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Don't kill it just because it is ugly!

By Rodney Hsu, Fishing with Rod | Published in January 2002

Sculpin may look ugly, but you need to release it safely

Spending my pastime along the Fraser River bank in Richmond is one of my precious joys that I can never get enough of. Watching the sun disappearing in the horizon, fishing for little peamouth chub, or simply socializing with the locals often make me realize how lucky we are to be British Columbians. During the summer months, you will often find the local piers crowded with eager anglers. However, when look closely, you may be disgusted by what are usually lying on the piers or the riverside. Dead bullheads! Known by their ugliness and terrible taste, fishermen often toss them onto land after accidentally hooking them. These poor fish struggle on land, gasp for breath and wiggle their tail fins until they suffocate to death. What a way to die, simply because they are tempted by the food you chuck in front of them.

Whenever I come across such a scene, I am both angry and embarrassed. Angry because it makes perfectly no sense why would anyone kill a fish if it is not going to be consumed, and embarrassed because as a fellow angler, I would hate to be associated with people who perform such actions.

I often walk up to the stack of bullhead, pick out the live ones and set them free. Most fishermen pretend to ignore my action, while some look at me with shock and disbelief as if I have broken the law. "Those are garbage, there are too many of them in the water!", a usual comment that I would hear. I simply reply, "It's a fish. You're not going to eat it, let it live."

On one extreme incidence, two anglers decided to play soccer with a large dead bullhead as they were bored from fishing. They were watched on by a family who was sightseeing at the time. The kid asked, "Why are they kicking the fish around?" and the mother would have no explanation. Are people so ignorant and willing to take the resources for granted? We emphasize on proper catch and release on our salmonid species, shouldn't we apply the same method to all other fish? Why are we rating the quality of a fish based on its economic value and edibility? These are only several questions that often puzzle my mind.

A fish should not be judged by its eating quality. It maybe ugly, but it may also play a great role in its ecosystem. Anglers often get caught up in the hype of searching for the next trophy sportfish, they often neglect the little guys that have occupied the same waters before the first man stepped foot on this planet. Although we have great respect for our popular sportfish, we simply do not appreciate the rest of the native species enough. The commonly known bullhead are actually hundreds of sculpin species that are found in both fresh and saltwater. Although not edible, they play a important role in the river ecosystem as both preys and predators.

Next time when you encounter an ugly creature at the end of your line, try not to hate it but to appreciate it. This would only make your fishing day more pleasant and rewarding.