the fishing news

What is it about blokes and big fish that generates such passion?

Moac and I were very distressed by a story in the NZ Herald a few days ago.

An exhausted 18-year-old spearfisherman is admiring what could be a record-setting marlin caught after a 150-minute battle off Great Barrier Island.

Nick Dobbyn speared the 213kg blue marlin after he spotted it “tailing along” on the surface of the water last Saturday afternoon.

“I got ready and we got close to it, about 50-60 metres away. I jumped into the water and swam closer to it when I pulled the trigger. That’s when the war started,” Mr Dobbyn said.

[Marlin drags diver for 3km]

“War”? It’s a fucken-fish. OK, so humans have been at “war” with nature for a very long time. I know that, it’s one of the key beliefs I hold as a Marxist. But this is not a post about the dialectic of nature.

What I actually wondered was: “If I had to choose, would this be a news story?”

I could see the news value, but I could also see the “Nah, this is bollix,” point of view.

The unecessary death of this big fish was “news” – it was unusual – the biggest marlin taken on a spear, it involved conflict (man against fish), it was topical – fishing is fun and we like to murder marlin for sport – the news values were dripping like marlin blood from this item.

But, did we need to see the tail chopped and piked for a steaking?

Thankfully, a number of correspondents did what correspondents do–they responded.

We were sitting in the car outside Pak’n’Save when Moac read me the letter to the editor that said it all. But, you know what…I’ve just done a search of the Herald site and I can’t find any online letters.  So what you are about to read has been re-typed so that it is available to EM readers.

Please spare us yet another story detailing the exploits of he-man conquers fish, as in the report headlined “Marlin drags diver 3km”.

The newspapers of yesteryear were similarly full of “great white hunters” displaying the carcasses of lions, tigers and gorillas they had heroically shot from some distance. I thought we had moved on from that.

I have no admiration for the athletic feat required to land such a large fish, any more than I have admiration of the skill required to torpedo a minke whale from the prow of a lurching whaling ship.

How can we celebrate the fact that a sentient creature was put through a {two-and-a-half hour] traumatic death for the sake of a personal ego trip and a few marlin steaks?

The world is becoming increasingly short of magnificent wild animals like the marlin. I wish we could leave the few we have left alone. O rdo we have to wait until it, too, is in danger of extinction before we put the brakes on its extermination.

Jill Cooper, Hilsborough

Good on you Jill.

Barry Palmer of Royal Oak also wrote to the NZH about the “desensitised perpetuators [EM: Did he mean perpetrators?] of this atrocious activity (it is not a sport)” and the “glorification” of the senseless slaughter. Barry concludes “Pity help the young man” who accepts this behaviour as normal.

But we do. It is accepted, it has news value (“Noice, unusual, different”, to parrot-phrase Kath&Kim). What would you do in the newsroom if this story comes in?

Do you condemn the young man as a murderer? That hardly seems fair, does it? He’s doing what spearfishing folk have done for time immemorial — having some fun and putting food on the table. He’s facing down a terror of the deep.

That last point’s a bit far-fetched, but it’s not too far from the sentiments expressed by the “scientific” Japanese whalers.

The Herald‘s also been covering the recent news about a “secret deal” that might allow Japan to kill more whales inside their own territorial waters if they leave “our” whales alone. In today’s Herald there’s a feature in the Review section that  takes up this issue, and the picture is of a dismembered whale and a whole lot of blood in the water.

There seems to be a mis-fit here. On the one hand we condemn Japanese commercial (sorry, “scientific”) whaling because it’s barbaric, but we also celebrate the heroism of an equally barbaric killing of another species.

How could the media have covered the marlin story differently? I’m not sure there is a way, unless you actually attack the young man who speared the fish and that’s really not fair. If that were to happen the hue and cry in the letters pages would be just as vociferous the other way.

It’s a cultural thing in a sense, we love the sea and sea sports, but have little regard for the creatures it holds beyond seeing them as food and entertainment.

Perhaps it’s better not to cover the story at all, but then this flies in the face of everything that journalists and journalism educators hold dear – news values demand attention.

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