Yay, We Captured an Endangered Fish!

Welcome to “How to Miss The Story, Fisheries Edition.” Today’s lesson features a cheerful report from Boston’s CBS affiliate, with the upbeat human-versus-nature headline “Hanover Canoers Capture 6-Foot Sturgeon With Their Bare Hands”:

HANOVER (CBS) – Four young women made the catch of a lifetime while they were canoeing in the North River in Hanover. They pulled in a six-foot sturgeon with their bare hands. The fish, according to experts at New England Aquarium, weighted about 75 pounds. The women told WBZ-TV they first spotted the endangered fish struggling along the surface of the river and said it appeared to be dying. The women said the fish died on the canoe ride back to shore.

The women alerted the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and the Environmental Police.

The rest of the piece goes on in the same feel-good vein: the strong female protagonists tried valiantly to help, and while this fish was beyond saving, it’s great that sturgeon have made it into this stretch of formerly polluted water. There’s even a nice photo of two of these attractive young women smiling as they show off their catch, which is lying dead on a tarp in front of their canoes. Just lovely.

It seems the word “endangered” didn’t ring any bells for the reporter, who also apparently failed to call either of the enforcement agencies mentioned in the story. So let’s do the fact-checking WBZ-TV should have done.

First, we’ll see what MassWildlife has to say about Atlantic sturgeon. Three clicks on their website brings us to a convenient set of plain English summaries of the fishing regulations, in which we find this helpful table:

Massachusetts fishing regulations (excerpt).

Massachusetts fishing regulations (excerpt).

Okay, so in Massachusetts, sturgeon season is … never. Elsewhere in the regulations, we learn that it’s illegal to take any kind of fish out of the water without a fishing license, or to attempt to catch a fish that’s not in season. If a licensed angler accidentally hooks an endangered fish, the only correct course of action is to release it immediately, and by “immediately,” they mean “immediately.”

Even if these ladies didn’t know the law (and it’s pretty clear they didn’t), what the hell were they thinking? “Gee, here’s a huge fish that looks like it might be sick. Let’s haul it out of the water, dump it into the bottom of our canoe, and take it to shore – that should help it feel better, right?” But then, as the poor creature lay on hot fiberglass in an environment where it couldn’t breathe, it died. Go figure.

The real story here took all of five minutes to figure out, even if we started with no information about endangered species regulations. The next step should be to revise the article, starting with the headline, which should read “Ignorant Canoeists Kill Endangered Fish, Then Brag About It.”