Casting Away Cruelty: A Former Fisher’s Tale

As Father’s Day approaches and the weather begins to warm, I remember fond memories of childhood adventures with my stepfather by my side. At the start of the official fishing season in Upstate New York, we would gather our equipment to prepare for our first trip of the year to the lake.

In the past, I would patiently wait for the first warm day to arrive and hit the cold water or the docks of Cayuga Lake and angle for the wide variety of fish species abundant in the region: bass, trout, perch, catfish, and pike occupy the cold waters of the 40-mile-long lake. While I would try to catch trout, I would inevitably end up with a bucket full of perch.

Hanging Up My Hooks for Veganism

Since 2012, when I committed to going vegan, I hung up my rod and reel for the last time and have since adopted a new diet and a new way to “fish” the waters of the Finger Lakes with my 10-year-old son in tow. Together my children and I create memories built on a foundation of a more compassionate way of living in harmony with nature. We adventure without causing harm or taking what was never ours to have.

Thanks, in part, to the zebra mussels that have been introduced to the lakes and rivers of the region, the waters are more clear than ever. In some instances, like in the Thousand Islands, you can see to the bottom of the river as if looking through green glass for upwards of 20 feet. While this invasive mollusk species is unwelcome for the feeding fish and other marine life, they open up new opportunities for glass-bottom boat tours and what I’ve dubbed “fish watching.”

Enjoying Fish Without Causing Harm

Taken from a page in the bird watchers playbook, fish watching is exactly what it sounds like. We perch (pun intended) ourselves on the edge of a break wall or dock or, if we’re fortunate, on the side of a rowboat or canoe and spot the wide array of fish in their natural habitat and log them in our fish book.

Scurrying out from under a rock, we’ll spot a rock bass. Feeding along the sandy bottom, we spot giant catfish. Popping their heads up to feed, we eye-striped perch. And, if we’re lucky, we catch a glimpse of a rainbow trout or landlocked salmon working her way up the inlet.

Each fish is found in our fish identification book and recorded in our field guide. We end each day having explored a variety of state parks and marinas and feel accomplished when we’ve spotted more, or new, fish than the weekend before.

Magnet Fishing: Fun and Good for the Environment

Another great alternative to traditional fishing with reels and hooks is magnet fishing. Magnet fishing spares the fish and helps clean our waters by removing trash and debris. People passionate about this sport view it as a treasure hunt with infinite possibilities. A strong magnet is attached to a long rope and is thrown or dropped into a body of water. As the “fisher” pulls the magnet along the bottom of the water source, it attracts metal objects onto the “hook” and draws them to the surface. There is no limit to what you can find magnet fishing, but leaving an area as clean or cleaner than you found it is imperative.

The Cruelty of Fishing

Even with a catch-and-release program, fishing is cruel and abusive to the animals. Luring them and fighting them to the surface causes a great deal of stress on their bodies, and once landed, the fish suffocates as air is drawn through their gills in search of the oxygen normally filtered through water.

Fish have feelings. Fish learn from each other and pass down this information through generations. Essentially, one family of fish can have cultural traditions (certain behaviors, feeding techniques, preferred locations, etc.) unique to their family that are passed along to the next generation and so on. Some fish can recognize and remember different human faces and have been known to interact with humans playfully.

Commercial Fishing: Unthinkable Harm and Irreparable Damage

Recreational anglers in the U.S. alone caught an estimated 1 billion fish, and the numbers of fish internationally caught for food are impossible to calculate, not to mention the bycatch. Humans are stripping the waterways, rivers, and oceans of an ecosystem balance, all in the name of “food.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are alternative protein and Omega-3 sources derived from plants and an ever-expanding line of vegan seafood.

Fishing, not unlike hunting, tears natural wildlife from their habitat and is contributing to the climate crisis. All animals have every right to life and freedom we do on this shared planet. So, the next time you’re near water, look down; there are countless species of fish to learn about who might remember your kindness.

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