In Newfoundland the capelin roll up on the beach around this time of year (check out this video to see what this phenomenon looks like) and locals flock to the coves to catch these little fish as they come to lay their eggs. It's an interesting thing to witness; people of all ages and backgrounds, with their buckets and nets and their dogs, families with their beach fires going and coolers set up for the evening, all gathered to take advantage of an easy harvesting of a ready supply of food.
I went with some friends to Middle Cove Beach to check it out on Sunday since it's an important cultural event here and I might as well see it while I can, and it was great to hang out with friends and spot whales off in the distance.
We took butterfly nets (Canadian Tire and every other major store were all sold out of proper fishing gear) and buckets, and Matt and Mona were brave enough to wade into the frigid Atlantic to see if they could scoop up any fish.
Unfortunately, it wasn't a success. Fish swim fast, and kids' butterfly nets are no match for schools of capelin, even if they are within arm's reach. Fortunately, another local had a proper net and showed Matt how to use it, and even gave us a ton of his own catch.
So we had a whole whack of them within about 15 minutes. I helped everyone pick up the flopping things off the pebbles – fish, no matter how small, always feel slimy and strong – and we got them all into a triple-bagged garbage bag to take home.
Now here's where it gets weird.
I felt acutely uncomfortable at the idea of putting live things that would soon asphyxiate and die into a garbage bag. The symbolism of this stood out to me: at best, we're treating these fish, which have a nervous system (and presumably feel pain) as though they were candy that had fallen from an exploded piñata at a birthday party. At worst, we were dumping them into a trash bag just in the same way we would anything else that's gross and needs to be disposed of. I didn't voice these thoughts at the time, of course, and I surprised myself at even thinking along these lines. It's not like I've never eaten fish, or even caught and killed fish with my bare hands before. But this time I didn't enjoy the experience of bringing home the catch. I didn't feel good about it, or excited.
Even worse, when we brought the bag home to Mona's, and the gang began the process of gutting the fish in the kitchen, I felt too squeamish to help, so I went to the living room to read. Just the smell and the sight of the heads and the blood and guts really turned me off.
Is this what happens after a while to a vegetarian? Is it some sort of primal thing that happens when you take yourself out of the death = life equation? Or is this just self-righteousness rearing its ugly head?