Sunday, June 5, 2016

Big Fish

Huge Goliath Grouper Caught at Naples Fishing Pier, Florida

So, this huge beast, a Goliath Grouper, is going on its merry way. It's probing the sandy bottom of the ocean for goodies - some slow moving crabs, perhaps - and it meanders close to a pier finding tasty morsels along the way. The big fish is in that wonderful state of secure reverie, enjoying its rank near the top of the food chain, with little to worry about from predators. It's alive and in sync with its environment and feeding actively as it does so much of each day to make itself even bigger than its current 200+ pounds. Hey, that's what Goliath Groupers do.

All of a sudden there's a dull sensation in its mouth and it is being pulled toward a structure it's visited on and off over the years. Piles of concrete sticking up in the water covered with wooden slats. Actually the big fish likes this big thing that covers the sandy ocean floor. It's found meals in the dark patches underneath it ... or maybe those were other, similar structures although the water here doesn't taste much different than elsewhere in its range.

But...WTF? It's being pulled - can't move freely anymore - being pulled toward those piles covered with edible barnacles. It's being pulled over that peculiar sand, the kind that's peppered with shiny, multicolored beer cans.Those strange, fuzzy, far away creatures up above that throw those cans into the water sometimes... they're moving around excitedly up above just beyond the fish's field of clear vision.

That structure is the Naples Fishing Pier and one of those creatures is screaming, as this video opens,  "There it is! There it is! Ah ha hah! Oh! Look at the fuckin' mouth on... Holy shit!.."

The big fish's been hooked and reeled in by some guy up on Naples Fishing Pier and as the lucky angler drags his prey toward the beach, a couple of his buddies wade out to meet it.  And we can see in the instant that they meet just how big this fish really is.  Clearly, the fish is as long as the man is tall. Maybe a little longer. It's big!

As the fish is pulled by the swimmers up on the beach, a sizeable crowd of humans assembles to bear witness. There's definitely a party atmosphere in the air. A celebration of an extraordinary event.

The massive fish is pulled up on the beach and some members of the crowd come in close to get a good look at it. Next, gently, the guys unhook the beast, freeing it from the fishing tackle that has thoroughly defeated it. Nothing special, just the kind of stuff you can buy in Walmart;s. And then they walk the fish back out towards the depths, letting it go as it recovers some strength and composure.

The crowd cheers as it takes control of its life again and heads back out to sea where it belongs.

FYI: (according to Wikpedia) Goliath Grouper are native to the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
The world record for a hook-and-line-captured specimen is 680lbs and was caught off Fernandina Beach, Florida in 1961. They are usually around 400 lbs. when mature. Considered of fine food quality, Atlantic Goliath Grouper were a highly sought-after quarry for fishermen. Until a harvest ban was placed on the species, its population was in rapid decline. The fish is currently entirely protected from harvest and is recognized as a critically endangered species.  The US began protection in 1990. The species' population has been recovering since the ban; with the fish's slow growth rate, however, some time will be needed for populations to return to their previous levels. In May 2015, the Atlantic Goliath Grouper was successfully bred in captivity for the first time.

I find it fascinating that the people we see up on the fishing pier, so very intent on catching fish, when they saw this Goliath Grouper on the end of a line being pulled in to what likely could be its doom, were ecstatic. An unexpected but important victory of some sort was had and shared by all there. I understand that there's something atavistic and primordial about the sport of Fishing: Man confronts Nature, man vs. fish, 'kill your dinner'... all that sort of thing. In fact, I find it appealing, too. Having one's patience and wits and luck pay off in the end can be so appealing and satisfying and, as we see in this video, there is that moment of pulling "something" in, something we often can't see, but merely sense... and then... it's there -  and in this case, wow, a whopper, a massive, powerful predator in its own right. But just 10 minutes later the same people are struggling to save this fish's life, to get him unhooked unharmed and back in his element before he dies. They walk with him to make sure he's OK, that oxygen-rich shore water passes through his gills and that he breathes to sustain life. And then, the fish responds and is in control of his life again and returns himself back to where he came from... and the ecstatic crowd breathes a sigh of relief and gives a cheer of celebration for that.  In our humanity, we are both, a predator, a hunter who will take on wild animals and kill them for own benefit and sport and we are at the same time empathetic ready and anxious to help creatures in distress,  to help ET go home, ready to extend ourselves to save another life.

A couple of years back I was out for an afternoon on the public jetty of my own town, Jupiter, which is on the other side of Florida. That was quite a day.Not only did one guy pull in a Goliath Grouper of roughly 50 pounds, a baby, I guess, compared to the one above, but another guy reeling in and up onto the rocks, a 6 foot lemon shark, more or less the same size as the grouper shown in the video above. As soon as the fish was up out of the water and the angler was working hard to get it off the line so that he could release it while still alive, a message went out through the small crowd that had assembled to witness all the action "Who's got a video camera? We gotta get this recorded and posted!"

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