I wrote an extended version of the below letter to Zigzag, a South African surfing magazine, a while back. The editor felt the message needed to get published so it appears in its "Letters to the Editor" section. It returned a surprising response so I thought I would share this story here. My idea behind writing this is that perhaps the key to solving issues is informing people of why fishing is wrong, why the sea isn't like it was previously, why fewer and fewer fish are being caught and then offering an informed solution. Educate and enable if you will.
A recent morning surf took an unexpected turn when a fisherman hooked a small round ribbontail ray, bringing it onto the rocks amidst curious onlookers. As I paddled in over the rocks to see what was caught I saw that instead of removing the hook and releasing the ray as I expected him to do, said fisherman stabbed his knife into the gills of the ray to kill the animal. He then removed the hook. Blood flowed heavily from its gills with each dying movement.
Almost immediately four perfectly formed, yet sadly under developed, rays were born into the blood-stained pool. Mother and progeny were discarded back into the ocean. Dead.
Curious onlookers took photos, oblivious of the tragedy they were witnessing.
An event not isolated to that specific morning. A logic assumed to ensure that future baits aren't destroyed by these "pests." It all makes sense if you don't know how these systems and food webs work. The fisherman simply does not understand that what he did was ecologically wrong, and is actually worse for his already crummy fishing success.
It is not too difficult a concept: removing unwanted "pests" such as sharks and rays has hefty knock-on effects down the food chain. This leads to ecosystem collapse, barren waters and no more fish to catch. This is not a theory and there is no "maybe" in this equation. This has happened, and is happening, all over the world. It is happening here in South Africa too.
With more pressure being placed on our ecosystems every day perhaps those in the know – surfers and beach goers alike – could educate the ignorant to try and stop such senseless waste. Perhaps events such as the one I witnessed on a popular beach could cease - and not due to a tragic lack of animals.