Like all things at this time of year, everything makes me think of fishing. It’s worse when you write for a fishing technology website. Reading about Mahatma Gandhi the other day, I came across a mention of something called Appropriate Technology. Next thing you know, I was down the rabbit hole and was thinking about Appropriate Fishing Technology.
It’s an interesting concept. As a fisherman, chances are you’re already practicing Appropriate Technology to some degree and don’t even know it.
What Is Appropriate Technology?
The Appropriate Technology movement (at first called Intermediate Technology) started in the mid-20th century. It was a reaction to the “high tech is always better” mantra of the day. First described by coal economist E.F. Schumacher in a 1962 report to planning officials in India, the idea was to develop the country in a way that relied on labor, which India had in great supply, and less so on capital, which India was lacking (and would have to borrow). Sounds like the average fisherman I know!
Although the officials rejected the idea and India went down a different path (thanks, World Bank), the seeds of the concept stuck. The movement would evolve and go on to spark quite a few related ideas.
In its final form, any Appropriate Technology has a few features:
Sustainable, requiring fewer natural resources and less energy
Small-scale and decentralized where possible, relying on local labor to build and maintain
Fitting in with its environmental, cultural, or economic context
Fishing and Appropriate Technology
For the most part, fishing done right is already using Appropriate Technology.
Fishing tackle is a prime example of decentralized, Appropriate Technology. Lures and techniques to use them come from folks at the local level who use them on a regular basis. What works in one stream at one time of day might not work in another stream at another time of day. That knowledge can’t come from from a central location and delivered by Amazon Prime. It’s specific to that area and has to come from people that know the area.
The average fisherman I know is also big into DIY, which is itself an exercise in Appropriate Technology. Instead of relying on someone else to fix something (or even worse send something back to the manufacturer) why not zip-tie or duct tape it back together?
Where Fishing Falls Short
Now, this next point I’m making may ruffle some feathers, but so be it: Gas-powered internal combustion engines fail the Appropriate Technology test. There are other examples, but this one is the easiest to pick on several counts.
First, traditional boat motors fall short of the sustainability test, since they run on petroleum. Unless you’re some kind of nut job who believes in abiogenic oil theory, you know they’re not making any new oil, so anything that runs on petroleum isn’t sustainable.
Sure, there are motors out there modified to run on ethanol and biodiesel refined nearby, but good luck keeping your warranty.
Second, traditional boat motors fail the decentralization test. The fuel powering the outboard probably came from a refinery hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Before that, oil had to be transported hundreds or thousands of miles to the refinery. Added together, running that motor for even one mile requires hundreds or thousands of miles of transportation. And that’s just fuel. Manufacturing supply chains for something as complex as an internal combustion engine are longer and way more complicated and require further energy to keep up and running.
Last, there’s the context test. Here’s where the fish have it figured out. They’re the best judge of what’s appropriate for that context. An outboard running at anything above idle will spook them. The fish know it doesn’t belong there. The average fly fisherman knows it doesn’t belong there. Boats zipping around with their outboards revving at over 90 dB don’t belong in nature.
Fishing’s Appropriate Technology Future
So if internal combustion fails the Appropriate Technology test, what’s an alternative for a group of fishing folks to go out and have a good time on the water? Right now, until electric motors become a bit better, I’d argue the solution is pedal kayaks.
Pedal kayaks have become very popular in recent years, and with good reason. Compared to regular paddling, they’re easy for even older folks to use to get around. They can support they fish finders and other electronics we’ve come to rely on (which are themselves becoming smaller and less energy-intensive). And as more manufacturers come on the scene, the price point is becoming more attainable for average folks all the time. Sure, they’re built with rotomolded polyethylene, but there’s no reason they couldn’t be made with a more sustainable replacement.
All that being said, electric drives are coming up. Just like how cars have recently made a big move to electric power, it’s only a matter of time before fully electric boat motors start really taking off. They can be powered by local energy sources instead of fossil fuels, and are much simpler to manufacture and maintain locally.
In all, these developments point to an Appropriate Technology future for fishing. And then, finally, the fly fishermen won’t have the market cornered.
About the Author
Norm Alioto writes for FishingTech.com, a website that covers consumer fishing technology and helps anglers find the best fish finder, best pedal kayak, and best trolling motor for their needs. Norm grew up fishing halibut, striped bass, and rockfish along the eastern shores of San Francisco bay.