Photograph by Steve Barnett

Sunday, 29 July 2012

A Lucky Fish but an Ethical Quandary

This Wednesday it was after 8.30 pm when Henry and his faithful servant managed to get out, rushing, with little time, the little pocket camera was left behind in error.  Luckily the mobile 'phone was not forgotten.

Note the pan bottomed big landing net, another carry-over from coarse fishing
This brown trout was the second fish we caught.  The grayling prior to this was photographed so badly with the 'phone that it would be an insult to you all to put it on here.  This picture of the brownie is not much better either but worth a look all the same...

I'm sure it is a fish I caught a year ago at this same place.  It was in a bad way with a dirty great big hole just in front of its dorsal fin. At just under ten inches long it was a (lucky) victim of an assault by a heron.  Nevertheless it was feeding well on spinners or else it wouldn't have been caught.  Nature has endowed fish with the ability to recover from injury but it is by no means a foregone conclusion that recovery and survival is a certainty.  Here's where an ethical question rears its ugly head...

What to do with a naturally injured fish?

1 ~ Do we say to ourselves "Oh it is likely to suffer and die slowly so put it out of its misery" and then kill it cleanly?

2 ~ Or, do we simply release it to let Nature take its course, on the very noble principle of don't intervene?

3 ~ Or, do we intervene?  Do we try to give that fish a slightly better chance of full recovery by a little rapid, riverside, First Aid?

The answer to the first question, for me, has to be a resounding "No!" when fishing Catch & Release.  Even a bleeding fish gets released under the principle that it might make it if you let it go and we can be sure it won't make it if we hit it on the head!

But what about options 2 and 3?

Confession time, I'm too soft hearted to not intervene.  I'm one of the daft beggars that rescues flies from raindrop bombing, gets bitten and kicked when pulling a sheep out of a bog it has sunken into, puts food out for the birds, grows plants that butterflies can feed on.  I intervene.

There is a product, obtainable from coarse fishing shops, that carp anglers use to medicate wounds on the carp they capture.  It's called Medicarp Ultra and if applied to a wound on a fish it cures to make an antiseptic, protective film and speeds up the healing process.  It comes in a little bottle and you just drip a drop onto the wound and then carefully release the fish.

Maybe our lucky brownie would have recovered fully anyway, but now a good three inches longer than at our last meeting, I like to think that the intervention helped a little in the trout's efforts to regain lost energy and time spent in repairs rather than growth.

Is intervention a good thing?  Is it even acceptable?  Don't shoot me if I've got it wrong though...

Regular Rod


  1. Very good question Rod and one that I don't think has a 100% correct answer. I agree that #1 is out of the question for me. I lean towards #2, let him go and let nature take over. There was a natural order to things before man came along...the fish either made it or didn't. Called survival of the fittest. On the other hand, if I saw someone nursing a fish to health, I wouldn't think there was anything wrong with that either.

    1. Your point is a strong one Howard but I'd already made matters worse for this fish by catching him just when he needed all the calories and rest he could get. Man had literally come along and reparation seemed the best policy, not only to help overcome the injury from the heron but to compensate, in a small way, for the harm I had already done...

      All's well that ends well though. The fish is doing well and will be passing on those "lucky" genes that maybe helped it escape from the stabbing in the first place.

  2. One of the most interesting scenerios I've ever seen on any blog! I certainly wouldn't kill the trout. I do occasionally take fish that have tangled with a heron and when I do I make every effort to revive them and release them. As to providing first aid, I've removed a great many flies or bait hooks that have been left in fish by other anglers when the fish evidently broke off their lines, but I've never heard of a medication that was available to treat the wounds.
    I believe the problem we might run into here is that the Division of Wildlife would have to approve the practice. I do know that, if for example, you were to find a doe deer that has been hit by a car, but her fawn is along side the road that your only legal option is to call the DOW or let them or local law enforcement handle the situation. If a bystander were to put the doe down, regardless of her suffering, technically that constitutes poaching and they do write folks up in those situations. If a person attempted to restrain the fawn that would fall under harassing wildlife statues. As to providing first aid to fish, I wouldn't have a clue as to how the Division of Wildlife would react to the practice.
    I will say this. After watching anglers mishandle fish and many who really don't have a clue as to how to properly revive and release a trout, it's both a shock and honor to run into an angler that is so caring.

    1. That is very knd of you to say so Midgeman, but I am not alone and am not the first to do this. In the UK we call fish without an adipose fin "coarse" fish. Coarse fishermen and women have a policy of returning their catch that goes back a hundred years or so. We are taught early on how to take care that the fish come to no harm.

      Medication came on the scene when some carp enthusiasts brought it with them from their other hobby, which was fish keeping in aquaria and ponds at home. This lead to some of the rest of us copying their example.

  3. I've never heard of this product. I'd use it if it was close to hand, but not sure I'd want to carry it on every trip as I don't come across that many damaged fish. Interestingly though, last week caught an 11" brownie that had an horrendous, partially healed cut so deep into its flesh just in front of the dorsal that I was amazed it had survived so far. It was totally unmarked on the other. Sent camera photo to Riverkeeper and he said that it looked like a slash from the weedcutting scythe, a hopefully rare occurrence. If it had been seen at the time he might have culled it, but it was was obviously recovering,might be attributable to water condition, if it had died or floundered, it might have become food for a larger fish.....the circle of life.