"I think it's a big bass!" the grizzled, silver-haired man said as he fought with an invisible tugging force at the end of his line. Suddenly, the fish left the confines of the Tennessee River with an arching leap into the air. "Dang it!" the fisherman disgustedly exclaimed as the beautiful iridescent fish splashed back into the water. "It's a skipjack."
He fought the fish for a couple of minutes- clearly enjoying the challenge of landing it. Finally the fish was free of the water, the man retrieved some pliers from his tackle box and removed the hook from the its mouth. The fisherman then did something that puzzled me- with clear disgust- he tossed it back into the water. Being the curious person that I am, I asked him why he was so upset with his catch. He looked at me like I was an alien or worse- a Yankee. "Skipjack are trash fish. You can't eat 'em. But you can use them for bait." And with that bit of instruction- he promptly ignored me and went back to fishing.
Upon returning home, I began researching this fish known as "Skipjack." Its full common name is Skipjack Herring. The Skipjack Herring's scientific name is: Alosa (Latin definition: 'shad') chrysochloris (Greek definition: 'A Golden Green'). Other common names include: Blue Herring, Golden Shad, Green Herring, River Herring, Skipjack, Skipjack Shad, Skippy, Tennessee Tarpon, and Hickory Shad.
Cool. A herring like fish lived in the river near my home. I had no idea.
Skipjack are so named because they jump out of the water. A lot. When caught by an angler they will leap frenzilied from the water repeatedly in a crazed but valiant attempt to become free. Even though these are excellent fighting fish, (an ESPN columnist described the Skipjack's fight to catching a miniature tarpon) sportsman do not purposely try to catch Skipjack. However, there is an exception to anglers targeting these jumping fish. Monster catfish hunters will catch 100-300 Skipjack Herring a day for use as catfish bait. An ESPN contributor wrote an article for the ESPN website describing this very activity on a guided fishing trip in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. (link to ESPN article)
And that worried me- the catching of 100-300 fish in a single day- by a single person. Not for food, but for bait. That seems like such a waste. For instance, consider the following article from Wisconsin regarding the Skipjack Herring becoming endangered in their waters. And consider this: when the Skipjack becomes extinct in their waters, two other lifeforms will disappear as well. Two types of mussels are close to extinction along with the Skipjack from Wisconsin waters: the ebony shell (Fusconaia ebena ) and elephant ear (Elliptio crassidens), for which the skipjack is the sole host. Mussel larvae cling to the herring's gills until they mature. (Article)
There are plenty of lessons in the history of man to teach us that no matter how abundant life may appear, it can be killed off. Forever. Consider the demise of the Passenger Pigeon:
The Passenger Pigeon, once probably the most numerous bird on the planet...Their flocks, a mile wide and up to 300 miles long, were so dense that they darkened the sky for hours and days as the flock passed overhead. Population estimates from the 19th century ranged from 1 billion to close to 4 billion individuals. Total populations may have reached 5 billion individuals and comprised up to 40% of the total number of birds in North America (Schorger 1995). (source)
Up to 5,000,000,000 Passenger Pigeons- gone. Forever. A quick reminder of the sheer quantity of 5 billion. It would take a person 155 years to count to 5 billion, assuming they counted non-stop 24 hours a day- averaging 1 number per second. (source) Again, 5,000,000 Passenger Pigeons gone- in just over 100 years.
Life is interconnected. Consider the disappearance of the honeybee:
One of the biggest concerns is the environment. Some scientists fear an elimination of a complete species, the honeybee, or maybe bees in general. Bees are vital for the pollination of plants and flowers. Not just honey would be affected, but the future of many plants would be in jeopardy. This could affect general world health, not just food prices but also the ecosystem in general. Numerous scientists speculate not only would the bee species become extinct but also various other animal life as well. (source)
Even the lowly Skipjack Herring that my fisherman despised has an important place in life- maybe even our own. At least the fisherman that I had met had the sense to practice catch and release. If only more fisherman had the same good sense. Individual actions do make a difference. (Sidebar: I'm not against the use of fish as food or bait (when it is enviromentally feasible). But I am against the senseless waste of catching 100-??? for use as bait.)
The Skipjack Herring is no "trash fish". I'm reminded of a childhood response to an insult hurled my way: a common retort was "God don't make no trash!"