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Here is a little true fishing story about the value of fishing catch and release and sustainability.

The Great South Bay “Bottle Fish” (pictured above)–decimated by over-fishing of it, its food sources, (clams and scallops), loss of habitat, and pollution.

When I was a little guy, growing up in the maritime community of Sag Harbor on eastern Long Island, New York, my friends and father and their fathers and brothers and sisters fished as frequently as the weather allowed.  Since the town was not known for the wealth of the year-round residents (aka “townies”) us residents fished largely from shore or bounced sinkers from small boats.  And in those days it was productive enough.

The popular and common catch of the time was what we called “bottle-fish”, a species of puffer fish that hugged the bottom, with a topside colored and dappled to blend into the vagueness  of the bottom and a white belly studded with little spines that stood out even more when the animal puffed up like a balloon as a defense against predators.  Cut bait, mostly squid pieces where the preferred bait, (although pretty much anything would work) stuck on small curved hook on a length of mono-filament leader and a 1 – 2 ounce lead sinker.

For us, it was hard not to catch bottle fish.  They were everywhere we could reach and then some:  cast from the shore or drop a sinker from a boat from two feet to four fathoms and chances are that tug at the end of the line was a bottle fish.  Not much of fighter and not much of a fight on the mid-weight, all purpose tackle we all used–we couldn’t afford lighter or heavier tackle for variety, so the standard stiff boat rod with a crank reel (level wind if you were lucky enough to afford one) was what we all carried over our shoulders as we walked to our favorite spots.

They were mighty tasty and easy to clean.  Slice just behind the skull but just a bit into the camouflage skin above the white belly; put the head over a nail protruding from a board and pull the bottom white skin down until the flesh began to show, then invert and yank out the flesh.  These weren’t big animals, maybe two pounds, at most if that, but what you got as a reward was a lovely filet of off-white meat with a simple cartilage backbone down the center.  In the Harbor, Moms fried them up, floured, egg-dipped and breaded in oil over medium heat and turned out a fantastic meal.  As a kid I ate more bottle fish than burgers.

Back then, the tourists (we called them “tour-ons” as in “morons” and still do) would bring back bushel loads of these tasty fish just to prove their “prowess” and then throw the catch away.  They thought they were poisonous but that didn’t stop the tour-ons from  yanking them up and throwing them into a basket to die for no good reason.  As kids we would hang around the docks waiting for these fools to return from their desperate battles with these little goodies and ask these brave fake fishermen what they were going to do with all those bottle fish.  “Nothing” was always the answer, “Why, you want ’em?  They’re poisonous, you know kid.”  “Yeah, I know, but my Mother says they’re the best fertilizer for her roses.”…We all carried a length of line coiled around the handle bars of our bikes so we could secure that basket of fish and then scamper on home to start cleaning dinner.  We knew the value of fishing catch and release because we never kept more than we could eat…and freezers weren’t that big and popular back then.

We laughed at the tour-ons then for their ignorance and in hind-sight, we should have chastised them for the genocide they wrought on the species.  There hasn’t been a bottle fish caught in Sag Harbor since I became an adult, and that was a long, long time ago.

Which gets me to the point of the blog and an introduction to much of my purpose:  be aware of sustainability.  There is no argument to the statement that man has not been a good steward or tenant of the planet.  What was once thought to in-exhaustible is now  scarcer and scarcer.  The endangered species list gets larger each year when it shouldn’t exist at all.

Think about it.

Keep it to eat it or release it; follow the rules and regulations.

These fish below are displayed on the same dock in the Florida Keys, pretty much all the same species, but the photo on the right was taken 50 years after the black and white photo on the left…and, there was a major change in species composition.  We know what “stress” does to us, now consider what “stress” in the form of over-fishing, food source decline, loss of habitat, pollution, and even “chemical” changes to the oceans (increase/decrease in salinity and/or oxygen) does to the fishing stocks in the planet’s oceans.

Please take a few moments to check at the “sustainability blog” … you may be quite surprised, and hopefully, encouraged to act.  I thank you, the kids growing up in Sag Harbor and other such towns thank you, and…the fish thank you.