Friday, October 24, 2014

Ila vs David - big Kerfuffle!

Totally uncool - monster tournaments. Source.

Oh my.

Whilst I was away, the shit has hit the fan.
And yes, having been asked and after much deliberation, I'm gonna wade right in - and I may add, with much trepidation! :)

But first.
Please read David and Neil's paper about recreational Shark fishing in Florida. At the time, I did applaud it as the way I read it then, it aims at promoting catch-and-release as a more benign alternative to (lethal) trophy fishing.
After having re-read it, I stand by that judgment.

But of course, there is a big BUT - and here's where Ila comes in!
You must now read her op-ed - not this censored edited version but the original that includes the contentious assertions about the paper and its authors.
You can find it (after a toothy intro) right here.

The reaction was of course immediate.
David did post this and his interventions with Live Science did lead to the abovementioned editing - and totally unsurprisingly, things have since escalated. The usual tribalism is king and there is now a David camp vociferating against the Ila camp and vice versa, and what could have been an interesting discussion has long become irrational and personalized and is really benefiting no-one anymore.

My take?
From what I can discern, the question about whether Fish in general and Sharks in particular feel pain remains largely unresolved, with both camps being able to cite scientific literature in support of their viewpoint - but do those minutiae really matter in the present case?
Whether it is "pain" like we perceive it (from what I can observe, probably not) or another sense of acute discomfort, it is pretty much evident that being hooked is certainly a traumatic event that will always have negative consequences for the Sharks. Even if the animals are being released, some of the consequences will be transient and some will be more permanent and possibly debilitating - but a considerable percentage of the Sharks will die, and this depending on a whole array of variables ranging from the fishing technique to the length of the fight to the handling of the animal to the Sharks' species-specific resilience, etc etc. 
With that in mind, the topic of catch-and-release fishing for Sharks touches on animal welfare all the way to Shark conservation and on that, I'm 100% with Ila in stating that it is certainly never "good".

But here's where I differ - reluctantly!
I am a recreational fisherman. Although I strictly fish for food, and this only for non-threatened species, I'm not gonna try to deflect and obfuscate and state clearly that I certainly do so principally for the thrill and the challenge. I understand that this will disappoint some purists, but this is how it is. I could also add that for obvious reasons (= I love Sharks and yes, they are not Trout!) and because technically, Shark fishing sucks, I'm totally against targeting Sharks - but that's not the point.
The point is that there is thousands upon thousands of people like me. The point is that in this real world we live in as opposed to some idealistic but equally unrealistic utopia, they constitute an economically important, powerful and well organized force whereby if we really want to further the cause of Shark conservation among the recreational fishermen, we must learn to work with and not against them - re-read this.
Again: reluctantly - but that's the only viable strategy!

David and Neil know that.
I've now followed them for many a year and there has been considerable evolution - incidentally, like with yours truly, read these posts bottom-to-top! The net result of their efforts and those of many other equally evolving Shark conservation advocates has been, among others, the reforming of several kill tournaments, the establishment of the Shark Free Marinas Initiative (again, read bottom-to-top), the adoption of length- instead of weight records by the land-based Shark fishermen, etc - by no means perfect but still a notable step in the right direction. 

With that in mind and like their recent paper against weight records, the chastised article is not proof of their affiliation to nefarious fishing interests like asserted but rather, a testament to David and Neil's advocacy of positive, albeit (only) gradual and organic reform!

And one last thought if I may.
Whereas the Hammerschlag labs are simply brilliant in their outreach, they continue to fail quite miserably in handling critique, be it ever so benign. Guys, in the softest possible way: if you publicly circulate your research in the mass- and social media, you must a) develop a better strategy for dealing with the inevitable, equally public and possibly unsubstantiated criticism and b) develop a thicker skin - and I can certainly spare myself the examples as I'm sure you understand!
Or not? :)

End of wading!
Comments policy: read this! :)

PS - Martin here!
PPS - David's final comments here!


Shark Diver said...

I'm not a scientist, so I look at this from a "common sense" perspective. I agree that the question of weather fish/sharks feel pain is largely unresolved. There is a specific part of this report, that I find interesting.

"There must be opioid receptors within the nervous system, and opioid substances produced internally. Painkilling drugs should relieve the symptoms of pain that the animal displays, and the animal should be able to learn to avoid a painful stimulus. This should be so important to the animal that it avoids the threat of pain right away. The painful event should strongly interfere with normal behavior — it should not be an instantaneous withdrawal response, but long-term distress."

So, if pain leads to immediate and long term avoidance of events that inflict pain, how would the white sharks survive long term, since their mating is certainly a painful event?

My name is Shiva, so? said...

Researchers have no skins, they are opaque netherworld creatures that flit from one thing to another, occasionally deigning to drop 'pearls of knowledge' upon those beneath them.

You know, like pigeons.

But unlike pigeons, if you grab one from the air they become offended and irate - but never violent.

Instead, they call in other researchers who flit through the breeze to defend the 'offended one' unleashing a barrage of 'pearls of knowledge' upon those that would dare question or corner.

In this day and age where social media (Facebook) enables all to create their own 'pearls of knowledge'(sharks and oxygen)to drop from lofty heights upon those below, this argument seems almost - quaint.

Oh, and...glad you are back.

Shark Defenders said...

I hardly think Shiffman represents the fishing industry. Most of his work hardly involves fishermen.

DaShark said...

Indeed, hardly.

That allegation stems from the declared funders @ the end of his article.

renee liebniz-wittgenstein said...

There has been considerable philosophical discussion about 'pain' that demonstrates that the term is not nearly as clear-cut as is often supposed. I presently have backache - but only when I think about it (ouch!). Does that mean I am in pain when I'm not thinking about it/ignoring it, though I still have back'ache'?

A central (and endless) flaw in the scientific literature is the presumption that if you can demonstrate other animals have more or less the same neural/brain systems as we do, then necessarily they feel pain more-or-less as we do (whatever 'more-or-less' means). Even if this were true, it doesn't follow that creatures wired up entirely differently (say on another planet) couldn't feel pain. Meanwhile, pain as pain (rather than pain suspected via behaviour indicative that the organism is in pain) perhaps requires the first 'person' perspective - if only for the time the organism is in pain.

The most telling part of Ila's fine essay for me was this quote:

'These, and other symptoms of distress,are relieved by the administration of morphine, which completes the circle and identifies pain as the cause of the change in behavior. (Sneddon 2003)'

- It would be mean-minded to deny the commonsense conclusion that the morphine is acting equivalently in fishes.

I think there's a large psychological element to such discussions. Could we really live with ourselves if we accepted the possibility of the amount of pain we are inflicting on other creatures?

DaShark said...

It's a can of worms - e.g. even the morphine argument is being contested, see here.

In the end this boils down to our own ethical imperatives.
Methinks the take-away message is that we should never be unnecessarily cruel - see e.g.this very old post.

OfficetoOcean said...

A big paddling pool, 300 gallons of gravy, Ila and Shiff-dogg partake in 12 three minute rounds of grotesque bikini wrestling on pay per view, all proceeds go to The Shark Reef Marine Reserve.

Who's with me?

Oooh, Oooh I'll Rant! Can I Rant? said...

Oh Lordy, do we have to go down the old "sharks n' pain" canard lane discussions?

I had thought that one was decided (not) way back in 2004.

Who cares if they feel pain, or not, or to what degree, under what moon phase, or with how many Flintstones Chewable Aspirin you stuff down their gullets?

The issues are simple:

1. People fishing sharks for sport

2. Regulations

3. Education

It's simple people.

Take those three, bake them until they are good and hot and serve them up to lawmakers and the public with some honey butter and voila - saved sharks.

Why, I ask, do the self professed "smartest people in the room" always choose to fuck with an issue beyond its scope and purpose?

We're here to put in place systems and metrics to save sharks, sustainably.

How hard is that? Moldy duck wings, Facebook loons, Elasmo-narcissists, and PhD's aside.

Maybe if everyone just stopped with the RED FREAKING HERRINGS, something might get done?

Ian Campbell said...

There are far too many part-time conservationists wading into an area they know very little about.

I wish they would all go away and allow us to stop the cruel Taiji shark hunt and also to promote eco-tourism for the ending the ban on shark fin bans.

DaShark said...

Ian - well said!

And I trust that is the official position of the WWF!

BWD said...

"Guys, in the softest possible way: if you publicly circulate your research in the mass- and social media, you must a) develop a better strategy for dealing with the inevitable, equally public and possibly unsubstantiated criticism and b) develop a thicker skin"

- hear! hear!
One has to allow debate! Throwing the toys out of the pram, and immoderate slanging, is not scientific.

DaShark said...

Yes and no...

Only if the debate is somewhat educated - see the link at the end of the post about the value, or lack of, of all those breathy opinions!