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Having Sport With Extreme People Oct. 2015
Extreme sports are a way of testing one’s limits of endurance and ability in competition with like-minded individuals. NBN thinks such sport is great fun to watch on TV, but in real life we just prefer extremes, without all that competition. It just seems like competition—outside of evolution, of course—involves a lot of wasted energy and NBN hates to waste anything. (We’re not even so sure competition is justified in evolution anymore, but that is another column for another day.)
Extremes are much more fun when shared with others which brings us this week to a pastime a little closer to sport in which NBN likes to indulge: Extreme People. We offer up these two photos above from NBN’s extreme indulgences of summer to help make the point.
The image on the left was taken atop Maine’s Mt. Khatadin after a grueling six-hour rock climb at the end of August. Once there, we encountered a large group of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. These are predominantly college kids who have just dedicated a few months of their free-wheeling lives to hiking from Fannin, GA, to the top of this mountain. They carry and eat as little as possible while hiking up and down 20 miles of mountain trails each day. They sleep in tents or lean-tos and consider toilet paper a luxury. They end the adventure about 20 pounds underweight smelling and looking like the primate exhibit at the Bronx Zoo. This severe asceticism for kids who have largely enjoyed all the pleasantries of a middle class U.S. upbringing is a cathartic experience which leaves more than a few thru-hikers very skeptical of the priorities ingrained in that upbringing.
Shortly after reaching the top of Katahdin, NBN headed out on the boat on the right to go fishing with a bunch of retirees and partly-employed folks from New Hampshire who plunked down $230 each to catch pollack and haddock 65 miles off the coast of Maine. This is asceticism of a different sort. These men sleep on benches in a cramped boat cabin, wake up with the sun, and crack their first beer shortly after they’ve downed their last coffee and sugar-coated cinnamon roll. Most smoke cigarettes, are overweight, out of shape and as near as we can tell they all believe Obama is the Anti-Christ. When they are not addressing or indulging one biological urge or another, they are gleefully hauling in delicious fish from 300 feet below the boat. At the end of the day their wrists are sore, their shoulders ache, and they smell like a recycling center in summer. They are also grinning from ear to ear and chatting non-stop about the day’s events, much as the thru-hikers do.
The fishermen and the hikers enjoy to the hilt testing their limits of endurance and ability in a natural setting. Which is why NBN enjoys hanging out with them. Yet both have vastly different perspectives on those natural settings. Are these two perspectives as far apart as the top of Mount Katahdin and the bottom of the Gulf of Maine and never the twain shall meet? Or is there common ground to be found at 6,000 feet above sea level and 300 feet below? For NBN, that’s where the challenge comes in with Extreme People and it seems to be a pasttime with ever-fewer participants. That’s part of what we discuss in Commercial Fishing News this week vis-à-vis an on-line rant the owner of the boat above leveled at the sort of people you find at the top of the mountain above. Have a great week folks and thank you for reading News by Nature. It’s nice to be back. We hope we can stay.
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Bear hunting with hounds is a tradition under fire. But Maine's houndsmen aren't going down without a fight. This article decries the death of a Maine tradition known as bear hunting with dogs. The article is rife with reference to bleeding-heart out-of-state interlopers, and Volvo-driving Downeasters who don’t understand the traditional way Mainers make a living.
It talks of the “fair chase” which entails a pack of trained hounds chasing up a tree a bear that’s been lured to a barrel of Dunkin donuts left out the night before. When the “hunters” arrive after a “fair chase” they shoot the bear out of the tree and return to the lodge to drink beer and talk about it.
Overall the article paints a picture that fits to a “T” the image anyone remotely familiar with the “sport” has of its practitioners: upper middle aged, kill crazy white guys who see sport in shooting defenseless, terrified animals that are cornered with no escape and even less chance of injuring the folks pumping bullets into it. Hey, it’s a Maine tradition, right?
Alright, alright, we are exaggerating a little bit. And NBN understands completely that these traditions are held dear. Afghan tribes have a long standing tradition of letting dogs tear each other to pieces. Japan refuses to stop killing and eating increasingly endangered whales, despite the availability of $5 rib-eye steaks. And China clings tightly to the notion that powered rhino horn and tiger bones are somehow better medicine than what modern pharmacology produces after billions of dollars in research and development.
For those of us getting disgusted with our past increasingly getting in the way of our future, take heart. These traditions will die of their own pointlessness and increased cost to the world we all share. In the meantime it sucks to be a bear in Maine, a dog in Afghanistan, a whale in the Pacific, or a tiger--or anything else--in China.
The fellow in this video is probably old enough now that he regrets making this post five years ago. It’s not his cruelty toward the completely defenseless crab that’s so disturbing. (And please excuse the profanity. It was inevitable.) What really bothers NBN here is the pile of seaweed, crabs, and nearly invisible grass shrimp on the gunwale of his boat. It’s a huge problem. This fellow, and the other “assholes” as he calls those around him, are “dredging” for bay scallops in Long Island’s Peconic estuary. The dredge is a 60-pound net of metal and nylon that is dragged behind the boat scooping up the scallops and pretty much everything else in its path. After a few minutes the dredge is pulled back up to the boat in the hopes there are a few scallops mixed in with the contents of the bay bottom that’s just been sheared of all its flora and fauna. Here is a great video of a bay scallop dredge in action.
The real inhumanity this fellow and perhaps a few of his colleagues are guilty of is that they have no clue why dredging for scallops is wrong. In the case of this fellow, if he did grasp the ecological impact of his actions he clearly would not care. If you were to suggest that these folks learn a more sustainable method of scalloping, like diving for them, they would freak-out. But the real problem, as usual, is feckless politicians.
The elected officials at the state and local levels would never even entertain the idea of banning scallop dredging. This fellow’s job, which increasingly provides little more than supplemental income, is much more important in the eyes of politicians than the health of bay-bottom ecosystems nobody can see. Worse, dredging is a long standing tradition in most every community where bay scallops are available. And Americans love their traditions, no matter how destructive they may be in today’s world.
Trawling makes for skinny flatfish This study in the Irish Sea finds flatfish like flounder, sole, and halibut are getting flatter in places where bottom trawling takes place. This is not because the heavy nets used in trawling are flattening the fish out. And it’s not some sort of survival-of-the-flattest evolutionary change whereby flatter flatfish are less likely to be scooped up in the trawl nets. No, it is due to a change in diet.
These really-flat flatfish living in the path of trawlers are getting plenty to eat, but of the wrong kind of food. They are increasingly forced to eat tiny bottom dwelling creatures like hermit crabs which survive the net, because the worms that make up the bulk of their diet are do not. Those vital food items are becoming scarce due to the habitat destruction caused by the bottom trawlers.
Another recent study finds trawled ocean floor area contained 52 percent less organic matter, 80 percent fewer sea worms, and half as much biodiversity. Yet no one in official circles even approaches the prospect of banning this practice. Quite the contrary, in what was once one of the nation’s most productive fisheries, the Gulf of Maine, the powers-that-be want to reopen to trawlers one of the most sensitive and productive ocean bottom ecosystems in the entire water body, an area known as Cashes Ledge.
Allowing this fishing technique to expand as bottom fish populations continue to flirt with crashing makes no sense from so many different angles NBN doesn’t know where to begin. So we’ll just post the video above to let your imagination ponder what several hundred pounds of net and metal apparatus might do to the delicate ecosystems that form the basis of the food chains for the deep-sea fish we all love to eat. And then barrage you with hyper-links to recent news stories in hopes that you will open them and learn for yourself why bottom trawling has to be much more tightly restricted. If not banned altogether.
The Climate Change Election When a comparatively conservative publication like U.S. News and World Report runs a headline like this, NBN can’t help but take heart. Maybe protecting-the-environment and conservation concepts really are getting to the most important audience of all: the capos of capitalism and the indulging of ignorance.
But then there is this headline: Ocean dead zone near African coast shows lowest oxygen levels ever recorded And this: Toxic blue-green algae pose increasing threat to nation’s drinking, recreational water. Global warming is just one of several ecological crises that are reaching a tipping point in this world. But a large percentage of people don’t really get to see it first hand on a regular basis.
These are the latter folks referenced above, the roughly 56 percent of Americans who do not live near the shore. This majority see this nation’s beautiful woodlands more than its increasingly polluted shores so they do not feel the same sense of urgency when it comes to protecting the environment. (Oddly enough the political landscape of this country shows the same sort of coastal dichotomy.)
These are the people who need to get the message in the article above. These are the people chanting in the video above. Yes, this is from the last election cycle, but it illustrates beautifully how short sighted the conservative movement in this country is. If “Drill, Baby Drill” had won the day, just how far along would the Arctic zone exploration have progressed before it was frozen in the present day oil glut? We bet just far enough to have created maximum ecological damage.