Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"Catch of the Day" ...yeah, right.

I don't normally speak up about most things; I try to keep the peace and not be a disturbance. Sometimes, however, something begs for more attention than it is originally given; it's then that I can't resist speaking up or speaking out. In this case, if they could talk, I think the fish and plants of Maple Lake in Illinois would say "thank you" to me (and anyone else who joins me!) for it. Read the article below from The Reporter, on August 4 of this year:

"Catch of the Day"

I'd love to hear your thoughts regarding the article and the actual story presented in it. I was moved to write a response to the publisher which I've included here:

Ms. Richards,

I found your website and this article through a friend who linked to it on Facebook. As an avid fisherman and conservationist, I was immediately curious and read the article through twice as soon as I could. As I worked my way through the story, I enjoyed the writing and the human element of the devoted fisherman and how the catch played out with his and others' reactions. I was ultimately disappointed, however, after finishing the article. I strongly feel that it is incomplete and lacking a crucial element of responsible journalism. The article, I'm afraid, may convey the wrong message about the fragility and value of our local, natural resources.

That now-dead Pacu is not native to any part of Illinois, the Midwest or North America; this was alluded to once in the article. As a non-native, one must come to the conclusion that it was artificially introduced, most likely intentionally. For native species in any given ecological sphere, the introduction of non-natives is an unwelcome and volatile event that can turn dangerous very quickly, often irrevocably so. While it was mentioned that the Pacu is responsible for injuries and a purported death in Papua New Guinea, no mention was made of the ecological effect it has had on the lake there (i.e. nearly complete eradication of native plants and fishes), and no mention was made that there too were these Pacu introduced artificially by humans. Thankfully, the waters of Maple Lake are likely not ideal for a large, sustained and breeding population of these tropical fish; the mention of several Pacu having been caught in the past few years in Maple Lake may suggest otherwise, however. That they are exotic and have a known (and article-referenced) history of destructiveness in the waters into which they're introduced is a real cause for concern. The article, though, made no mention or suggestion that the Pacu, being an exotic, are anything but something about which anyone should or would be "thilled." The fact that it was caught, and therefore earlier released into, a
forest preserve lake makes this even more sickening.

While this is a curious catch for the fisherman, it is not an isolated incident. Unfortunately, you are in a hotbed of aquatic invasive species being so near to the system of the Great Lakes. Zebra mussels, Sea Lampreys and upwards of 180 other invasive species are now present in the Lakes; many of these have worked their way into the drainages and are spreading south through the Mississippi and tributary drainages. Zebra mussels alone cost each state hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions, of dollars in efforts to keep water treatment plants clear of them--that money is drawn from tax payers. Sea Lampreys are parasitic and regularly kill native fish. The now (in)famous "flying carp" of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers are silver Asiatic carp, an invasive species of fish that is steadily sterilizing miles of river of any other species, simply by out-competing them. Silver carp are responsible for millions of dollars in lost revenue, jobs and mitigation costs; no one, however, believes that these waterways will ever again be free of them. Non-native species can and do cause immense damage to native species and cost taxpayers unnecessary bills in control attempts. Obviously, neither is something which should be aired in a whimsical or ambivalent tone.

Given the relevancy, proximity and seriousness of non-native species which have been introduced into waters very near to Chicago, I would expect any journalistic opportunity on the subject to be taken with the intent of education, not just stimulation. There are many resources available to give ready access to a wealth of information, news and activity on invasive species in the Great Lakes region; I recommend that you avail yourself of their information as soon as possible (Illinois DNR, Sea Grant and Protect Your Waters are just a few). It is not only helpful for the responsible citizen in general, but in many ways quite interesting as well.

Finally, please consider issuing a follow-up to the original Aug 4th publication making some mention of the inappropriateness of this catch on Maple Lake and the
why it is infelicitous, dangerous, and unfortunate. People are informed and swayed by the media, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. If the media is irresponsible, however, it does an injustice to its readers. Please offer your readers an opportunity to become more informed, and through that, more responsible.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on this issue, and--hopefully--for reconsidering the proper content and tone of the article.

Best wishes with great respect,

Will King

St. Louis, Missouri


  1. Thanks for writing this. You did a great job encouraging the journalist/publication to better educate their readers on the reality of these non-native fish (or other species). I can only hope that Ms Richards and the paper take this into account for the next time, and if not, maybe this will spark a follow up piece that will highlight exactly what you have written in this letter.

    Well done. Cheers!

  2. Very well stated.
    I have very low expectations from popular media... especially when it comes to stories that are in any way scientific in nature. I think it stems from a generally poor science education for anyone who hasn't actively pursued a science education (i.e. a college biology major) in our public schools and universities. Science is our way of understanding the world around us, but sadly, it seems there are few out there who care to understand.

  3. I agree with you..we've got enough ecological issues on our hands at this point that we need to start educating people at every opportunity we're given. If we don't the repercussions may be devestating to many of our natural resources.

  4. Just plain sad!! The artical reads more like a new record being set. No big deal is a 4 pounder.
    Let us know if they respond to you letter. Great job man!!!