Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Piscatorial Correction

I wasn’t designed to fish. Oh, I’ve tried several times over the past few decades. The concept is appealing in some ways. But after making all necessary preparations - assembling the gear, purchasing a license, and finding a likely spot on the water – I cast out a line. And wait. And wait. And wait. The seconds tick by with nary a bite. Nary a nibble. Zilch. After about thirty seconds or so, I declare "Enough of this. They’re just not biting, and I don’t have all day." It’s not that I lack patience. It’s just that I lack patience for fishing.

Nevertheless, the idea of fishing and, particularly, the idea of fishing these mountain waters is something I like to consider. But the latest fish news has not been good news. Add those little swimmers to the long list of the victims of our excesses.

A couple of weeks ago in The Smoky Mountain News Becky Johnson reported on mercury contamination in walleye taken from Fontana Lake.

About the same time, another report was making headlines, although not enough headlines, as far as I’m concerned:

40% of Freshwater Fish Imperiled
Federal Scientists: Rate of Decline Is "Staggering"

Here’s how one writer summarized that study:

In a report that would seem more likely coming from an environmental group than the Bush Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey has reported a "staggering" 92% increase in just 20 years in the number of North American freshwater fish considered imperiled.

Now nearly 40% of all freshwater fish species in North America are "in jeopardy" -- 700 species that are either vulnerable, threatened or endangered. And that doesn't even consider the 61 fishes that have already gone extinct.

The full report of the study is available online and worth a read:

Also this month, I heard another news report and thought about those beleaguered fish. We learned that American hospitals flush 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals down the drain every year.

Can anyone tell me if this is standard procedure for Westcare? Can anyone tell me if the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority is monitoring the release of pharmaceuticals from its treatment plant on the banks of our beloved river? Has anyone asked the fish how they like those extra hormones and antibiotics and who-knows-what?

Just wondering.


This all reminded me of one of my favorite passages about fishing in the mountains. Charles Lanman included the following lesson on the nomenclature of Appalachian ichthyology in his book, Letters from the Alleghany Mountains:

The distance from Murphy to this place is reported to be fifty miles. For twenty miles the road runs in full view of Valley river, which is worthy in every particular of the stream into which it empties, the Owassa. It is a remarkably cold and translucent stream, and looks as if it ought to contain trout, but I am certain that it does not.

On inquiring of a homespun angler what fish the river did produce, he replied : "Salmon, black trout, red horse, hog-fish, suckers and cat-fish." I took the liberty of doubting the gentleman's word, and subsequently found out that the people of this section of country call the legitimate pickerel the "salmon," the black bass the " black trout," the mullet the "red horse," and a deformed sucker the " hog-fish."

And now, while I think of it, I would intimate to my friends residing on the Ohio (to which glorious river all the streams of this region pay tribute) that their salmon is none other than the genuine pickerel of the North and South, their white perch only the sheep's head of the great lakes, and their black perch is but another name for the black or Oswego bass. So much for a piscatorial correction.

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