In Defense of the Round Goby

ermI wrote this very snarky editorial to add to my family’s Cottage Log, an informal publication which all guests are encouraged to add to each time they visit, a couple of years ago. I had several specific readers in mind while writing it. They have all argued with me pretty much nonstop since, but despite threats of writing answering editorials of their own about how angry a four-inch long fish makes them, my entry remains, triumphant and unchallenged. I’ve edited it just a tad here.

Also note that while I’m accusing OFAH of encouraging people to kill individual fish for basically no productive purpose, at this point in time I can’t find any evidence that OFAH ever actually encouraged that crap. The only people saying you should kill a Goby if you catch one are randoms with blogs, such as myself, although I’m saying the opposite. See the end of this post for more details.

Though some believe that the Ontario Government called for amateur anglers to kill any Round Gobies that they catch, the province has actually encouraged no such thing. It was in fact the OFAH***, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, who bugled forth this obnoxious call to arms. Let us examine their statement in detail.

OFAH says, “Although anglers and boaters can help to prevent the spread of Gobies to inland waterways, there are no known ways of eliminating Gobies from a large open system such as the Great Lakes. Gobies, like many other exotic species, are here to stay.” Having admitted this much, they go on to advise: “Learn to identify Round Gobies and if caught, kill them. Do not throw them back alive.” This kind of attitude from a federation of anglers and hunters is unfortunate but not surprising. Though hunters and anglers should, ideally, be respectful toward the creatures that they disrupt, injure, and kill (it’s the least they can do, really), sometimes, as this single statement shows, they are not. Encouraging acts of cruelty towards individual fish who have no part in their own status as an invading species is irresponsible, particularly because, as OFAH itself notes, killing individual Gobies will not solve the problem.

The Ontario Government did issue their own statement about Gobies: “The most important strategy to combat the proliferation of Gobies and other exotic species is public education.” Unfortunately, this statement was far less bloodthirsty than OFAH would have liked it to be.

Gobies are indeed an invasive species, and like all invasive species they cause problems for the native plants and animals with whom they now share territory simply by shaking up fragile ecosystems, adding more competition where competition was well-balanced before. The most notorious and deadly invasive species to date is the dreaded Homo sapiens, who spans the globe and sometimes even ventures into the oceans. The consequences of the invasion of Homo sapiens, beginning from Africa and spreading to almost all corners of the globe, are still being felt, and will continue to damage just about every ecosystem on earth. Fortunately for those of us in the Great Lakes area, Round Gobies are not nearly as destructive as Homo sapiens—though of course the Lakes are infested with those too. Sigh.

Photo by New York Invasive Species Information
the charming little fish

The Round Goby is a charming little fish who is raised by its father. Dad defends them as eggs from tastier and prettier predators. It is estimated that Goby fathers are so successful at caring for and defending the eggs that about 95% of eggs laid will survive to hatch.

Gobies eat a varied diet, feeding on fish eggs but also on insect larvae. They also feed on Zebra Mussels (yet another horrendous invader that didn’t, in fact, set off Armageddon). Gobies are in turn fed upon by a variety of predators once their fathers are no longer around to protect them. Their predators include a wide variety of sport fish. Round Gobies are also a new favourite food of the Lake Erie Watersnake, a threatened species, whose numbers, now that the Gobies are around to provide them another tasty meal, are increasing****.

 - photo by Reinhard Zinabold, flickr
a Lake Erie Watersnake, a threatened species, going forth to multiply after eating some Round Gobies

So why is OFAH so desperately inclined towards violence in dealing with the charming little fish? The people at New York Invasive Species Information put it like so: “Round gobies are problematic to anglers in that Gobies are proficient bait thieves.” Perhaps Gobies also tied the folks at OFAH’s shoelaces together and sniggered quietly into their fins when they then tripped.

Suggestions that humans can control another species’ population through killing should be treated as very suspicious. Buck-hunting, after all, does not reduce the number of deer (doe-hunting would be much more effective, as even one buck alone is more than able to impregnate many does), and killing the odd Goby one catches will not restore humanity to the Garden of Eden. Wanting to care for and protect the beautiful lakes surrounding us is an admirable goal, but there are many non-violent ways to tend our ecosystem.

In the meantime, appreciate the smile and the wink you get from each passing Goby that you leave alive to swim another day, feed another snake, protect another batch of eggs, and eat another Zebra Mussel. There are too few joys such as this to indulge in these days.

erm is not really an expert, but years of rolling her eyes at human stupidity have given her a very rounded perspective.

(OK. I editied a bit more than “a tad.” A perfectionist’s work is never done.)

***(Apparently it wasn’t actually OFAH who said that thing about killing random fish just out of spite. Googling the full quote now brought me to this dude who makes lures that look like Gobies… so maybe he just posted a comment on an OFAH post about Gobies? I’m honestly not sure, because I did quite a bit of research for this little snarkfest and I do hope I wouldn’t have missed that this was just some random guy’s opinion, and not really the statement of the entire organization. Of course, I’m more hopeful that OFAH didn’t say that crap. This whole thing started because I wanted to argue against spiteful killings of individual animals, and I was told that the Ontario Government instructed citizens to kill Gobies. What I thought I found was that OFAH said it, and now what I’m finding is that no one but random people with random blog posts are saying it. It’s cool. Don’t kill animals, is the point.)

****(I also learned in researching this post again that the Lake Erie Watersnake is, drumroll please, no longer a threatened species. Thanks, Round Gobies! I love you!)


click on the pictures to see them in all of their original glory, with interesting info, too!

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