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Fishing for environmental education.

Thousands of hopeful youngsters are coming to camp this year expectantly packing their fishing rods along. How successful will you be in nurturing and channeling this enthusiasm? Will you realize the potential that fishing holds for learning more than angling skills? Have you considered the possibilities of fishing for environmental education?

Many youngsters like to go fishing, and almost all share in the excitement when a fish is caught. As educators, we've got something great going here! Motivation to learn, relevance, hands-on experience, excitement, multisensory involvement, fun ... and a connection with the natural world (and sometimes even with fish).

Not only do we have the potential for helping youngsters develop an interest in a lifetime leisure activity, we have the opportunity to encourage learning about the aquatic ecosystems that support fishing. A good understanding of aquatic ecology coupled with a deep experiencing of the environment through fishing ultimately leads to an attitude of stewardship and caring for the land. Let's take a look at how this can work.

Why Fishing?

Quite simply, fishing gives purpose to environmental education. Whereas most environmental education asks learners for a leap of faith in assuming its direct relevance and importance, fishing brings the learning out of the abstract to an immediate and personal level: "Do you want to catch some fish? What do we need to know about the fish and its habitat so we can be successful anglers?"

Why Fishing and

Environmental Education?

Fishing for environmental education offers a wonderful example of how outdoor and environmental education support each other. Learning skills for the safe and responsible use of the outdoors can lead to many positive experiences in the natural world. Learning more about how the natural world works brings more depth and meaning to the fishing experience.

Fishing is a wholesome leisure activity with numerous values and benefits. Some of these include:

* Use of problem-solving skills

Campers confront and solve concrete, relevant problems involving the natural world, which frequently leads to a reward ... the catching of a fish!

* Illustration of concepts

Fishing illustrates and allows campers to apply biological and ecological concepts.

* Illustration of environmental problems

Problems such as acid precipitation, non-point source of pollution and chemical contamination can be illustrated through considering impacts on fishing opportunities and experiences.

* Recognition of consequences of decisions

Campers are given opportunities to directly participate in the process of gathering food. Aside from gardening, fishing is the only readily available opportunity most of today's urbanized youth have to obtain and prepare food from start to finish. When suddenly confronted with making a decision about ending a life wriggling in their grasp, young anglers come face to face with the consequences of their need to eat. The result can be a highly interesting consideration of the choices, and their environmental consequences, that humankind must make in order to feed, clothe and shelter itself.

* Forum for ethics discussion

Environmental ethics can be discussed and applied in relevant angling contexts. Determining the most right course of action with issues such as catch-and-release, stocking of exotic species, establishment of limits and sizes, "reclaiming" ponds for trout, etc., can help campers better understand and apply environmental ethics.

* Consideration of spiritual values

Fishing can serve as a vehicle to contemplate creation and one's relationship with and duty to it.

* Development of personal connections

Fishing personally connects learners with the natural world in meaningful ways. Anglers are stake-holders in the land, and are more likely to view themselves as a part of nature. Through fishing, simply, the natural world takes on greater value.

A camp fishing program can incorporate environmental education as a way of encouraging better fishing. And a camp environmental education program can use fishing as a vehicle for illustrating concepts and building connections.

Fishing Programs

Let's take a quick look at "Camp Pisces" and "Camp Ecos" for some examples. After finishing the basic instruction in fishing (casting, knots, terminal gear, safety, etc.) a Camp Pisces fishing counselor took her group to Pisces Pond to try to catch some fish. There were plenty of little bluegills willing to bite but the group soon tired of catching the little guys. "Can't we catch some big bass?" they asked.

The counselor responded with a question. "What do you think we need to know in order to catch bass?"

The group brainstormed. Their list included:

What do bass, especially big bass, like to eat?

Where do bass like to hang out?

What methods could we use to catch them?

Are certain times better than others for catching bass?

The counselor suggested that the campers work together to find the answers. The group readily agreed.

First they looked at pictures of large mouth bass, and examined a mounted bass. Based on their observations of the shape and color of the bass, the size of its mouth and how it was adapted for capturing prey, they determined that the bass was an ambush feeder, and probably liked weedy areas, underwater trees and other places where it could hide.

The counselor then guided a discussion of habitat and the basic requirements (food, cover, temperature ranges, pH and oxygen) specific to bass. The counselor asked the group, "Does our pond have all these requirements?" The group was not sure. "Would you like to find out?" The campers, visions of large bass dancing in their heads, enthusiastically assented.

Guided by the counselors the campers used seine nets, minnow traps and d-net bottom samplers to see what kinds of aquatic critters were found in the pond. After using simplified keys to identify the organisms they found, the group constructed food webs and talked about which organisms would most likely appeal to the bass as food. They agreed the macroinvertebrates such as crayfish, leeches and dragonfly nymphs, and vertebrates such as minnows, frogs and salamanders would be most likely to interest the bass.

The counselor asked the group where they had found most of these prey items. "In the shallower water, on the bottom or in the weeds," the campers chorused. Since bass need cover to hide in wa their prey, and since the prey organisms were found in shallow and weedy areas, the group decided they were most likely to catch a bass along the edges of weed beds or near submerged stumps or trees than in open water. So they focused their fishing efforts in these areas.

Were the campers successful? Yes, they caught some bass. More important, they knew why they caught the fish. As the Camp Pisces anglers continued to develop, they looked at other biological, physical and chemical factors that influenced the fishing. They checked water column temperatures frequently, and learned that bass prefer a certain temperature range. They examined pH and dissolved oxygen, turbidity, nitrogen and phosphorous in the water ... not because of some abstract idea that an adult was imposing on them, but because they wanted to see how it affected the fishing. Their increased awareness of the relationships between living and non-living things led to increased angling success, and a deeper understanding of the natural world. They went fishing for environmental education.

At Camp Ecos the focus is on environmental education. While learning about the impacts of acid precipitation, one group of six campers took a hike along Fontinalis Brook. "Let's find out what lives here," the Ecos counselor proposed, "to see what critters might be able to tell us about acid precipitation's impacts on this area.' Armed with seine nets, white pails and a pH meter, the group checked the stream's pH at regular intervals, and did some biomonitoring.

Biomonitoring looks at the presence, abundance and diversity of living organisms to assess the quality of the aquatic ecosystem. As the Ecos campers collected the aquatic organisms, they used a simplified system to group them into categories. They then talked about any relationship that might exist between the organisms and pH.

The Ecos campers found the pH in Fontinalis Brook to be about 5.9. They found mayfly nymphs and caddis fly larvae in abundance. Though the water was acidic, the campers felt the diversity and abundance of the insects indicated a healthy ecosystem.

After a quick trail lunch the counselor asked if the group wanted to try fishing, to see if they could catch anything larger than the minnows they'd already seined. An enthusiastic response met the question, so the counselor reached into his pack and pulled out some monofilament line and fish hooks.

With the help of the counselor the campers quickly rigged crude fishing poles from willow saplings. The counselors showed them how to bait a hook with a caddis fly larva, how to stealthily approach the water, carefully tossing the baited hook so it drifted beneath the stream bank. The group spread out along the stream to try their luck.

After an hour punctuated by screams, squeal's, splashes and lots of laughter, the counselor caned the group together to examine the results. Three brook trout lay at their feet, heartbreakingly beautiful with their red and blue spots, olive backs melting into cream-colored bellies, and brilliant orange fins edged in black and white. A number of others had been caught and released. with the help of the counselor.

After showing the campers how to clean the fish, ;he counselor opened the stomachs and examined the contents. The trout had been eating aquatic insects, and the group recognized many of them. The counselor pointed out that, just as the insects had been eaten by the trout, so the trout would be eaten by the campers that evening. The counselor asked the group if they enjoyed catching the trout, and if knowing that the trout were present in Fontinalis Brook meant anything. The group seemed thoughtful as they discussed this.

The counselor then pointed out that if the water became much more acidic, the trout would disappear. Eyes grew wide at this, and the campers agreed that this would not be a good thing. "I'd like to come back here and catch trout again next year," one of the campers said.

"I hope you will," responded the counselor, knowing that through fishing this group of campers had established a much more personally meaningful relationship with Fontinalis Brook, and with the natural world, than would have been possible otherwise. The Ecos campers, too, went fishing for environmental education.

Bruce Matthews is director of the New York Sportfishing and Aquatic Resources Education Program, which is housed at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
COPYRIGHT 1994 American Camping Association
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Matthews, Bruce
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 1994
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