I was saddened to learn of Tred Barta’s passing in August 2019 in an automobile accident. So many memories came flooding back – his desire to do everything the hard way “the Barta way” could certainly bring out the worst and best in people. People either loved him or hated him, but no one could deny his tinasity and love of the outdoors.
Tred’s own personal challenge of overcoming a life-threatening disease at the peak of his TV NBC Sports career left him paralysed but not defeated. He never let anything or anyone hold him back, and I count myself fortunate to have been by his side during a number of his outdoor adventures such as fly fishing for trout in Vale Colorado, to fishing sailfish in Guatemala. It was through our shared passion to fish no matter what our personal challenges might be, (in my case I’m totally blind), led to our engaging in deeply personal and revealing discussions about the many barriers we face as people with disabilities, and how to keep moving forward with determination, integrity, and a good sense of humour. I think what I admired in Tred the most was his sense of humour and creative way of engaging members of the public in his spontaneous real-life public performances that would leave everyone smiling, if not slightly confused.
I first met Tred when a mutual friend invited us to be part of the first-ever all disabled team to compete in the America Cup International Fly fishing Tournament in Colorado. It was after the event had concluded and Tred took out his infamous 150lb-pull long bow that we had a chance to really get to know each other. I think I impressed him with my accuracy that led Tred to invite me on future adventures of his own.
Link to read an account of our America Cup fly fishing results first published in Bob Izumi’s Reel Fishing magazine: https://lawrencegunther.com/blind-fishing-sailfish-using-bait-and-switch/
When I received an invitation from Tred to join him, his passed wife Annie, and his film crew in Guatemala for some light tackle fishing for Sailfish, I jumped at the chance. Tred proposed that he would serve as my eyes as we attempted to hook-up sailfish using the bait-and-switch technique, and I would serve as Tred’s arms and hands as I would connect and then play the fish. Well, it didn’t go quite as we planned, but worked out beyond everyone’s wildest dreams in the end.
Link to read my report on our adventure along with great photos: https://lawrencegunther.com/blind-fishing-sailfish-using-bait-and-switch/
Link for Tred Barta’s report on the sailfish adventure published in Sport Fishing magazine: https://www.sportfishingmag.com/blogs/record/you-won-t-believe/
Link to watch this great video of Tred and I ultimately triumphing over the challenge of learning to catch Sailfish on light tackle using the bait-and-switch technique without the use of sight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqjIotUT2R0
As many of you, my attachment to fishing began with adventures with my father and three brothers as we captured and then consumed all we caught. Even after I was declared legally blind, I still pursued my passion for fishing, and by my early 20’s, I was fishing commercially for Atlantic Cod aboard wooden dories along the coast of Cape Breton Island. It was an idyllic, if not lucrative, way to spend my summers.
My summer employment hand-lining for Cod lasted for about as long as it took me to fill my quite unnaturally large university student’s head with books, lectures and research. Not all nine of those school years were spent sitting at tiny student desks though. Whenever possible I ventured out to conduct field research including a stint in Alberta climbing mountains, residing in the North West Territories among Inuit and Dena natives, and a year in northern Sweden to lecture and conduct research for my master’s thesis.
Upon graduating, I became increasingly involved in competitive fishing. I now have well over 100 competitions under my PFD, a half dozen or so wins and a bunch of top-ten finishes. I still fish the odd competitive event, including 14 bass, walleye, musky, salmon and multi-species tournaments scheduled for the 2016 season, but more and more I’m returning to my roots as a devoted recreational angler.
When my remaining vision blinked out in my 40’s, I cobbled together an assortment of talking and audible electronics and pieced together a small electric boat. It restored my ability to fish independently, and garnered me international recognition as the inventor of the world’s first fishing boat for the blind. Not a self-driving boat, but pretty darn close.
Whether fishing for food, money or fun, vision loss has never been a huge impediment. In fact, I now apply my same visualization skills both above and below the water. The ability to focus without being visually distracted and my reliance on a sense of touch has also led to my becoming quite good at figuring out what’s taking place down below, as well as catching the odd fish. Subsequent SCUBA certification simply confirmed what I had been feeling through my infinitely telescopic sensor – my fishing rod and line.
Apparently I’m in the majority of Canadians who grew up fishing. Nineteen million others claim to have fished and may very likely fish again. Even though it’s the glamour, heart break and instant fame of tournament and commercial fishing that now dominates much of what we read and watch, remarkably, approximately 95% of those who fish do so recreationally. Many anglers still keep fish for the table, but most fish — over half — are now released alive.
Recreational anglers make up the silent majority. We are the people who avoid environmentalists for fear of being judged, and are often overlooked by the tackle and marine industries because, hey, everyone likes to back a winner. That’s all fine, and many prefer it this way, but it doesn’t answer the question, where can we get good information about fishing sustainably?
People seem fed-up hearing about climate change, global warming, acidification of oceans, islands of plastic, etc. It would seem we already know as much as we want to about how our built world and actions are conflicting with nature. What people are asking is what do we need to do differently or better?
Thankfully, eating locally produced food has come into vogue. What could be more natural than catching and consuming locally grown, organic, free-range, wild fish? A sort of return to our earliest hunter-gatherer roots. I’m not talking about sticks and stones survival, but learning from the past and incorporating the best science has to offer.
Blue Fish Canada was founded to provide valid and reliable information, instructive anecdotes, the wisdom of many, and simple tips needed to sort out false claims from the truth about what’s really going on underwater. A mix of the best of the old with the latest and greatest. Perspectives that give people the skills to fish, catch fish, release fish and selectively harvest fish with the confidence that they are doing it in ways that will stand the test of time.
The name Blue Fish Canada comes from the idea that fish consist of about 90% water. This means good water quality is fundamental to the survival of fish, just as clean air is important to us terrestrial animals.
Lastly, I believe strongly in science-based decision making, and that citizen science is crucial to conducting good science. It’s us anglers who are out there observing, analyzing, and solving the puzzle each day on where the fish are, what they are doing, and what’s happening in their world.
With the support of some friends who believe in the above, in 2012 we started the process of incorporating Blue Fish Canada with Industry Canada, and registering the non-profit with the Customs and Revenue Agency. It wasn’t easy as the federal government at the time was of the opinion that Canada had more than enough “environmental” charities, and had set in motion a process to investigate and unregister many – never mind allow new ones to be created. However, persistence paid off, and after numerous forms and letters from the government demanding more proof that we weren’t just another anti-energy pressure group, our application was approved. The next five years was spent developing projects, pilot testing their effectiveness, and building up the programs that showed the most promise of bringing value to Canadians. Every cent raised has gone into programs. I’m now happy to report that Blue Fish Canada is a national leader in the area of fish health and conservation, and promoting sustainable recreational fishing.
Please visit the Blue Fish Canada website and share your comments, insights and direct observations. Who knows, it may just make it on to one of my episodes of Blue Fish Radio, a podcast about the future of fish and fishing.
As North America’s Only Blind Professional Angler, outdoor Writer, Podcaster, Film Maker and conservationist, it would appear my commitment to the future of fish and fishing is keeping me busier than ever…
I created, researched, wrote and hosted the privately funded documentary, What Lies Below to explore the future of fish health and sustainable fishing in Canada.
Your first impression may be that it’s an inspirational” piece focusing on my personal story of vision loss. However, we worked hard to portray my visual disability as an asset without hiding the ramifications of living without sight. It was our goal to show those with sight how to suspend their need to see to believe, and to trust what their other senses are telling them about what’s truly taking place out-of-sight beneath the surface of Canada’s rivers, lakes and three oceans.
Festivals and organized screenings around the world continue to feature the documentary, and TV broadcasters such as CBC Doc Channel and AMI TV continue to air the documentary over TV.
The following short review was published after What Lies Below premiered as the closing film at the Planet in Focus Film Festival to a packed house at the Hot Docs Theatre in Toronto:
From TheGate.ca: This year’s closing night film (screening at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema comes from Canadian filmmaker Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, whose last film was his stunningly gorgeous debut feature Whitewash, starring Thomas Hayden Church as an alcoholic Quebecois plow driver who makes a deadly misjudgment. His follow-up is What Lies Below, an equally stunning documentary that focuses on Lawrence Gunther, a legally blind environmental advocate documenting the effects of waste, sewage, and pollution on fish populations and water supplies. The most gorgeous looking film at this year’s festival (which actually says a lot for an environmental film showcase), What Lies Below balances the personal, the political, and the environmental wonderfully, making the audience learn just as much about Lawrence as they do the world around him. It’s a disarmingly emotional experience that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt (and please pardon the pun) that we can’t keep turning a blind eye to how we treat the world around us.
Gunther’s unique ability to visualize what lies out-of-sight beneath the surface of Canada’s rivers, lakes and oceans is further explored in the following Published review.
A more in-depth interview with the film’s Director provides insight how the eleven stories were chosen and presented.
Gunther’s presentation at a recent U.S. River Keeper conference earned him the Conference’s first-ever standing ovation and a glowing review.
For more about the doc and to preview the trailer, visit: www.WhatLiesBelow.ca.
To arrange a speaking engagement with me, Lawrence Gunther, call 613-882-3028 or email Lawrence@lawrencegunther.com.
Four short descriptions of exciting Blue Fish Canada projects we want to bring to your attention:
Do public aquariums have anything to do with recreational angling? That’s the question I wanted to answer when I set out to visit a dozen of North America’s top research aquariums for my Blue Fish Radio podcast. After interviewing 26 aquarium officials, including biologists, researchers, volunteers, communication specialists and even one of the top people at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, I’ve concluded that public aquariums not only support fishing, they depend on us anglers for the success of many of their projects. Let me explain.
Aquariums were first conceived in the 1920s with the sole purpose of giving people a chance to view wildlife from beneath the waves, where it otherwise can’t be easily seen. Starting in the 1980s, however, aquariums began to understand that they needed to do much more to stay relevant.
Today, they offer visitors all manner of information, countless ways to get their hands wet and the chance to help ensure the future of wild fish.
For example, the non-profit Vancouver Aquarium uses admission fees to support programs for research, conservation, education, monitoring, cleanup, rescue, rehabilitation, volunteers, apprenticeships and more. Even Toronto’s for-profit Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada supports conservation and research. In fact, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is responsible for certifying public aquariums, mandates such efforts as part of its certification criteria.
Across Canada and the U.S., anglers contribute more volunteer hours toward fish conservation than any other interest group. Aquariums know this, and appreciate the passion anglers have for safeguarding fish and fish habitat. As a result, they’ve developed programs that rely heavily on the participation of anglers and their organizations.
The Vancouver Aquarium, for example, organizes the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup program to coordinate riverbank and lake shoreline rehabilitation. An online mapping tool even helps volunteer groups, including numerous fishing clubs, target their cleanup activities to avoid duplication of efforts.
Then there’s the Great Lakes Fish Finder app recently launched by Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. It was developed for recreational anglers and commercial fishermen to collect data on the presence of both native and invasive fish species throughout the Great Lakes. The app also helps recreational anglers identify fish species and log their catches.
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Aquarium is working closely with anglers to collect important catch-and release information on sturgeon, helping aquarium scientists monitor reintroduction efforts throughout more than 560 kilometres of river. Similarly, Trout Unlimited is funding the aquarium’s reintroduction of Southern Appalachian brook trout, which were almost brought to extinction owing to deforestation, the introduction of invasive species and climate change. The Tennessee chapter of the American Fisheries Society recently acknowledged the aquarium for its leadership in these conservation initiatives.
Two more examples of how aquariums are tied to the angling world are the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise fish consumption guides. Both programs promote sustainable fishing by encouraging people to eat fish caught in ways that don’t impact the ability of our oceans and lakes to replace the fish being caught.
Clearly, public aquariums depend on anglers for much more than our entry fees. They need anglers to continue being stewards of aquatic ecosystems and to get behind programs designed to improve fish habitat and fish numbers. With so many pressures impacting our fisheries, we as anglers need to be better informed than ever to identify and report issues before they become real problems. And as part of this, we need to support aquariums in their research and conservation work, as well as in their efforts to educate the public about living and fishing sustainably.
So, the next chance you get to visit an aquarium, look beyond the super-sized tanks and spectacular fish and talk to one of the staff biologists about your passion for angling—I have yet to meet one whose career path didn’t start with a love for fishing. Not only will you likely learn something about fish that you can use out on the water, you’ll also be doing your part to strengthen the bond between aquariums and anglers.
Visit the Blue Fish Canada website for photos, details and links to each Blue Fish Radio episode podcast for each of the 12 aquariums visited by the author and his family: http://bluefishcanada.ca/special-feature-aquariums-of-north-america/
(Published originally in Outdoor Canada Magazine)
I’m proud to have the honor of being the first Canadian to take part in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 3-day Fisheries Science and Management for Recreational Anglers Workshop
Hear the reactions from key industry and media leaders including this year’s key note presenter, Dave Mercer