Once upon a time, my good pal Amadeo started a conservation project called “Eaters Not Breeders”.
It wasn’t made official, recognized, or sanctioned in any way. Truthfully, it wasn’t any kind of program
at all. It was, in fact, a super effective way to mercilessly tease Amadeo about the small (but legal, it
must be stated) fish he was shooting when he started freedive spearfishing. It seemed that every trip
he was always the guy with the fish that fit into the cooler without cutting the head or tail off. It was a
pretty good run too; went on for roughly two years. Unfortunately, he was quite adept at reversing
the ridicule by simply saying, “Hey, eaters not breeders, motherf###ers!” It took the sting out of it
and, eventually, he permanently shut us all up with a stoned fifty-five pound white sea bass, followed
by a string huge amberjack, pargo, yellowtail and, of course, more giant white sea bass.

But, it brings up an important question: why is it that whenever someone posts a picture of a small
fish, or our dive buddies see us with one, we all jump down his/her throat? #BABYKILLER!,
#WHYAREYOUPOSTINGPICTURESOFYOURCHUM?, #NICEWEEHOO, #BLAHBLAHBLAH. Provided it’s a
legal size fish, why would we care? Is it coming from a place of insecurity where deep down we know
we’ve done the same thing and somehow by pointing the finger at another we can erase the sins of
our past and thus turn the supposed infraction into a repressed memory, only to be extracted by our
hypnotherapist twenty years from now? “Okay, okay! I did it! I shot that two pound fish that I
carefully bled, gutted, and gilled before I fed my wife and kids a delicious low impact organic meal
with it! I’m so, SO sorry!”

Let’s take it a step further. Let’s examine what is really impacted by these apparent “too-small-to
shoot-fish” crimes. We can all agree that the largest of the fish we target in any given species are, in
all likelihood, the most prolific breeders. Take for example white sea bass. A female adult is capable of
producing 1.5 million eggs*. In order to get there, it takes years of dodging sea lions, sharks, weekend
warriors, commercial fishermen, and a LOT of luck to go from one in 1.5 million, to a handful of that
1.5 million now capable of producing 1.5 million (eggs) themselves. So what happens when you
remove that big beautiful “one of a handful” breeder from the gene pool compared to what happens
when you remove that five pound “rat” dorado? For those of you that aren’t quite catching on yet,
don’t bother to take your shoes off to do the math. I’ll put it in terms you might be able understand:
shoot trophy fish = eliminate one in 1.5 million. Shoot smaller fish = eliminate one of 1.5 million. Get
it? No? I can only do my best to explain it while also doing my best to insult you. If I can’t make you
understand it, then I can’t make you understand it. Ugh.

And, to make another point, what the f### are we going to do with a limit of huge fish anyway? “Oh! I
give it to all my friends!” “Oh! The Panga Captain takes it!” “Oh! We donate it to the old folks home”
or whatever bulls##t excuse you ’ll buy if I say it in just the right oh! tone! One or two small rock fish
or snapper will feed you and your immediate family for a couple of meals. You know it and I know it.
Your wife might mock the size of the fish that took all day and, at best, a couple hundred bucks to get
and even though she’ll never understand that part of it no matter how big the fish is, at least she’ll be
happy to have fresh overcooked fish. I’m not saying it isn’t cool to show up at the backyard BBQ with
a sizeable amount every once in a while, but let’s be honest; all else is just ego stroking. Besides, what
tastes better, a small fish or a big one of the same species? Small fish: most likely retrieved quickly,
bled properly, gutted, and put on ice before your buddy can snap even a candid shot as you stick it
quickly into the cooler. Big fish: stressed from a long fight and therefore full of a lot of things I can’t
pronounce due to that stress. Not bled, gilled, or gutted in order to obtain every possible gram for the
scale later. Slightly pre-cooked from photos in the back of the boat, photos in the front of the boat,
photos at the dock, and photos back home as it’s getting dark before you finally clean it.

And yet, I can’t be a hypocrite. Let me also be honest about shooting monster size fish. I’m not saying
in any way, shape, or form that we have to stop doing these things. I’m just saying that we could ease
up on shooting the big ones and lighten up on ridiculing the little ones. I’ve taken a few pretty big fish
and would do so again. In my defense, it’s only because the odds of winning the argument with my
trigger finger the moment a seventy-five pound female white sea bass that’s in all likelihood full of 1.5
million eggs swims up point-blank range and turns broadside, are about the same as your odds of
winning an argument with “Mr. Winky” while leaving the bar at closing time. In either case I estimate
those odds to be, well… about one in four million.

* http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Atractoscion_nobilis/#reproduction