We’re sure you’ve already got it circled on the calendar but, just in case, May 24th is World Fish Migration Day. We here at the CFL are partnering with places like The Nature Conservancy and Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium on some excellent freshwater fish-related outreach for the event (stay tuned!) and, during a recent brainstorming session, someone asked this question:
“Why do fishes matter?”
To everyone in the room, it seems obvious. But, to someone a little less invested in all-things aquatic, perhaps the answer is murkier.
Why are fish important? This Fish Fry Day, we’ll give you what we think are 3 good answers. And we hope you’ll provide your own.
Fish Feed Us
Sure, we’re big fans of talking about “delicious” fish on this blog, but it’s not just us – fish are an important source of nutrition for billions of people across the world. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, fish provide 3 billion people with at least 15% of their annual animal protein intake. For many countries, especially developing ones, fish can be the primary source of much-needed protein for millions. And let’s not forget our own history – fish species like cod, salmon and even eels were a crucial resource for native peoples and early settlers.
Fish Are Inspirational
Seriously. Pacific salmon can travel thousands of miles in their lifetime and cap it off with an upstream “run” ending hundreds of miles from the ocean but within several meters of right, exactly where they were born! And new research shows that they inherit a maps of Earth’s magnetic fields to achieve this.
But salmon aren’t the only species of migratory fish pulling off such incredible journeys. In Hawaii, the Nopili rock-climbing goby can scale waterfalls up to a hundred feet high to reach its spawning grounds. In the muddy Mississippi, researchers have recaptured tagged paddlefish that somehow navigated up to a thousand miles of rivers full of locks and dams to return to native waters. And don’t overlook the American eel, a species that turns the salmon life-history on its head, hatching and spawning at sea, but spending its adult life in freshwater – and slithering across dry land or climbing walls to get there.
Fish Are Living History
We’ve covered this before in a wonderful post from Emily Hilts, as she recounted an old story of a prominent biologist, Louis Agassiz, exhorting a student to “Take this fish and look at it.” Emily recreated the exercise, spending several hours with a bluegill and sharing her observations:
Panfish are made for maneuverability. Their flat pancake shape and fin placement contribute to their ability to turn on a dime, unlike a fish built for roving, like a bass. The more I looked at my bluegill, the more it seemed entirely built for this purpose.
What Emily describes is yet another thing that makes fish so cool – they are a living catalog of adaptation. You could go out to your nearest lake and catch both a prehistoric fish (like a pike) and a more “modern” one (like a bluegill) and get a visual sense of all of those eons of evolution.
You should read her excellent piece about netting a “remnant of evolution. A living memory of a different age.” It’s good stuff and helps explain why we here at the CFL think that fish are not only important, but awe-inspiring!
What about you? Why do YOU think fish matter? We’re all ears. (Or, at least, our comments section is waiting to receive your thoughts!)