Thursday, June 11, 2009
Published online on Wednesday, Jun. 10, 2009
By Marek Warszawski / The Fresno Bee
Before it was even written, I knew last week's story on Fresno angler Chong Yang would generate a tremendous amount of response.
I just didn't realize how much of that response would be so negative, even hostile.
When someone catches five striped bass weighing more than 40 pounds in a span of six weeks -- including a record 62.8-pounder at Millerton Lake -- I figure that person deserves praise and congratulations. It takes extraordinary skill, patience and good fortune to pull off such a feat.
Instead, if my voice mail and e-mail inbox are any indication, he gets called out for being a "cheater," "foolish and selfish" and (my personal favorite) "ethically void."
The fact that Yang is Hmong probably plays a role. I can't tell you how many times over the years I've been told how the Hmong are hunting all the deer from our forests or taking all the fish from our lakes with no regard to bag limits or other fish and game laws.
(Every game warden I've ever spoken to about this subject tells me it's an unfair stereotype, born out of resentment, laziness or racism.)
In this case, however, Yang's heritage isn't what has some local anglers so worked up.
It's that Yang doesn't put back what he catches. And the perception that he is doing irreversible damage to the lake's ecosystem by, in the words of one angry e-mailer, "killing 100-150 years of prime breeding female stripers."
Not true, according to retired Fish and Game aquatics supervisor Dale Mitchell.
"People who say those things and send those e-mails don't understand genetics," Mitchell said. "The fact that [Yang] has taken a few older females should be of no genetic consequence whatsoever."
Mitchell explained that a 40-pound striper is probably 30 years old, meaning she has been reproducing for about 25 years. (Studies have shown that stripers do, in fact, reproduce in Millerton.) Which means her genes have long since been passed on to her progeny.
While it's true that a 40-pound female produces more eggs than a 10-pounder, that number is not what determines whether there will be more fish in the lake.
"Natural mortality is much more of a limiting factor than angling mortality," Mitchell said. "That's what people need to understand. ... The only impact [Yang is] having is that those fish, once he keeps them, can only be caught once."
Personally, I'm a big proponent of catch-and-release fishing. Unless I'm fishing for kokanee, rock cod or pan-sized trout for supper while on a backpacking trip, everything I catch goes right back where it came from.
But it's a personal choice. Not a mandate.
When I interviewed Yang, first at a Vietnamese bakery, then at his southeast Fresno home, one of the first questions I asked him was about catch and release. Specifically, why he doesn't practice it.
"People aren't going to believe pictures," he told me. "You need that fish as proof."
Now that Yang's picture has been splashed across the front page of the paper and his accomplishments are well-known throughout the community, I'm hoping he'll start putting those 40-pounders back. Just so they have a chance to grow to be 60 or 70.
But that choice is up to him, and no one else.
The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (559) 441-6218.