Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Voices from the Past: An Early Conservationist (1883)

British outdoor writer Froude Bellew was an early proponent of catch-and-release. In Baily's Monthly Magazine of Sports and Pastimes for May 1883, in an article on the Fisheries Exhibition in Berlin, he gave an early and very passionate articulation of conservation:

The late Frank Buckland … recalls to mind the legislation he promoted for preventing the sale of small lobsters, and the accompanying stupidity … of permitting that crustacean delicacy of the table to be captured while it is in spawn, so that cooks may have coral wherewith to ornament their entrees. Imagine the case of the salmon, that as some people are fond of what is called "the pea," i.e. the ova of the female, gravid fish should have protection, but should be at the mercy of their captors during their times of spawning! Were that to be permitted, how long would it be ere our supplies of salmon become exhausted? Not very long, we opine. … Immature fish should have a chance given them of growing bigger, so that they might become of still greater food value. "All little fish should be restored to the water;" this is a maxim we have always inculcated, both in case of trout and salmon angling, but particularly as regards trout fishing. It is melancholy to see an angler gloating over the capture of half-a-dozen fish, that do not weigh, all put together, as many ounces, and which if they had been restored to the water might in time have grown into presentable animals. The same has to be said of all our anglers' fishes, from the kingly salmon down to the lowly chubb or dace. We have seen specimens greedily caught, that, had they been left for another year, would have formed a feature of a basket, and mayhap taken a prise; but the greed of some of our anglers is proverbial, not will it be stayed till it is made a punishable offence to capture a fish so immature that it presumably has never been given an opportunity of repeating the story of its birth. These are what may be called the generalities of the fishing economy, but they do not the less demand our attention. If we were to kill all our lambs, from whence would we derive our mutton? Kill all our griilses, and where will you get your future supplies of salmon?

What is amazing about this soliloquy is that it sees the importance of protecting all fish, not just salmon. His words are as useful today as when they were written 140 years ago.

-- Dr. Todd

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