Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Protect Native Species...Or Die!

“Once caught never returned” is the motto of the Exotic Fishing Tournament hosted by the Native Fish Conservancy (NFC). Participating anglers are encouraged to keep all the "invasive" fish species they catch. The team with the greatest number of exotics wins the $200.00 grand prize. How the angler opts to use the fish is of no interest to the NFC. The organization's press release reads,
“We encourage everyone to treat exotics with reckless, fishing exuberance. If you catch exotics, aquarium-keep them, grill them, feed them to your pets, turn them into fertilizer. Do anything except return them to their former homes.”

I believe that the human contribution to the contemporary, epic loss of biodiversity is a sin (of a decidedly secular variety). Fewer species translates into less genetic, dietary and behavioral variety, making it that much more difficult for Nature to adapt in the future.

Nevertheless, when I first read about the Exotic Fishing Tournament, I cast nervous glances at my fellow subway commuters, worried that they might notice the, um, "material" in my hands.

As Timothy Burke (Easily Distracted) writes,
“I do wonder about that attitude a bit, not just in the context of fishing, but as a whole. When I read some of the material on the dangers of invasive species, its rhetoric and tropes sometimes seem uncannily familiar, reminding me very much of ideas about race, miscegenation and nativism in modern colonialism, in post-colonial nationalism, and in identity politics. There’s some similar desire to stop the forward motion of change, to fix environments (human or natural) in their tracks, the same suspicion of dynamism. What is particularly striking to me is that the arguments against 'invasive species' even from scientists sometimes seem not so much technical or scientific (when they are, they usually rest on the relatively weak assertion that there is a burning necessity for general biodiversity that trumps all other possible principles of ecological stewardship) but mostly aesthetic.”
Excepting my belief that greater biodiversity does make for a healthier ecosystem, I am in total agreement. Strangely, I do not find it uncomfortable to occupy such an ambivalent position. I argue stridently for both sides of the coin, perfectly content in my hypocrisy. To better explain myself, I turn to the conclusion of an old artist statement.
“My own opinions and arguments are flawed, of course. Nature is not a comprehensible entity; she is indifferent to humanity. Given the burgeoning world population and our reluctance to consider serious action, it is naïve of me to think it possible for humanity to live in a truly sustainable fashion. Simply because an ideal is unattainable, however, one need not abandon it. In fact, acknowledging contradiction can better serve the individual; in a world increasingly consumed by ambivalence and captivated by cleverly marketed distractions, we must accept some degree of contradiction in order to further progress. We can aim for sustainability only if we accept the complexity of the task. In essence, this is the stuff of art – a flawed platform with no up or down, no east or west, on which to build the self and, in turn, shape objects to explain the proposed self. Art reveals the private obsessions of the psyche and better expresses the individual’s inner fragmentation, a consequence of the ideal being at odds with the real.”
As the quote suggests, the flawed platform is as applicable to conservation as it is to art making. Some degree of relativism is necessary when considering invasive species. For example, zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorph) and European carp (Cyprinus carpio) are greater threats to biodiversity than multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). All three are exotic/invasive species, but we need not raise an uproar about the latter species.

I hope many of the anglers participating in the Exotic Fishing Tournament treat their quarry with respect. Throwing away or otherwise mistreating fish of any species is wrong but, given the nature of this affair, the celebrated waste would be that much more unsettling.

Photo credit:


Devo said...

Wow, HH... as usual, a thought provoking and complex statement on an issue that I'd always thought I'd held an invincible stance. I've always taken the anti-invasive species route.

My high school environmental education teacher used to set up bluebird houses all around our high school grounds. He was of the opinion that this gentle (and native to southeastern PA) little bird was threatened by the explosion of Starling and Swallow populations introduced from England. These nasty birds would co-opt the bluebird nests, kill the inhabitants by pecking holes in the backs of their heads, and incorporate the dead birds into their monster-lair nests. So when the class would go outside to learn about the very thing you so stridently defend - biodiversity - he would inspect the houses he built for Starling or Swallow nests, and if he found any of the offending bird babies, he'd grab 'em and break their necks. All in the name of preserving a declining yet integral link in the ecosystem as he saw it. That extreme reaction to invasive birds always seemed a bit over the top to me, but his message seemed perfectly legitemate. If the invasive birds found a niche they were able to exploit to the detriment of already established species, then first the established species would be edged out, and then the invasive species would flourish (due to lack of predators) and eventually destroy another node of the web of life (the prey they were decimating because there were so many of 'em) thereby destroying any modicum of biodiversity that had existed before the introduction of said species.

The same exact thing goes for the devil weed, Kudzu. Have you ever driven past a forest that had been overrun by the stuff? Really scary. It's like creeping death: choking majestic, hundred foot tall trees with its blanket of creeping shadow.

I don't understand how allowing things like the birds or the vines to flourish can possibly increase biodiversity if they are responsible for the demise of more links in the chain than they replace. Especially if the only reason they arrive in a foreign biome is because humans have stashed 'em away on a ship or something similar. After all, isn't one of the big reasons we have such strict customs laws to preserve biodiversity by not introducing potentially exploitative species???

Further example: the invasive wild pigs of Hawaii. They're killing loads of cute lil' animals, and they have no predators. That's sapping the biodiversity of a lush, tropical paradise more quickly than coal plants or nuclear power plants ever could!

Thanks for giving my brain a good workout so early on a Thursday, HH!!!

Hungry Hyaena said...


I whole heartedly agree with you.

As I said, I am content in the ambivalence, equally strident about both controlling/fighting the exotic invasion and, on the other hand, keeping in mind a long-term perspective which acknowledges the inherit xenophobia and questions the legitimacy of Nature's being less adaptable with fewer species.

Your high school teacher was making an extreme point, but Sturnus vulgaris, despite being one of my favorite species, is a real nightmare for the Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) and many other species. Kudzu, like the European starling, is also a scourge. Sure, it looks nice climbing up a brick wall, but what of the roadside creek flora it will strangle and suffocate?

Sadly, I don't think strict custom laws were designed with biodiveristy in mind. Commerce rules the halls of legislation, but now we may see new bills and laws that reflect the growing awareness of the "other."

That said, though the introduced feral pigs on Hawaii are a real threat, every native creature on that island chain evolved from creatures that migrated there, by wind or by water, millions of years ago. They, like an Irish-American today, are natives with roots on foreign soil.

Devo said...

Ain't it tough to be sensitive and intelligent in today's messed up world? As far as I'm concerned, I think I tend toward the Buddhist approach to making the world a "better place"... if I change MY mind, it will slowly affect other minds until a general trend starts to unfold. I'd call it "Environmental Bodhisattva-ism" if that made any sense... Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't, but the sentiment is there. The more I get all strung out over how enormous oil companies are still using single-hulled tankers that were bolted together fifty years ago, the less I'm able to focus on maintaining my compost pile... and I have far more control over the latter than I do the former... Same with wild pigs on Hawaii...

If only our actions were capable of reflecting the enormity of what we can hold in our hearts. Then we could transform the universe in the blink of an eye.

OGeorge said...

The story of my life, being on both sides of the invasive species issue; made even more hypocritical by my being a member of the grand Pooh-Bah of invasive species, and the grand enabler of too many others.

the Mantis said...

Damn, Hyaena, you sure do know how to spark an interesting debate!...unfortunately, without links to the new Good Charlotte gossip or discussions about what Paris Hilton wore to the Nickelodean Kids Choice Awards, I'm not sure I will be able to sustain this level of discourse... ; )

Hungry Hyaena said...


Indeed the grand Pooh-Bah. Indeed the grand enabler. basically, we're just all around grand...


The previous post had a picture of Cameron Diaz and mentioned MTV. That's pretty damned good, right?

jon said...

After we paid for our kids summer camp michigan we found it tough to recover! I totally agree with you!

Self-righteous said...

I will be the next member of "Environmental Bodhisattva-ism". I don't normally join others but this sounds right to me. (You may join me in "Pragmatic Pantheism" if you'd like, although I've been the sole member for 50 years.)
The idea of slowly but inexorably taking over, like infiltrating and fighting the ginormous multinationals that poison us for profit on a daily basis, appeals to me. It's the old David and Goliath syndrome -- the powerless bringing down the super-colossus. Is this a paradox? One is okay and the kudzu isn't? I think not. We want to rid ourselves of that which threatens us. That makes sense, right?