Fish Soup

Rick Cronin: Goldfishing at the Muck

Sun, 09/07/2014 - 8:45pm

“Giant, toxic goldfish in the Muck ....” As a fisherman, that line at Penobscot Bay Pilot caught my attention. Wow, now we're talking.

Making fishing exciting for kids is a typical modern American problem. They are a generation often maligned by the more geezerly for their attachment to the latest viral video. Chris Dyer, a local warden, has proposed making the Muck into a “youth fishing site.” To do that he would remove the goldfish population and the weeds and replace them with trout. I think it's well intentioned but off the mark. Trout and fishing for them are old-fashioned. Close your eyes and think of a gentleman smoking a pipe and wearing a tweed cap casting endlessly over a private stretch of some English chalk stream. Really?

Let me back up a little and let's consider the goldfish, Carassius Auratus Auratus. (I'm throwing that in so you'll know how thoughtfully this has been researched.)

The common goldfish was first domesticated in China during the Jin Dynasty some 1,800 years ago. It's part of the carp family as are Koi, a larger ornamental fish. The Chinese have developed and bred more than 300 distinct varieties. There are ones with long billowing, gown-like tails, pop eyed varieties, and black goldfish. Like other good ideas the Chinese have had (fireworks, porcelain, and spaghetti), goldfish eventually ended up in Europe, in Portugal, by 1611. Almost 250 years later they made it to the U.S.

After arriving, it only took Harvard students another 89 years before they figured out that goldfish could be eaten. So they started eating the little fish as a fraternal pledge initiation rite — alive — no wasabi. Other abuses followed. They were given to kids at carnivals in plastic bags. They were confined to oxygen-less goldfish bowls and overfed until they bellied up. In short, it was a big mistake for the first wild Crucian Carp to sport mutant golden scales and attract attention to themselves. Of course most of those that are now in Kirby Lake, a.k.a The Muck, got the memo and have mutated back to more drab colors for their own protection.

Luckily for the fish, animal rights groups stepped in and forced the end of the more barbaric practices inflicted on goldfish. If you take your children to the Common Ground Fair you won't risk coming home with a goldfish in a bag. You won't find goldfish bowls at the pet store, only in well oxygenated aquariums. But, just when goldfish were feeling safe, the Warden Service is suggesting a goldfish genocide at The Muck. And the Belfast City Council is ready to say, “Well, if it doesn't cost us too much, why not?”

What would reclaiming The Muck involve? I'm not sure exactly what their specific plans are, but the process generally involves dumping rotenone in the water.

Rotenone is prepared from natural ingredients and is also used as an insecticide to kill caterpillars and head lice. In fish ponds: “the chemical suffocates fish by preventing respiratory function. Since it is toxic to fish at levels that do not harm plants, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, or anything else in a body of water, it is an excellent way to prepare a pond for the re-stocking of native species.”

After killing off the goldfish and putting in trout the plan is to deepen the pond and dredge up all the “weeds” that will tangle the little kid's fishing lines. Next winter, when the first truck breaks through the ice while clearing it for ice skating it will be six feet deeper. I hope the town ups its insurance. (Just a friendly warning). And there will be no more lily pads for the aspiring Monets. Has the city council considered all of the unintended consequences?

Here's a thought. Maybe catching “Giant Toxic Goldfish” is just the kind of fishing our young anglers would find appealing. Isn't it just a matter of marketing? Maybe Belfast would become a fishing destination. A whole industry might be spawned in The Muck. Think about the related industries — guide services, fly shops, and boat rentals. The hotels and motels would fill up when tournament fishing arrives.

With the extra tax revenues maybe we could fix up the skatepark and have a nice place for the kids to hang out after a day of trophy gold-fishing.

Rick Cronin fishes in Maine and reports on why the big ones got away.

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