NANFA-- bass & bluegills in Japan

Christopher Scharpf (
Thu, 03 Aug 2000 16:35:41 -0400

Just received this fascinating email from John Bondhus. It was written by his
daughter, who lives in Japan.

Remember how I told you about how the largemouth bass and bluegill are
taking over Japanese waterways and pushing hundreds of species of
indigenous Japanese fishes to extinction? They had something on TV
about his today.

As I mentioned before, Japan has stringent laws against moving these
fish into other lakes and rivers, but bass fishermen ignore the laws and
continue moving them around from one body of water to another. Now
they've spread all over the country. The show interfered bass haters
and bass lovers.

Obviously some people move them around because they want to go bass
fishing closer to their homes or cabins. However, one bass enthusiast
that was interviewed offered another view on bass stocking. He compared
bass fishers to golfers by saying that golfers get tired of always
golfing the same course, and bass fishers get tired of always fishing
the same lake. I can't help but think that people who move the bass
around for this reason are even worse than than those who move them
around for their own personal convenience. He seemed to think there was
nothing wrong with this. BTW, he admits to illegally stocking bass in
other Japanese waterways for this very reason and seemed to think there
was nothing wrong with it. Of course, it's not like he'll get arrested
for it. His mom is Japanese, but his dad is American and he lives in
the United States now, so there's really nothing the Japanese government
could do about it. I suppose that even if he visited Japan and got
arrested for it during his visit, he'd go to the US press and Americans
all over the country would be pissed off at Japan for arresting an
American for stocking lakes with bass.

Commercial fisherman as well as Japanese native fish lovers hate bass
and bluegill. Obviously the native fish lovers hate them because
they're pushing many native species to extinction. Commercial fisherman
hate them because they're severely reducing the numbers of edible
species that make up their livelihood. Many of the fisherman
interviewed complained that their nets were filled with nothing but
bluegill and a few bass.

The Japanese don't eat bass or bluegill. However, I did see a show a
few weeks ago about a bunch of people that were trying to tackle the
bluegill problem by finding ways to stimulate bluegill consumption.
They experimented with various recipes in an attempt to make the fish
appealing to the Japanese palate, like fish paste and sashimi (raw
bluegill! that's scary!). Most weren't very successful, but a couple
restaurants did find some recipes for the fish that might help promote
their use as a food fish.

Bass fishing has become very popular in Japan in recent years. Even
some irresponsible TV shows are promoting it by depicting popular
celebrities bass fishing. Bass fishing clothes (the clothes guys you
see on fishing shows) is becoming quite stylish. The media makes bass
fishing look "cool" and "trendy". The show I saw today referred to this
saying that this was a prime example of how the Japanese love to imitate
Americans. The Japanese look at bass fishing the way Americans look at
French culture. It's chic.

Another thing that's stimulating the popularity of bass fishing in Japan
is that it's being portrayed as "nature-friendly" because of the "catch
and release" policy of bass fishers. In the US, the idea is usually to
release fish that are too small to cook or not worth mounting. Do US
bass fishers release big bass too? Japanese bass fishers release all
the fish they catch. They do that to be kind to nature. This gives
bass fishing an "environmental" image in Japan.

I remember how you said that members of the bass family present a
problem to any ecosystem they're not native to. I also remember hearing
that (I don't know if I heard it from you or read it in a book) they
were originally native only to a certain area of North America and were
spread around the continent by bass fisherman, and disrupted many North
American ecoystems the same way. Of course, that was so long ago that
now people think they're native to the whole of North America. That was
an opinion mentioned on the show. They said that Japan and North
America were different because the fish is not indigenous to Japan, but
it is native all over the U.S. They also said that the bass population
is also in trouble in North America because of decreasing populations.
Well, I suppose they got these ideas because the show interviewed
several American bass enthusiasts, but didn't interview any
ichthyologists or anyone from an government or non-government
organization like NANFA that cares about nongame fish. (Of course, they
probably didn't know that they should. They did interview Japanese
ichthyologists regarding the bass problem in Japan. I thought it was a
pretty well produced program.)

Unfortunately, the government has been unable to control illegal bass
stocking in Japanese waterways. The bass fisherman catch the fish, put
them in a beer cooler, and move them to the waterway of their choice.
Some have even solicited commercial fisherman to sell them the bass they
catch in their nets ("preferably fingerlings") because they "have a
small pond near my house that I'd like to stock bass in." (Naturally,
the fisherman refuse.)

Now that they've taken over so many lakes, commercial fisherman and
local government bodies responsible for lake management have taken new
steps to try to rid their lakes of the pests.

I've heard of Americans using chemical poisons and even electricution to
rid waterways of exotic species like carp, but these processes also hurt
the indigenous species of fish and other aquatic lifeforms. The
Japanese government would never go for this. For one thing, many of the
waterways that have become overrun by bass and bluegill are home to many
rare and endangered species of fish and other lifeforms. Japan's
largest lake, Lake Biwa, is home to several species of fish that are
exclusive to Lake Biwa and can be found nowhere else in the world.
(What I mean is, nowhere else in Japan either.) Moreover, the Japanese
government is concerned not only with fish species, but also other
lifeforms such as plants and underwater insects. Could these all be
restocked after a waterway is poisoned to remove bass and bluegill?
What about lifeforms that are still undiscovered in a lake the size of
Lake Biwa?

As I mentioned above, some people are trying to promote bluegill
consumption as a way of counteracting their population growth. (I
haven't heard of anyone trying to do this for bass though, which are
also considered inedible by the Japanese.)

However, the most popular and only effective method being undertaken is
to simply throw the fish away. Commercial fisherman simply dispose of
the mass quanties of bluegill and bass they catch in their nets.
(Despite offers from bass enthusiasts to buy them.) At some lakes,
plastic trashcans have been set up near the lake with signs reading "for
exotic species" for responsible recreational fisherman to throw away
their bass and bluegill. I don't know how successful this is
considering the "catch and release" policy of Japanese bass fishers.
Especially when you consider that most Japanese aren't aware of the bass
problem in the first place.

Bluegill are considered junk fish in Japan, just like Americans see
carp. However, the largemouth bass have plenty of supporters to protect
them. It's not just Japanese bass enthusiasts either. I remember when
somebody reproduced an article from an American newspaper called "Japan
Goes Bassin'" in the NANFA mailing list. The person who wrote the
original article supported bass fishing in Japan and tried to make it
look like the Japanese government was bad for trying to outlaw the
fish. I don't have to tell you what NANFA people thought of that
article. If memory serves me correctly, I believe some people talked
about writing a letter to the newspaper to complain. Bass lovers in
Japan (both Japanese and the American writer of that article) seem to
think the poor largemouth bass are being persecuted because of "greedy"
commercial fisherman and people who like "pretty fish". What they
intentionally ignore is the fact that Japanese nature lovers and the
Japanese government are trying to protect the less popular species of
endangered native fishes as well. Let's face it, most of the seriously
endangered species are the unpopular fishes that are not raised in
aquariums or stocked in other waterways.

In the past bass enthusiasts worked to promote the popularity of the
largemouth bass and practiced civil disobedience by illegally stocking
Japanese aquatic ecosystems with their beloved bass. Recently they've
crossed the line to terrorism. According to the program, bass lovers
are now sending out anonymous letters threatening to destroy the fishing
nets of any commercial fishermen who discard of the bass caught in their
nets instead of releasing them back into the lakes.

BTW, I once told you that when someone talks about "black bass" in Japan
they're talking about the largemouth bass. This is because the
largemouth bass was the only black bass in Japan. However, at the end
of the program they mentioned that recently a few smallmouth bass have
been spotted in Japan. Considering how fast bass proliferate, they must
have been smuggled into the country fairly recently.

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