non-essential human benefits that result in some degree of animal suffering. Anything else?  More on this shortly.

Arguments against these and similar activities posit that the suffering these activities cause does not justify them because they are non-essential, and because the suffering they cause is not (or may not be) trivial.  Much of the debate around the use of animals concerns the use of animals for food, because humans do need to eat after all; so, the question becomes whether eating meat is essential, and if not, can it be justified? For most people, eating meat is not essential; this is incontrovertible, I think. The obvious alternative, then, is to eat plants. But is it? Some thought-provoking debates in the field of environmental/animal ethics have recently addressed whether, from a utilitarian approach, eating plants always causes less harm than eating animals.  If strict utilitarianism is the standard by which we assign ethical permissibility, and it can be shown that some forms of meat consumption cause less suffering, overall, than practices associated with plant consumption, then it must be concluded that this form of meat consumption is more ethically permissible than being a vegetarian.  This is precisely the argument that Steven Davis puts forth in a paper that received not just considerable attention in the scholarly literature, but even in the popular press. One key point in Davis’s argument is that agricultural practices, i.e. the growing of plants for food, inevitably harm and kill animals – but he goes further.  Citing the very few studies that have actually tried to quantify the number of vertebrates killed by agriculture, Davis argues that some (but not all) meat-based diets actually result in fewer animal deaths, per year, than a strictly vegetarian diet. (Davis focuses on vertebrates, particularly birds and small mammals, because most of the meat we eat comes from vertebrates, and because it is not clear at all whether insects – which are surely killed by the billions by agriculture – can actually suffer.) His study was subsequently criticized on a number of grounds, in particular that some of the calculations were wrong – and from the utilitarian (i.e. “least harm”) perspective, this matters.  I’ll let somebody else do the research.  But the idea itself is thought provoking, to me, and has some bearing (though perhaps tangential) to my recent thoughts on fishing and ethics.

One of the arguments fishermen often make to justify fishing is that, among other things, they get to interact with nature. For many opposed to fishing, this is insufficient grounds for causing fish to suffer for a number of reasons, one of which is the argument that one can “get out into nature” without actually fishing.  This argument assumes that a fisherman can get that connection to nature whether he or she is fishing or not.  Most fishermen, I contend, would not agree with that, even if they cannot explain exactly why.  I certainly fall into that category.  It strikes me as very similar, in some ways, to what making music does for some musicians and what painting does for some artists.  That is, although they cannot (perhaps) describe the effect it has on them, it is real and important.  And most importantly, it cannot be replaced by another activity, just because somebody else cannot understand why it cannot.  Should the violinist suddenly find himself without a violin, he is probably not going to be satisfied by the suggestion that he “just take up painting”.  This is an important point, to which I'll return shortly, because it has bearing on one of the criticisms of fishing: that fishing causes suffering in fish for nothing more than the "fun" that the fisherman gains. I think many of us, i.e. fishermen, would agree that "fun" doesn't quite capture it.  Again - more on this shortly.

The question I keep returning to is “What are we entitled to, beyond mere existence, and where does that “thing” that we get from fishing fall, relative to other non-essential human benefits?” Reflecting back on the arguments of Davis, even if one accepts the criticisms of his calculations, it’s probably incontrovertible that modern agricultural practices harm a shit-ton of animals.  Now, you might be right in arguing that this still harms fewer animals than if we were to eat them, but the consequences of all of the death and destruction of modern agriculture go beyond simply providing us with necessary calories and nutrients.  It provides us with a relatively cheap and varied selection of veggies.  And these attributes, I argue, are in fact “non-essential human benefits.”  That is, while we do need to eat, it is far from essential that we have access to produce that is as inexpensive and varied as it is. Lentils everyday, anyone? When cheap vegetables, and all of the other things that we (as in “first-world inhabitants”) enjoy as non-essential benefits – and, it would seem to me, this includes a whole lot of stuff…stuff that nobody I know does entirely without – are considered in this light, things get more complicated.   So far I’ve been unable to come up with a positive justification for fishing (by which I mean, a justification that argues that my going fishing causes me more pleasure than the equivalent suffering it causes to the fish – provided that we assume the fish do, in fact, suffer.) But I’m also unable to convince myself that my fishing is, in fact, more harmful than what many people are doing when they take advantage of (often unknowingly, or without any thought to) these various non-essential benefits. And I think this gets back to the issue of whether fishing is simply something we do "for fun" - and if there is more to it than that, which I think is so, how does one evaluate it relative to the many things we humans do merely "for convenience"? Here, of course, I'm referring to my earlier points about inexpensive and varied produce selections, and the like. My gut wants to say, in response to the argument that if I were to cease fishing, the world would be spared of some suffering: “You go first.”

Finally, the “least harm principle” suggests that there is a currency (i.e. harm, or the avoidance of harm), and this brings up another question: Can one “cap and trade” oneself to a more (but probably not perfectly) ethical life?  In other words, if I don’t eat a cheap and well-balanced meal on Friday (and instead opt for the more expensive and certainly less interesting, but also less-harmful “Lentil Surprise”), can I go fishing on Saturday?

- T.J.  Brayshaw


For those interested in wading a bit deeper into the literature surrounding these debates, here are some starting points...

The article by De Leeuw is one of the more widely cited philosophical papers arguing against "sport" fishing. De Leeuw argues that fishing is an act of cruelty.  It's a thought provoking read, as is Olsen's very good critique of De Leeuw's paper.

De Leeuw, A. Dionys (1996) Contemplating the interests of fish: the angler’s challenge. Environmental Ethics 18:373-390.

Olesen, Len (2003) Contemplating the intentions of anglers: the ethicist’s challenge. Environmental Ethics 25:267-277.

The paper by Davis that I mentioned in the post is listed below, along with two follow-up papers that challenged some of Davis's assumptions and conclusions:
Davis, Steven (2003) The least harm principle may require that humans consume a diet containing large herbivores, not a vegan diet. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 16:387-394 (2003).
Matheny, Gaverick (2003) Least harm: a defense of vegetarianism from Steven Davis’s omnivorous proposal. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 16:505-511.
Lamey, Andy (2008) Food Fight!  Davis versus Regan on the Ethics of Eating Beef. Journal of Social Philosophy 38:331-348
 Finally, those interested in some of the more practical and biological issues relevant to this debate, such as the effects of capture on fish survival and welfare, whether fish can feel pain and have the capacity to suffer, etc, I'd suggest digging up papers by the following authors:

Robert Arlinghaus, Steven J. Cooke, Victoria Braithwaite, Lynne Sneddon, James D. Rose

Arlinghaus and Cooke often tackle the really practical stuff (what happens to fish when they're caught, played and released, etc.).  Braithwaite, and to some degree Sneddon, work on the issue of pain in fish, and tend to come down on the side that fish do feel pain and might suffer.  James D. Rose, on the other hand, is biologist who comes down on the other side, and has been very critical of some of the work by Sneddon.  All the work is worth a read.


[This is more deep-thinking that is good for me, so it is my hope and intention to bring you more ridiculous, irreverent and offensive material as soon as I recover and am back to my normal self.  I'd like to thank Erin Block, of the blog Mysteries Internal, for inspiring me to put this post up, after sitting on it for some time.  Her recent post on the ethical issues surrounding fishing for spawning fish was not only well-written and thought provoking, but the post and subsequent comments also increased my confidence that there are some thinking folks out there...]


  1. like your style TJ. thanks for the inspiring read.

  2. Mark

    Thanks. I'm sorry you actually had the time to read that entire thing.

    I should also come clean here. My motivation for this entire post is as such: English Jonny is going steelhead fishing for four days, leaving very soon. I will be working that entire time. It is my hope that he will step into the river, recall this post, and break down crying, pack up his shit, and drive home. It would be the right thing to do.

  3. I prefer the carp girls, but whatever sells.

  4. If I were to stop fishing because it hurts fish, I would have to go back to my animal rights vegan days. And that really did nothing for the welfare of animals, as Davis stated.

    It really is messed up to say that we harm that which we love, but at the same time there’s some truth to it. I think it was, in fact, English Jonny who wrote in a comment over on my post, “Recognizing our own hypocrisies is a firm step to understanding those who challenge our right to fish, and hopefully to helping them understand the broader landscape. It is in this landscape, or quite literally the role of anglers and hunters in conserving it, that I take confidence to hunt fish, whether they chose to eat, or not.”

    And for the utilitarian ethics perspective upon which some of your post is based, that seems to me to fit in, no? Perhaps it is hypocritical, but it is our role. To harm, in order to save. And no, that doesn’t make complete sense to me, and yet also at the same time, it does.

    To “cap and trade” ethics? That sounds an awful lot like theological indulgences and something I cannot abide. Although I must say we/I often do this to appease our conscience. So maybe that’s what we’re all doing here in our sport, after all.

    Also, I think your analogy to musicians and artists is brilliant. I’m a classical musician and like you said, if you take my instrument away, I can’t quite describe to you why I can’t just go take up a paintbrush.

    Like you said, all of these comments, and your post specifically, have encouraged me that people still do, in fact, think. Most often, I’ve found that prospect dim. Thank you for writing this, T.J.

  5. p.s. I preferred this post to the carp girls. ;)

  6. "If your thinking isn’t a work in progress, then you’re functionally brain-dead, or at least brain-stagnant."

    This may be the best manta for any self-respecting writer or thinker...ever. Love it. Am a bit embarrassed it took me so long to find your know, with all the carp and good writing and all...

    btw...e.m.b, am I to take this as you refusing to take your cloths off for the next photo I take of you with a carp? Damn! Thought so...!

  7. Yes, should take that as me refusing. :-)

  8. Erin,

    From a strictly philosophical perspective, I don't think the idea that fishing is good because therefore fishermen will protect fish (i.e. "To harm, in order to save.") is terribly compelling. For example, there are many animals that I have never seen and likely never will (in the wild, at least), and have no desire to catch or hunt (tigers, for example), but I still think we ought to preserve them. Fishing opponents are, usually, not terribly convinced by the idea that if fishermen aren't allowed to fish, our rivers will all go to hell. But at the same time, while we can think in a strictly philosophical world, we can't live in one. And so in the end, I think it is in fact true that a river without fishermen is a river with fewer friends.

    As for this: To “cap and trade” ethics? That sounds an awful lot like theological indulgences and something I cannot abide. Although I must say we/I often do this to appease our conscience. So maybe that’s what we’re all doing here in our sport, after all." Yes, of course it is exactly what we do, all the time. We're generally forced into one of three ethical positions: One is that we simply do no harm, at all. This, it turns out, is pretty damn hard to do. Another option is to give up, and say "To hell with it". Some ethicists will try to tell us that these are the only two options. Since the first is virtually impossible, most of us, if we believe that false dichotomy, will in fact just give up. But there's a third option, which is that we try to do our best. In the end, this is clearly what most of us (fisherman and non-fisherman alike) try to do. Part of my own frustration with many anti-fishing folks is that they suggest that I should stop fishing, as part of my strategy to "do better", without considering how many of those non-essential benefits I spoke of above they are actually unwilling to give up, as part of their own efforts to "do better". I'd like them to explain to me, in ways more convincing than I've seen so far, why my sacrifice takes priority over theirs, if all of them cause some animal suffering.

    My favorite quote, of all time, comes from Barry Lopez's fabulous book "Arctic Dreams", where he is discussing the nature of hunting. He says

    "How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one's culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light."

  9. T.J., indeed, I also live in ethical position three -- trying to do my best. And thank you for that Barry Lopez quote, it is now my favorite, of all time, too.

  10. Wow. I had to look up the word deontological.

    I think you nailed it in your last comment above; we all have to lean into the light. At the end of the day our lives involve compromise to many great paradoxes and we do the best we can.

    And if those PETA lasses want to continue to get naked to try to convince me otherwise, I'm willing to suffer their arguments. (But I won't post pictures, Erin).

  11. emb - this post is great because of the carp girls. If you were Culvert you would understand this.

    Not remotely incidentally, the Lopez quote reminds me of Chatham's point of view about fishing/hunting being great, or being at its most beautiful, when practiced within the context of real life, not as escape from it. And now the news: real life has men it who like beautiful women, some of whom may cradle carp. And that is why carp girls are culvert.

    In other words: deep, philosophical shit.


  12. Jonny - she at least deserves credit for coming back for another post, after the Carp Girls.

    Erin - I have some photos of Jonny that you can put up on your blog, if you think it would make things right. In some of them, he's even cradling carp, and he's got that sexy look in his eyes, too.

  13. T.J., really?! huh...he looks a tad bit old in the tiny-profile-pic...but I'm all for equality, after all. So, yes, I think that would set things to rights.

  14. Erin: I beg you to reconsider. You'll be struck blind.

  15. "Fishing opponents are, usually, not terribly convinced by the idea that if fishermen aren't allowed to fish, our rivers will all go to hell. But at the same time, while we can think in a strictly philosophical world, we can't live in one. And so in the end, I think it is in fact true that a river without fishermen is a river with fewer friends."

    This is where it gets most interesting to me. I'm delighted we think of these issues on a personal, ethical level - some websites won't allow such discourse, and that's a shame. Some form of ethical consideration for our quarry should be as elementary as gun safety, in my view. But I also think it's near impossible to segregate the personal from the wider reality. I agree with your point about tigers, but propose that field sportsmen and women provide a great deal more than added friendship to rivers and animals, and this is where the context is vital but so often ignored by the antis, and perhaps even some anglers. I don't think we save in order to harm. I believe we save in order to save. That we are sports is, on some level, a convenient truth. Without us many animals would simply not exist. And that's worth thinking about and promoting to those who aren’t terribly convinced. Like the purple heather mountains of Scotland? Grouse shooting. Like to have fish in the Farmington? Wouldn't be there were it not for anglers. Atlantic salmon stocks returning to the good ol' days across Europe? You get the picture. Don't get me started on the threat posed (now realized?) by salmon farming to the sustainability of wild fish, not to mention the local economies they support. So while I agree (with myself) that we should recognize our own hypocrisies, it is also reasonable to point to the very makeup of our countryside as being immeasurably "better off" because we fish and hunt. I take this to be every bit a philosophical consideration when thinking about what happens to a fish on my line, though certainly it is also a practical one.

    And: I'm a 41 year old heterosexual. Shoot me.

  16. Which means you're probably twice The Carp Girl's age. I can't even imagine what it's like to be that old.

    I agree with you that we don't harm in order to save. I think these things go back and forth - that is, I love striped bass because I love to catch them. But I also love them because they're simply a fascinating fish. And because they're fascinating, I love to fish for them. For all of these reasons, I want them around.

    Peter Singer, perhaps the most famous utilitarian ethicist - the guy who arguably could be said to have started the "animal rights movement" (along with Tom Regan), has said that he doesn't particularly care for animals. He's concerned with suffering, but doesn't feel any particular affinity for animals. To most of us, this seems more unusual than our desires to hook the fish we love.

  17. I agree with your conclusions from utilitarian ethics under the assumption that fishing does "harm". Fortunately, I might or might not be a utilitarianist. Even if I am, the question of "harm" does still depend somewhat upon the question of "suffering". If we can get convinced that fish have an overall experience from noxious stimuli that is similar enough to our own to warrant a regard similar to the regard we have for our own suffering, then we'll have to face the music (if we are of the utilitarian school).

    I'd mention that, in my opinion, the "thing" we get from fishing falls in the same category of non-essential "thing" we get from having sex while using birth control. The urge to fish differs from libido quantitatively more than qualitatively, I believe. Not that this defeats the finely-tuned utilitarian ethicist. From here, the ideal world of said ethicist looks pretty bleak, taken to the logical endpoint you've suggested where all harm-causing, non-essential activities are given up. Which is why, if forced to do so by the crushing grip of ethical reasoning, I will be in the "give up" school you mentioned, which is not as bad the term might imply. I think it is kind of the school Barry Lopez refers to in your favorite quote (though I could be wrong). Regardless, this is some good highbrow shit right here.

  18. lowbrow,

    I agree - ultimately, the pain and suffering issue is crucial (as I said earlier). And in the end, I think it actually plays a part (though not the only part) in my own decisions to keep fishing. I think, based on what little I know about animals, that fish do have what we might call a sense of pain, but I'm far less convinced that they suffer in ways akin to the way we would. I think the oft-heard "How would you like it if somebody put a hook in your ham sandwich and dragged your under water!!??" or "Would you do this to a puppy!!??" screams of the fishing opponents are really non-starters to begin with.

    That said, I was interested in exploring this question while working under the assumption that fish might suffer in some way for the reasons I outlined earlier in the post, one of those reasons simply being that the questions is more interesting that way.

    There are also of course other ethical schools of thought, besides those that follow the "least harm" principle, and they will lead you to sometimes quite different ends.

    As for your suggestion that fishing is like sex, this is an interesting idea, and I think you're probably right. But what you said about it being quantitatively, and not qualitatively different is probably spot on, because in general, I think we've seen that the inability to make smart decisions about sex has ruined more lives than similarly stupid decisions about fishing. (That said, I know that my own decisions to go fishing have sometimes prevented me from even having the option to make a later decision about sex.)

    Now, if I've entirely misinterpreted your point about fishing and sex, I apologize, and instead suggest you see if you can find an old video of the comedian Buddy Hackett doing his "Carp Fucker!!" routine. It was a classic.

  19. I used to say "I like that Brayshaw fellow because he's a man of few words." I still like him but, my goodness, how he can go on. He has redeemed himself in my eyes with the Buddy Hackett reference.

    The number of studies quoted here and on other recent posts is mind boggling and, as with most other subjects, one can find a study to support whatever position one chooses to take. Ultimately, no one has come up with a way to ask the fish how they feel about the whole thing. I am not convinced the most recent trout I hooked was jumping for joy but I said Sorry and Thank You and let the little fellow go.

    The reason fish take sharp objects into their mouths is that they don't have hands and if something resembles food it is better off in one's own belly than the belly of another.

    Buddy Hackett, indeed.

  20. "I used to say "I like that Brayshaw fellow because he's a man of few words." I still like him but, my goodness, how he can go on."

    Those who live in glass houses...

  21. "Would you do this to a puppy!!??" screams of the fishing opponents are really non-starters to begin with."

    I think the most defensible position is to say yes, I would do this to a puppy; in much the same way I've responsibly hunted and killed other beautiful animals, be they pheasants, rabbits, or the man I once shot for making rude remarks about my age. And even if the last one isn't strictly true, my point is that if we accept the argument that a puppy and a fish are different, we are isolating fish (or a particularly quarry) to a different status as, say, the battery-farmed chicken, cow, or a pet hamster. And this is the kind of perversity that, apparently, gives the loonies the upper hand to ask that we give ours up first, because we're only pleasuring ourselves with "lesser", slimy, largely invisible fish.

    It would be refreshing to recognize that the cuddly rabbit you might keep as a treasured pet (complete with its own health plan and, in growing numbers, funeral arrangements), is one and the same animal I might kill because he's eating my land, or simply because he makes a great stew.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm popping out for 4 whole days torturing steelhead.


  22. Disagree (with the part about puppies, fish, fishing, hunting, all being the same. Agree about the age part).

    This gets at the difference between hunting and fishing, not fish vs. puppies. While some fishing opponents obviously also abhor fishing, for many hunting is a much more defensible thing, for a variety of reasons. I don't agree with all of them, but they include the fact that, at least in theory, a properly hunted animal is killed quickly. (There's the other issue - that we usually eat what we hunt, but toss back many of the fish, but I'm not going to address that right now.)

    So, in response to the anti-hunter's query "You shoot rabbits!!? Would you shoot a puppy?!", I think your response makes logical (if somewhat unseemly) sense.

    I still maintain that the "fishing for puppies" comparison is a non-starter.

  23. Meant to say "...obviously also abhor hunting..."

    Apparently, you can't edit comments, even if you're second in command.

  24. This makes good sense as an academic argument, but even to my limited knowledge, hunting - with guns, dogs or bows and arrows - seems to be far more controversial than fishing, probably because fishing is taken to be relatively passive (even boring) by the great unwashed. Fish just aren't as cuddly as your pussy.

    Which reminds me: you fish for cats*, so you're a bit of a bloody hypocrite Brayshaw. Did you C&R or do the right thing?

    I thought this was Zakur's blog?


  25. Yes, Jonny, I am a hypocrite (more than just a bit, I might add), but so are you: you told us earlier that you were dropping out of this conversation to go catch steelhead, and yet, here you are.

    (Which proves that my initial motivation for this post - to keep you from catching the steel head while I must stay here and work - is actually coming to fruition. Bwaaaa haaa haaaa!!!!)

    Yes, you're also right that, in total, hunting is probably more controversial than fishing among the public, but in the more esoteric field of ethics philosophy, I'm not sure that's true (could be - I'm not sure).

    And yes, this makes sense as an academic argument. Is there any other kind? And if so, why would we want to engage in it? That sounds dreadfully boring.

  26. A couple of brothers hadn't seen each other in many years and held a reunion, one inviting the other to visit the ranch he had come to own. After a day of reminiscing, the rancher suggested they go fishing on the lake he had developed, so early the next morning they set out in a row boat to the middle of the lake.

    It wasn't until then that the visiting brother noticed no fishing tackle had been brought other than a small metal box, which the rancher opened, took out a stick of dynamite and began prepping.

    The visitor silently watched for a couple of minutes before saying: "Brother, if you're about to do what I think you are, well it's not only probably illegal but it's unethical as hell and I'm not liking it".

    The ranching brother eyed his kin, all the while finishing his task, lit a match, ignited the fuse and reaching forward dropped the stick at his brothers feet, replying: "Brother, it ain't illegal because this here's my private lake so you decide if you want to go on discussing ethics or fish".

    People already have their mind made up coming in and look for the rationalization to support that.

    Round and round it goes.

  27. Please refer to my comment under the mad libs post.

  28. Anonymous,

    Good joke.

    As to your other point, I think that's true about a lot of people, but certainly not about all people. My significant other was a vegetarian for a decade, and is not now. Will she be a fisherman in another decade? I have no idea, but she's already shown to me that a made up mind isn't necessarily made up for all time.

    As I said in the post, my own thoughts on this are still a work in progress as well.

    In any case, it may be true that most people have made up their minds already. I'm OK with that, since those people aren't the ones that are particularly interesting to me, most times.

  29. Stabone: you're probably right, but even with all this fishin' chatter, I still work harder at my job than they do at their education, so I don't lose much sleep over it.

    You know what they say about all work and no play...

  30. I have enjoyed watching this conversation in several different places at once, among people from all around the world. Cool. I am one of those people who still finds that kind of thing astounding.

    I will think about it this weekend as I battle another beaver over another culvert. Everyone should experience a beaver in their culvert. Soon there will dubbing (fur), wrap for the grip of a hunter's bow (tail), roast and stew (tasty bits).

    PETA tried to replace "fish" with "sea kittens" once. I hope English Jonny catches a mess of sea kittens.

    "Those who live in glass houses ..." should turn off the lights when getting undressed for bed.

  31. For those interested in the Steven Davis debate, see here on "Number of Animals Killed to Produce One Million Calories in Eight Food Categories":

    By the way, Davis incorrectly claims that Tom Regan subscribes to the "least-harm principle". As a deontologist (rights theorist), Regan rejects this principle.

  32. Thanks for the link, Dr. Taylor. I'd not have suspected such a disparity between poultry and beef/pork. My wife, a reluctant carnivore, will not be happy to hear this.

    As I said in the original post, Davis's calculations were, indeed, criticized. But as I also said, what interested me most was the general question as it relates to what is and is not "essential" and what this might mean.

    PS. I've downloaded the podcast of your interview with "Animal Voices", and I look forward to hearing it.

  33. Great discussion

  34. They catch a wide variety of fish... the most common being perch, portable fish finder reviews