Friday, July 31, 2009

Pulling the lips off fish

Scheduled for this past weekend was the scholarship fishing derby held by Unity College on Lake Winnecook, otherwise known as Unity Pond. Apparently, some 200 fish were tagged with various prizes, including one offering a year of free tuition; the fish were released into the pond; newly-accepted and returning students then were allowed 6 hours on Sunday to catch a winner. When I first heard of this, I thought, how clever, how innovative, what fun!

Then Ol' Sourpuss took over. OS clearly has high expectations for institutions that are so obviously environmentally friendly, as Unity College is, with so many of its students taking environmental majors. This makes him think that surely there are other ways of promoting good stewardship than killing hatchery-raised pan fish. And why does it have to be "incentivized"? Furthermore, the pond is hardly pristine anymore; most of the shoreline is developed and powerboats abound (full disclosure: my parents used to have a camp there, and regularly decried the jetskis and outboards roiling up the waters, perhaps because one day a particularly obnoxious boater who clearly hated eighty-year-olds deliberately tried to swamp their paddleboat). Are contests the only way to win these days? What about nature for nature's sake?

OS is somewhat mollified when he checks the college website and sees the picture of the student flotilla pushing off - all canoes and kayaks, not a motor to be seen. The winner of the 20 grand seemed happy, too, in his wolf T-shirt. A good-time weekend was clearly had by all, what with the ice cream socials and the sustainability workshops and the rock band. But pulling the lips off tame fish and partying on about the loss of innocence seems incongruous at best, and low-rent at worst.

1 comment:

Rob C said...

We're glad to see that you noticed our fishing tournament, but I wanted to offer a couple of quick clarifications. As you noted, we do not allow motorized transport during the tournament. It is also important to note that part of the weekend for participants consists of a catch-and-release workshop. I also wanted to point out that the tagged fish were not hatchery raised. They were actually captured using safe techniques and released back into the lake to which they are native. This limits the impact that introducing hatchery-raised fish into the lake would have. It also allows us to use this as a research and training opportunity for the students that participate in the tagging-each fish is recorded carefully (species, size) creating an ongoing record of the fish population in Lake Winnecook.

One of the unique things about Unity as an environmental college is our appeal to a diverse group of students. This includes students who are avid hunters and fishers. Recognizing that solving our pressing environmental issues will entail bringing together people from different backgrounds and with different understandings of their relationship with nature, we celebrate these different viewpoints while stressing their intersection-an underlying care for our natural environment. The tournament doesn't fly in the face of environmentalism, it recognizes the many faces that it can take.

As for nature for nature's sake, you are right. And, while this day is somewhat incentivized (though many people admit that it is the experience of spending quality time with their child before sending them off to college that really draws them), we spend much of our time helping our students understand that we will all really only "win" when we can appreciate nature for nature's sake.

Thanks again for your interest in Unity College and mentioning us in your blog,

Rob Constantine
Vice President for College Advancement