About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, September 04, 2006
A Difficult Question
I'm a little uneasy about writing this post, but I'm also uneasy about what happened last week, when someone, let's say a fisherman, shot forty fur seals on Kanowna Island, just off Wilson's Promontory, in Victoria's south-east. So before going any further, I want to make it clear that I do not condone in any way what happened, but the following should serve to highlight the differences between thinking in the country and city.

We were visiting an orchard yesterday on the Mornington Peninsula to buy some apples. My mate H had called me last week to let me know that he had some fish for us and knowing that he liked the apples from this orchard as much as us, we invited him to come along with us. H has been a fisherman all his life, as was his father and his father before him. His family have been fishing Western Port so long, that they can tell you about fishing from sailboats. My first ever fishing experience was with H's father J, and still recall the excitement I felt in catching my first fish with him.

Chatting with the farmer's mother E, we could see the twinkle of the waves of Western Port in the distance. The conversation moved on to the shooting of the seals and E expressed strong disapproval of the shooting. Pointing to H, I told E he was a fisherman and we could understand why the shooting occurred, at which point E's tone changed and she expressed sympathy towards whoever had done the deed, knowing that in all probability, it was a fisherman.

So why did they do it?

At first glance many people think that because fisherman and seals are after the same catch, that if some seals meat an untimely death, there will be more fish for the fisherman to catch. But this is not the reason. What happens is that seals chance upon a fisherman's nets to discover a motherlode of fish that cannot get away and enjoy the subsequent feast. Even though they get enough to eat, they cannot help themselves and will bite every fish in the net, making them unsaleable.

Seals are quite intelligent and soon learn that boats put the nets in place that give them a free feed, so they start to follow the boats. Soon the fisherman cannot set his nets without seals taking and ruining his entire catch and so an unspoken war has been raging between man and seals for decades. When I was young all the fishing boats that I knew of had a weapon of some sort and the fishermen all claimed they were for whenever sharks turned up in their nets; no-one wants to untangle a live, threshing shark with large sharp teeth. But the guns silent, subsidiary use was for putting an end to seal pilfering from the nets.

Put yourself in the fisherman's shoes for a moment. You make your living from catching fish, quite legally. A wild animal is taking and ruining your every catch, you have a family to support. If you were a farmer on land raising sheep and wild dogs were taking to your flock, you would shoot the dogs, no questions asked, no moral outrage. So why is it okay to shoot a wild dog but not a wild seal? The dog would argue that he has as much right to exist as anything else. And this is the dilemma we humans find ourselves in. In order for us to live, something has to die. This leads to the country/city paradox. Country folk understand life and death and are not squeamish about it, that's not to say they are in any way cruel, but they know first hand if you want to eat meat, an animal has to be killed, if another animal is eating the meat that you want to eat, chances are it will wind up dead.

In the city we do not have to think about killing an animal to eat, or to protect it from other predators. Someone else does that for us. We have long ago been removed from the realities of primary production. I saw on a food show not so long ago, a reporter crying when a cow he had selected for slaughter was dispatched. He was presented with some steaks from the beast but could not eat them because of the distress of what he witnessed, which was nothing more than an everyday occurrence. I wondered if he was starving hungry, with a gun, what would he have done then? Think about it if you eat meat yourself. You have not directly killed an animal but you have directly caused one to be killed.

I think the shooting of forty seals was an over reaction that could never be condoned, but even though I'm sorry whenever a seal is shot at the nets, I do understand it, though I desperately wish there was some other way. But whenever a white pointer shark lines up a seal to eat, it is completely untroubled by such considerations, it's just hungry.

Edited to add: Two men are facing an array of charges including hunting and destroying wildlife, injuring protected wildlife, using a gun to take wildlife and using a gun in a National Park. They are to appear in court on November 3, each facing 22 charges.
  posted at 10:46 am

At 3:43 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can certainly see the fisherman's point.

At 7:42 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, that was what I wanted to show, that the shooting of seals, as horrible as it sounds, is not senseless slaughter.

Hi pentacular, I promise that no young children were harmed in the writing of this post. Monkeys, mate, monkeys. Bears too. Lions have at it, as do some packs of wild dogs.

At 2:06 pm, Blogger Haalo said...

I think it might boil down to not all animals are equal - some have gained a certain status in our psyche.

At 4:56 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi pentacular, I see that anthropomorphism is alive and well!

At 2:46 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi paz, I wish there was another way too. When we fish, sometimes we see seals sunbaking, drifting down the tide and it seems such a shame that these lovely creatures sometimes come to harm. However, I definitely don't agree with what the two fisherman did, it was a complete overreaction and they deserve to face the law.

At 9:12 am, Blogger Gigi said...

I completely understand the frustration of the fishermen, but there has to be a better way to share the bounty of the sea. We are supposed to be the smarter creature, after all...you would think for once that we could come up with something that doesn't involve gun violence. But then again, we so rarely do.


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