I went fishing for the first time in a year or two yesterday, on Cape Cod. There’s a lot of pleasure in it: the getting up early, the hanging with a guy you like for a few hours, the risk (of navigating through fog), the water, the geography. And yes, the blood pursuit, which has always attracted me. That said, I wonder if I’m not getting too sensitive for fishing, or if the world hasn’t changed to make it seem too barbaric.
I caught a few fish and was struck by how incredibly beautiful the fish are in the water and how ghastly the process is of removing them from their element. They’re only a couple of pounds, and yet against overwhelming odds, they fight you to their utmost, and hold their own for a minute or so. Then you see the white curving flash of their scales, their twisted agonized bodies, close to the boat. One of them managed to break the line at this point, and more power to him. A few others I got on the boat. Even the ones we threw back left blood on the deck, and then too, at that last moment, in the water or being lifted in, they vomited. Spewed their last meal of minnows on to your hands or into the net, on to the deck. Some instinct, my brother-in-law said.
I thought the vomiting was resignation. That they’d fought for the last few minutes and somehow always thought they were going to win. And then they at last realized they weren’t going to win, and used their most extreme measure, of disgorging everything they’d eaten. It reminded me of the moments at the end of the bullfight when the bull at last realizes it’s going to die. It’s been denying this the whole time, and thinking it’s going to win. It’s a proud, amazing creature in that time, then it’s bested and it slumps and loses its belief in itself. In the life of the bullfight, that’s a horrifying, humiliating interval, after the bull’s spirit is broken. The actual murder of the bull is anticlimactic. Or maybe in the fish’s case it is just completely terrified.
Anyway, I went home disturbed. I ate my fish–that of course was our rationale–and brought up my discomfort at dinner. A group of people began arguing about what the fish does or doesn’t feel, a conversation I wanted no part of. A niece of mine, who doesn’t fish but eats them, said that her response to the brutality of the process is to name the fish. Sort of Native American.
When I said that the world may be changing, I mean that we are evolving, growing more sensitive to the destruction of animals. Witness the Michael Vick case. Twenty years ago I doubt there would have been an outcry. When we were on the water yesterday, we saw a bunch of Vietnamese guys in a boat with too many rods. And my brother-in-law said that the Vietnamese are often accused of poaching, taking undersized stripers. So add the deplenishment of the seas, and of course the wanton expenditure of cheap oil, to the cruelty.