Tuesday 27 January 2009

Carp Diem

If there is one single feature that unites the majority of cities worldwide it is that they are built on or around impressive bodies of water. Often on fast-flowing rivers, but sometimes great lakes or ports on the seafront, cities have water running through their lifeveins. Historically this water was essential for trade and for providing an abundant source of life-preserving liquid for inhabitants, but its role has become more marginalised today in a world dominated by cars and planes. There is one group in France though who are determined to bring the river back into the focus of city inhabitants – the Street Fishers.

What is Street Fishing? Put simply, it is just angling in an urban environment, but to the creators of the concept, it is much more than that. David Pierron, the coordinator of the Street Fishing tour at the AFCPL sees it as a sporting activity influenced by skate culture, but also a true lifestyle choice. The Street Fishing tour attracted 383 participants to 11 events around the country in 2008 (including one in the centre of Paris), with an average age of participant of 30. Many more events are planned for 2009, and the average age of participant is expected to dip again. The surprise has been the arrival of this new generation to an age-old activity, participants who claim to get an adrenaline rush that can be compared to gaming. In Rennes, a community worker, Manu Airoldi,
has even organised hip-hop related fishing workshops for the youth of the city.

The urban aspect of the activity is something I can personally relate to. 20 years ago my brother and I were already doing something similar on the river Kennet in the centre of our home town of Reading. Our favoured positions were leaned up against railings opposite a giant gasholder, or on a stretch between a brutalist multi-story car park and a creaking bus depot. Near the car park, there was a weeping willow tree that gently trailed into the water, and when we fished near there on warm summer evenings we could listen to the river and watch the reeds pointing their fingers up towards the surface. Kingfishers passed by in a flash of fire and dragonflies drew flame from our fishing rods. The city traffic gave a background hum, but it was the calls of ducks and moorhens that captured our attention.

I’ve never fished in Paris though, and neither can I say that I regularly see people fishing on the Seine or the Canal St Martin. The water of this city is brown and opaque, and seemingly used only as a route for pleasure boat traffic and as a reflective surface for riverside architecture. For Pierron though, it is a growing activity, in an environment which has a lot to teach us. “It is the last truly wild natural environment that exists in cities” he explains. “At first view, street fishers are not in a natural environment, but as soon as they are next to the water, their focus is only on this last territory of wild life”. The environmental aspect to this lifestyle choice is clearly revindicated. As Pierron outlines, “After the dark years of pollution, this is clearly a reappropriation of urban waters. Previously there were just three species of fish in the Seine, but the fishing community today has now counted 32 different species, including Salmon”.

How does street fishing differ from simple fishing though? In many ways, there is no difference, with the fundamental aspects of fishing remain the same no matter what environment. The techniques necessary for the activity are important skills for people to learn at any age, but perhaps particularly the young. Pierron lists observation, self-control and humility as being especially important as well as an awareness of your surroundings and learning the basic gestures of the discipline. It can give individuals a real sense of achievement too. As Pierron explains, “it’s the same as life as a whole – there is good luck and bad luck, but success or failure in fishing are dependant on the choices we make. You need to have a basic understanding of nature and fish, and what we manage to catch is the concretisation of what we have learned and understood”. It also gives people an insight into what is happening underneath a dark surface, and shows that nature does indeed exist in the city environment.

There are however two ways that street fishers do like to differentiate themselves from other members of the fishing community. Firstly, the activity should no longer be seen as sedentary, but one based on mobility. The street fisher uses lightweight material, and moves around to find the best spot at a particular moment. Secondly, street fishers never keep fish out of the water for any significant length of time, and never eat their catch. “We are militants” explains Pierron, “militants for a modern, responsible form of fishing”. He calls the method used ‘catch and release’, but the website displays grafitti style logos for the NoKillGeneration.

Talking to Pierron and listening to his passion for his activity has made me want to get my fishing rod out of the cupboard again. As Pierron points out, street fishing does not need to be an all-day activity, but can just be a quick hour after work. It would be a hypnotic hour of calm, concentration and relaxation, and the chance to disconnect from the city and reconnect with nature. With a little bit of luck too, it would also be the opportunity to see up close the strength and beauty of a Pike, Perch or Chub again.

Note: Many thanks to David Pierron and Jullian Frédéric at the AFCPL for their assistance with this item. All photos and images were provided by them and can only be used with their permission. The photos were both taken in Paris on the Canal St Martin during the Street Fishing Tour.


Anonymous said...

Now how's that for an Invisible Paris story? Does it get any better than this? You're a master at finding such topics. Hat off to you.

On a completely unrelated topic, you did mention your birdwatching days in an earlier post so I thought you might enjoy this blog :


Starman said...

I went to a picnic on Square du Vert Galant in June. A few feet from our party, a Parisian was fishing. He had in his basket, about three eels.

Peter (the other) said...

".. seemingly used only as a route for pleasure boat traffic.. "

I find that the idea of bringing in much of the heavy building materials via the river, concrete, sand, stone etc. (you can see the depots in the 15th, 13th and elsewhere) very sensible.

Squirrel said...

I agree with Natalie--You're the master!

my small town sits on the river with mountains hugging it all round, except of course for the shoreline. I do miss seeing fishermen everywhere--it's just been a little too cold. I look forward to seeing them again.

Adam said...

Nathalie: Thanks for the link - there are some amazing photos there!

Starman: I guess he wasn't from the 'NoKillGeneration' then! I used to catch lots of eels in my youth too, and had many slippery adventures just trying to get them back into the water!

Peter (the other): I guess I was being slightly disingenuous there!

Squirrel: It's perhaps not Street Fishing where you live, but it sounds very attractive!

PeterParis said...

So there are other Peters? :-)

Without knowing about this association, I have also noticed a few young fishers around the quays recently. Now I understand better! It's becoming a fashion!

As Nathalie says; you're a master of finding interesting a different topics!!

PeterParis said...

... and I forgot to congratulate you for the appropriate title! :-)

(First I thought "he has made a mistake"! Often you concentrate on the contents and then make a typing error in the title; at least that happens to me.)

CarolineLD said...

Amazing! It does make fishing sound tempting - although my only previous (seaside) experience involved catching nothing thanks to a hungry seal.

ArtSparker said...

Fascinating, I am going to link to it today by means of my almost-related post. Water in the United States is becoming less readily available as underground water tables shrink, and it is the life blood of the planet. There is also a connection between these fishers and bicyclists, I think...

I am glad you finally found someone who was eager to help you with information.

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