Big Game Fishing

Big Game Fishing

The life of a journalist, and the way they perceive the world, is of necessity different. If you’re a professional, you should suspend your perceptions in order to tell a story as objectively as possible. This is not always easy, as we all bring experience, biases and opinions to the table. I sit typing this on the deck of one of the units at Sodwana Bay Lodge. There is a gentle breeze, and you can smell and hear the sea. Looking out over an indigenous forest, I can see a beautiful little lake. The wind ripples the surface, and a fish eagle flies overhead, occasionally calling. It’s cloudy with intermittent sunshine, when the greens of the forest are almost psychedelic! In the distance, you can hear the occasional call of the monkeys. 

The OET Bill & Game Fish Tournament is in its 45th year, and Cross Country is one of the sponsors. I was invited by the team to join them at the event to create content for this newsletter. Coming into this event, I have mixed feelings. I have grown up in a family of fishermen. My grandfather was a big game fisherman, who used to haul a huge boat called “Spurwing” all the way up to Mozambique. This rig was suspended on an enormous metal trailer, and the term ‘road’ was a far looser concept than today. They pushed, and shoved, and roped in the local population to assist. From the time they crossed the border, life was one grand adventure – all the way up to Inhambane or Inhassoro and the legendary Bazaruto Island. The tales of those times enchanted me and led to a fascination with characters such as Ernest Hemingway. I too used to fish – mainly for trout. That said, when I started scuba diving, I no longer had any desire to fish. They say that many ‘hunters’ eventually have a defining moment where they turn into a conservationist. That was mine…

In this column, I share my original perceptions and my opinion on the subject. A gut reaction based on no more than my current knowledge. Once you have done the research, your views change – and my wish is to start this series with perceptions held prior to research, followed by columns detailing the realities of the situation which are backed up by research and facts. The idea is to explore the concepts together, to make sense of all the issues in a factual way rather than a response based on emotion. Once you “know”, you cannot “un-know”. What do I mean by this? Once you have done the research, it is very difficult to go back and view a subject the way you did before.

I sit quietly and analyse my feelings on the subject. On an emotional level, it pains me to see one of the most beautiful creatures of the ocean fighting for its life – in the name of sport. The colours on a live marlin are spectacular and must be observed firsthand to appreciate their brilliance. Their iridescent blue flashes when they “light up”. The minute they begin to die, the colour starts to fade – ultimately becoming a dull, almost-uniform grey. It feels as though the life of a particularly beautiful butterfly has been snuffed out. That said, this competition is catch-and-release – which we will also discuss in one of the upcoming columns.

Using a more pragmatic approach, tournaments such as these bring much-needed tourism and financial injections to remote villages that would otherwise remain undeveloped. Both our population and conservation bodies desperately need this. My view is that tourism is / could be one of the most important drivers of the rejuvenation of our economy. I am told that for every 12 new tourists, one new job is created. However, the environmental impact must be managed. Tourism could drive real sustainable rural development and economic transformation of poorer areas.

Concerning declines in catch rates have been reported for the Blue marlin and it has been evaluated as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (2010). The Black marlin is evaluated at Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List (2009), but the catches have also been dropping significantly. The Sailfish is also listed as Vulnerable. The law in South Africa says that no person may participate in or arrange any fishing competition within the Marine Protected Area – “without a permit”. My question is this: How can you have ANY fishing in a Protected Area?

I recently had a conversation where someone expressed doubt that a marlin can survive the amount of lactic acid in its body created by, for example, a three-hour fight. So, would it work to implement a cap on the time you’re allowed to fight a marlin? And if so, how would you release it? Cut the line, leaving the hook in? Would a marlin be able to eat with a hook in its mouth? And how long would it take to rust out? All interesting options which we will be exploring…

Much as there is a level of hypocrisy inherent in judging the slaughter of animals immoral when you eat meat or wear leather, is there something illogical about objecting to game fishing if you purchase frozen hake at your local supermarket? Does one rank certain fish over others in terms of their right to life? And if so, what are the criteria used for such a ranking system? Many have emotional responses to this question, yet a response is required to be based on logic, facts and research to have validity. In Africa in particular, if a conservation initiative cannot sustain itself financially (and ideally provide income to the local population to boot) the land is often put to an alternative use. These issues are fraught with complicated arguments and political rhetoric. 

Next week we start taking a ‘deep dive’ into some of these issues, so stay with us to get some of the answers.

The views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Cross Country.

Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team

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