The Fish Story

High-Energy Debate Over Electrical Fishing Methods; Good Thing That Storm Was a One-Day Fast’easter

By JAY MANN | Oct 31, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

This is a mildly but effectively shocking story regarding a commercial fishing method that’s all the buzz in Europe. As we ponder humanely buzzing lobsters with cannabis before boiling, folks abroad are debating the use of electro-buzzing to literally shock bottom-dwelling flatfish, like Dover sole, out of their muddy haunts – and into awaiting nets.

It’s called pulse trawling, an electrifying fishing technique developed by a Danish research team seeking a way to eliminate the spooking-up of fish by dragging of environmentally ruinous chains and steel beams/plates along the sea floor. That heavy-metal method of bottom fishing is widely used, even though it’s provenly cruel to all bottom-dwelling lifeforms. What’s more, vessels burn through tons of fuel when towing around such weighty bottom-disturbers.

So, is a mild form of electroshock-therapy the eco-answer to less-destructive flatfish harvesting? One of my new best-ever friends, the European Parliament, has pondered the possibility – and said thanks but no thanks to the method.

The thanks part is sincere, as the EU recognizes and even compliments the developers of pulse fishing for thinking outside the box in their effort to reduce bottom ruination. The no thanks is just as sincere, vis-à-vis “This simply has a bad feel to it,” so much so that the EU law-making arm, the European Parliament, has voted to ban what it portrays as the unadvisable buzz bombing of ocean bottoms.

Expectedly, electro-fishermen are shocked at the negative response to what they continue to see as a move toward more ecologically sound fishing. Echoing their sediments – make that sentiments – are a number of green groups, like Greenpeace Netherlands, that are opposed to the EU’s snub of pulse trawling. At the same time, other blue/green groups are fully on board with the ban, feeling that voltage bursts have no safe place in any ocean environment.

In a article headlined “Tensions flare over electric fishing in European waters,” Erik Stokstad writes, “The proposed end to pulse trawling – in which short bursts of electricity get flatfish out of the sediment and into nets – is a major disappointment to Dutch fishing companies, which have invested heavily in the technology; they claim it’s less damaging to marine ecosystems than traditional bottom trawling and saves energy. But some environmental groups applaud the parliament’s decision.”

Among those applauding the EU de-electrification effort is the nonprofit conservation organization BLOOM, based in Paris and Hong Kong. Per that group’s head, Claire Nouvian, “There shouldn’t be any use of electric current. We’ve got enough evidence to know this is nonsense.” Her evidence includes findings from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which pointed out collateral electronic harm that might befall large cod and whiting. At the same time, that council’s findings indicate that the overall electro-threat to bottom creatures is likely minimal. Further research indicates those creatures accidently impacted recover quickly.

As the pulse fishing saga remains a hot-wire issue – one possibly heading our way – I think many of us might agree, possibly only passively, there seems to be something intrinsically unfair about using electro-freak-out techniques to jolt happily resting fish out of their down-underness. But might other bottom-based organism be more than willing to suffer through a jolt or two as opposed to having their homes ripped asunder?

As I kinda condemn pulse trawling for its electrical unfairness of sorts, some longtime readers might sense a hypocrisy on my part, harkening back to my writing about kid-times when we’d collect fistfuls of fishing worms using a hand-cranked military generator and metal rods to electrify the worm-bearing ground. Those jolted worms would all but stand on their tail ends when exploding out of the ground. Hey, I was young … and needed the worms, OK?

Along similarly charged lines, as we speak, the state of NJ is taking fish surveys in numerous lakes and ponds, using something called electrofishing. Just as it sounds, it shocks the sh-tuff out of any and all fish within the range of electrodes draped over the sides of a research vessel. The wholesale stunning makes it easy to scoop, measure and release otherwise-reluctant piscatorial survey targets.

Gratuitously, this is when I get to once again bring up the oddest of times in the 1990s when a robust colony of decidedly nonindigenous Brazilian red piranha was discovered in the front lake at Stafford Forge. I got the initial call-out from the baffled angler, who was utterly clueless about the brightly colored, nastily toothed “sunfish-like” fish. He photographed it and quickly released it, somewhat certain it was a rare and highly endangered Garden State Pinelands fish of some sort. Not quite. It was an infamous corpse-eating species that had taken reproductive root at the Forge. A couple others were caught. They had happily settled way up here. Hey, I’ve been to the Amazon, and it’s fully far away. Odds are an aquariumist had raised the ravenous fish until they had either outsized their aquarium or outbitten their welcome. In captivity, they will bite the hand that feeds them. I know this firsthand – pun intended. And, no, I wasn’t the releaser! As I recall, I made mine into sashimi. Not true! I eventually returned mine to the pet store. “Uh, these, like, grew up and stuff.”

SPEED SAVES THE DAY: What a day a difference makes. ’Twas a time, children, when nor’easters almost always blew for three days straight. It was a tradition the sky had long held to in these parts. But the skies and times they are a changin’. Face it, coastal storms have sped up, and the difference makes the day. I’ll explain.

The honking, half-day 45-mph fast’easter we had last week was plenty enough to cause some of the worst flooding certain sections of LBI have seen since you-know-who. However, that ersatz nor’easter was here and gone before the backed-up sewers even knew what hit them. It was a single high-tide flood event. In its rapid passing, it proved how sped-up storms can stave off horrible flooding.

While virtually all the media dubbed the storm a nor’easter, it totally lacked the tried and true components of a proper nor’easter. It especially lacked a blocking high-pressure system over the Canadian maritime, famed for bringing a grinding multiday halt to a northbound storm. In this case, a mere day of stormage was plenty enough to bring a number of Boulevard and bayfront buildings to within an inch of serious-grade inflow of bay water.

It doesn’t take an Island scientist to recognize the coulda-/woulda-been angle. Had that storm gone the true nor’easter route, hanging in place through a three-day series of full tidal cycles and leading to catastrophic tide stacking? We could have been neck-deep in headaches. Suffice it to say a good old nor’easter in this day and age could be a coastal wrecking ball.

Now, a quick pondering of the whyness behind the seeming speeding up of coastal storms. This is where sheer conjecture gives way to utter guesswork, which is where I become highly qualified to chime in. I’ll guessingly assure that the surface warming of Earth’s oceans, particularly in the North Atlantic, can literally suck storms rapidly out to sea. How so? They are drawn eastward by the energy magnetism arising from increasing oceanic mildness. It’s distantly akin to how a tropical cyclone follows its energizing nose, often while bulking up. By the by, this sudden theory of mine would have more and more North American storms sucking energy across the Atlantic and all the way over to Europe. Lo and check it out, this has begun to happen more often.

A tad more technical, an enhanced west-to-east Coriolis effect in the northern hemisphere also plays into steering a storm eastward.

What’s any of this guessing mean? Firstly, we might want to think about putting an abrupt stop to the unnatural heating of the ocean surfaces through flagrant abuses of the atmosphere. Until that end-of-sky-abuse day comes, it comes down to not knowing squat about what might happen next.

While many of us take potshots at what near-future skies might do, I’ll duly default back to stark reality – with maybe a touch of fear tactics – by saying we have moved into uncharted planetary territory, weather-wise. And it’s our own doing. All that planetarily happens now is unprecedented, unless we daringly flash back to the worst extinction ever known: the Permian-Triassic extinction, which killed over 90 percent of living creatures some 250 million years ago. Emerging science, tapping fossil evidence from that extinction, strongly indicates the overall culprit was, and I’m quoting, “a runaway greenhouse effect.”

Oh, I know researchers are talking about a geological event that took a million years to play out – and was thousands of times more severe than we’re moving toward. Still, it surely goes to show we’re playing with end times when taunting our planet’s delicate balance.

AUTUMN NUTSOS: The roads are alive with the corpses of roadkill squirrels. Being a wildlifer, I hate the squished look, which often leaves a bushy tail, seemingly full of life, dancing in the wind.

While being the most successful form of suburbanized wildlife, squirrels go nuts this time of year, literally. They’re fanatically squirreling away any sort of nut or bean they can sniff out. When on the autumnal hunt, they throw survival caution to the wind, especially when making road crossings.

For motorists who prefer wildlife to stay both wild and life-y, keep in mind a rather distinct mannerism of road-crossing squirrels. They’ll vigorously dash a short distance … then they stop! Then, they’ll repeat the bolt-across process, often stopping on a dime once again. Many a driver sees a squirrel’s sprint phase and figures the fluffy little bugger will just keep on truckin’. Not so. Too often, it’s “Rubber, meet Rocky.”

Therefore, give up-ahead squirrels some leeway, i.e. crossing time. Also, don’t hit the horn. That not only makes them prolong their stop but gets them bolting upright, all “WTF was that sound!?”

With that squirrel-protecting thinking in mind, never compassionately slam on the brakes when in heavy traffic. In higher-speed highway instances, Rocky will simply have to go nuts-out to survive.

RUNDOWN: There are four bass weighed into the 2018 Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic. That’s after Day 25. Eeks. That’s pretty slow. Also, the largest fish is just over 9 pounds. Eeks, that's pretty low. However, on my own advice, it’s not about size but about winningness. Those four humble fish have fine prize money and sweet gifts written all over them. For those yet to enter the classic Classic, the event is ready to heat up at the drop of a hat – a free hat just for entering. A lone big bluefish could be worth over $1,000.

As to the bass, they’re so close I can taste them. Tasting is just what I have in mind since I’ll get to keep a smaller fine-eating striper of between 24 inches and 28 inches, via my N.J. Striped Bass Bonus Program permit. You can no longer sign up for this year’s program. By the by, I got angry word about a South Jetty angler keeping a 25-incher, claiming anyone can now just keep one. I’m guessing that was a highly convenient, non-innocent misinterpretation on his part. Oh, well. I’m not the bass police.

Next week I’ll speak of the need for a minimum size break for stripers taken from the surf, a bit like the current fluke concessions used up at Island Beach.

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