Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Go Out and Annoy The fish

You’re sitting in your living room enjoying some quiet time with your family.  Suddenly there is a loud humming sound and a large pizza with extra cheese drops onto the coffee table.  You put the taped reruns of Gilligan’s Island on hold and start to chow down on a great slice with everything on it.
Suddenly, and without warning, you are yanked from your seat, pulled out the door and your family never sees you again.  Unless of course, they try the pizza too.  Then they may see you again, but they probably won’t be happy about it.
I think this is how the fish must feel.  There they are, out for a Sunday swim with whole family in the Gulfstream.  They cruise along, enjoying each others company.  Then WHAM!  Aunt Martha heads for the surface like a ballistic missile, never to be heard from again.
Why do these terrible things happen?  Are the fish wondering if their relatives are being kidnapped by aliens for exotic scientific experiments?  Are they shooting episodes of The X- Files in 90' of water?  We may never know.  I suspect that it must be quite disturbing to be a fish these days.

When I was young, I worked on commercial fishing boats in the Great Lakes.  That will tell you how old I am.  We actually HAD fish in the Great Lakes and you could eat them without worrying about glowing in the dark afterwards.  And we caught fish.  Enough so that about twenty people had a livelihood.
We used some very basic equipment in those days.  I still remember how my father’s friend, Bill Parishon, would go outside around 4:30 a.m. to smell the air.  Half asleep, I would stand at the end of the dock with him, trying to figure out what this crazy old man was doing.  His coffee steamed in a blue steel cup with white porcelain specks. He’d stare at the sky and smell the air like a hunting dog looking for the scent, and then make a decision.  Everything was so quiet out at the end of the dock.  The waves softly lapping at the pilings and maybe the fluttering of wings of some early rising bird were all you heard.  The burnt orange of a false dawn would light up the water for a few moments.  The nets piled on the dock smelled of fish and creosote. Stars sparkled in a last effort to hold off the dawn.  This was my world.
While I never attained the level of skill that he had, I did pride myself on trying to match his choices by looking for the signs he did.  He would announce to the fishing gods that today, Today, we fish to the Northeast. And by gosh we did.  That we seldom came back light was a testament to his skill.
We now have all sorts of sophisticated equipment to help us in our quest.  Some outfits use planes to find their catches.  We have side scanning sonar, water temperature gauges, color graph recorders, and salinity testers.  We have G.P.S. and LORAN, fast-freeze fish holds, and motherships that can process 20,000 pounds of fish a day.
But we’re missing two important things.  First and foremost are the fish.  We have depleted nearly every commercially viable food stock in the waters of the world.  Haddock no longer swarm the Great Banks, Whiting have disappeared, and lobsters are nearly on the endangered species list, as is their habitat.  We have become so good at using our machines, it has taken the element of chance out of the search.  And in doing so, we have almost eliminated what we were looking for.  No longer does the prey have a fighting chance.  They can run, but they can’t hide.
And we have lost something as equally important, but not nearly as obvious. 
We’ve lost our ability to appreciate the world around us.  Our sense of smell, after being assaulted for thousands of years by urban pollution, is a mere vestige of what our ancestors probably had.  We have learned to tune out the constant racket of our lives.  Horns blaring and planes screaming overhead.  Quiet disturbs us and we immediately fill the void by climbing into our cars and blasting the radio so loud that the windows actually flex in and out.
I am not a Luddite nor am I a techno-phobe.  I’m using a state of the art computer to write this while listening to Patsy Cline on the same machine.  I drive a beast of car that has a stereo that can drown out the landing of a 747, and insulates me from most of the bumps in the road.
But sometimes, when I’m stuck on I-95 in morning rush hours, I long for the days when at the break of dawn, all you would hear is old Bill saying, Today, we fish to the Northeast.