How the hunting and fishing industries are adapting to a hyper-sensitive climate
While reading a book on what I thought was a completely unrelated topic, the decline of violence in modern society, the mention of a phenomenon known as "hookless fly fishing" really caught my attention. In this book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, author Steven Pinker briefly discusses the practice of catch-and-release fishing and hookless fly-fishing as a representation of society's shift away from "blood sports" and away from violence in general. While this 800-page book has many more takeaways than a simple comparison between our hobbies and our society's shift away from violence, the piece really got me thinking about the seemingly widening gap between hunting and fishing and how both of the industries are responding to the sensitivities of our modern society.
Fishing to Sport and Art
While the fishing industry has many things in common with that of hunting, two glaring differences separate the two and has caused them to move in vastly different directions: society’s disassociation with fish as animals, and the ability to perform the activity without necessarily causing death.
The first of these factors is evident in the lack of protests regarding the cruel treatment of fish and the significant number of adamant vegetarians who are still willing to consider the animal an ethical food source. The fishing industry, unlike hunting, has been able to play on society’s leniency towards the harming of fish, allowing it to ignore the blood-sport aspect of the activity and treat it more as a traditional sport, relaxing hobby, or even as an art. This is why progressive talk show hosts can still discuss their hobby freely on air without any of the public backlash that hunters so often receive and why animal rights protests rarely take place outside of sushi restaurants.
One of the reasons for this leniency towards fishing is the adaptability of the activity in regards to its shift away from even being considered a “blood-sport”. The shift in fishing has allowed it to be better received in today’s society and attract people to participate who would never dream of participating in other “blood-sports” such as hunting. The adaptability, as mentioned in the opening paragraph, has manifested itself in catch-and-release fishing, spawning a massive cultural shift in the fishing industry and creating unique branches of the industry such as tournament fishing, fishing photography, and yes, even hookless fly fishing.
These relatively new industries rely on fish being alive rather than dead, as the fish populations are much more valuable as objects to win a tournament, models for an Instagram photo, or subjects in a fly tying experiment than they are as a food source. This shift in value is directly opposed to the former commercial and sustenance use of the resource that valued the fish much more as food than as a living being and has even led some anglers to look down upon “keep what you catch” fishermen, viewing it as cruel and blaming it for exhausting the resource. While one could argue that the values surrounding these modern fishing practices are skewed and distant from what the activity used to represent, the shift has undoubtedly had a positive impact on our fisheries and has helped get more people involved in the sport and lifestyle.
Hunting to Herritage
The hunting industry, on the other hand, unable to get around the killing aspect of the activity, has had to take a different approach to attract new people to the lifestyle, and even just to keep it alive in general. Since catch-and-release hunting is not an option, the hunting industry has had to focus on the ethical aspects of hunting in its true form rather than turning itself into sport or art like the fishing industry had the luxury of doing.
Despite the tension between the two sides, hunting has a lot in common with mainstream society's praise of organic and free-run food options and the disavowing of factory farming. In fact, it is almost undeniable that if you are choosing to eat meat, hunting it is the most ethical way to do it in terms of both quality of life for the animal and the means of take. Companies such as MeatEater have done excellent jobs at highlighting these ethical aspects of hunting and have begun to shift the culture around hunting from a redneck stereotype to a way to become more connected with your food and your landscape.
This shift from sport to sustenance is almost the exact opposite of what occurred in the fishing industry, seemingly putting hunters in the same category as farmers and gardeners while fishermen, with their sparkly bass boats and logo-covered jerseys, more in line with extreme sports athletes like bull riders and NASCAR drivers.
Hunting has also had to take a much different approach in terms of its relationship to social media, as artsy pictures of colourful Trout tend to attract much less controversy than grip and grin photos with giant bucks and bears. This has led many major hunting personalities to focus their photos and posts on other aspects of the hunt, such as live animal footage and wild game food photography. In addition to photos, language has also had to be adapted for the hyper-sensitive platforms, replacing words like “killing” with words like “harvest “or “take” when discussing hunting on public platforms to avoid media storms and social blowback.
While these changes do seem to represent the adjustment and suppression of some aspects of hunting due to the rise of social media, the changes seem to be for the better and, while the numbers may not currently reflect it, will hopefully allow more people to take up the lifestyle and become more connected with their food and their landscape.
Although these two industries are seemingly moving in vastly different directions, this article is not seeking to claim one superior. The way both of these industries have begun to head are a result of societies sensitivities to activities deemed as “violent” or “inhumane” and have led the two in vastly different directions due to the limitations and advantages hunting and fishing have in appealing to the public and navigating today’s hyper-sensitive environment.