The Fish Story

Neo-Traditional Medicine Reaches Gooniness; Hikers, Know If Property Truly Private

By JAY MANN | Mar 26, 2019

I’m having a re-rant on behalf of totoaba fish and poor little vaquita dolphin, both of which live exclusively down Gulf of California way.

My resurrected rant is mainly aimed at Chinese quackery. To me, neo-traditional Far East medicine is becoming a living example of how nutzoid emerging folk medicine can get. Ask seals missing their private parts (though that’s for another rave day).

The world is fully aware of the incorrigible wildlife poaching and smuggling associated with upstart forms of Asian alternative medicine. The hocus-pocus practice is decimating dozens of the planet’s scarcest creatures. Ironically, the rareness itself feeds into the curative craziness. A scourge of Chinese sorcerers is conjuring up magical recipes requiring only the essences of the rarest creatures – fostering rareness as a sure sign it must be able to do miraculous things.

This month, China showily arrested 11 people for smuggling $119 million worth of Mexican totoaba fish swim bladders. The accused smugglers were caught with nearly 20,000 swim bladders, taken from a species that can’t afford to lose even one more bladder-carrying member. Imagine how many smuggled bladders regularly allude the short-arm of Chinese law enforcement.

Totoaba is the largest living drumfish, though likely to soon relinquish that “living” status. Not only is the totoaba population breaking bad, ecologically, but also its Black-Market value continues to soar to high Tiān (heaven). A single dried bladder sells for as much as $645,000. Absurdly unreal curative claims have driven its street value far beyond the likes of cocaine, garnering totoaba bladders the nickname “cocaine of the sea.”

And what does totoaba bladder do? Its unsubstantiated claim to fame is its ability to boost … fertility. In a nation of 1.4 billion people, selling a fertility product would seem akin to selling ice to Innuits. Yet totoaba bladders are backordered into the next Chinese century.

Expectedly, the fish’s worth makes it utterly irresistible to Mexican fishermen. They’re fishing the species to extinction with militant fervor, often backed by the machine gun muscle of Columbian drug cartels – cartels that already have so many American dollars they’ve taken to gathering yuans out of boredom.

I’ll duly and somewhat counter-intuitively note that I fully respect tried-and-true traditional Chinese medicine. I’ve experienced the ages-old benefits of many an Asian herbal concoction. What’s become insufferably different is New Age “traditional” medicine. Honorable remedies, gleaned from millennia of trial and error, have given way to sudden and whacked-out cure-alls. Lo and behold, a perfect example is the insta-tradition tied to totoaba bladders. Practiced practitioners of olden Chinese medicine wouldn’t know a totoaba if it swam up and bit them on the pìgu, nor would they even consider assigning such a newbie with immediate healing properties. It’s essentially punk practitioners that endow it with a rock star healing status.

By the by, Chinese yaw (dried fish bladders) have long been bandied about by legit traditional medicine practitioners. However, the maniacal rush for miracle-imbued totoaba yaw is merely a marketing freak show. How freaky? The rich of China now routinely keep a whole, dried, six-figure totoaba bladder on the mantel as a sign of being wealthy. More like a sign of being a nutcase.

And way down here is where I finally bring up the destruction of Gulf of California vaquitas, the smallest of all dolphin. Their dismal lot in life is living in the same waters as totoabas. Through collateral bycatch damage, the species is sliding from near-extinction into the black hole of total extirpation, as Mexican fishermen use any means possible to net totoaba – with impunity. The conservation cruise ship Sea Shepard went on a mission to save the vaquita and were attacked and driven off by fishermen.

So, why am I not going bigger on the death of vaquitas? Face it, the Asian yaw market is what’s sounding the death knell for the dolphin. The dead dolphin are chucked. Only attacks on the moronic, neo-traditional Chinese medicine will save the day – and the lives of who knows how many endangered species being exploited for cockamamie curative recipes.

MANN OVERBOARD: I came across a medium-aged fellow in the woods over the weekend. The meet-up got off on the wrong hiking foot, as he greeted me with a snarly, “This is private property.” Pray tell.

He would soon learn to never discuss private property with someone who has majored in the study of trespassing, i.e. me.

I’ve microscopically examined every law and lawlet regarding where – in wooded areas and open spaces – I can walk in a legal and unfettered manner. By default, that makes me highly conversant on privately-owned, untraipseable ground.

In NJ, properly marking private property all comes down to proper signage. If you own wooded or open land and want to exert your inalienable right to keep walkers away, get down to tacking up state-recognized legal signs. Technically, they must surround one’s keep-off property.

Sweating the details, signs should be no more than 150 feet apart, clearly signed by the owner and must be updated/replaced annually. They cannot be hung on utility poles. In fact, by the letter of the law, each sign must be on a post/pole dedicated to holding the sign. Even I think that last one is a tad too much. If I see proper signs posted on trees, I’m properly respectful. Oddly, I enjoy seeing – and obeying – well-posted land.

Things get seriously testy when no signs or fences are visible, yet a landowner believes mere ownership constitutes an invisible fence. That’s not how things hang in NJ, although a reigning misconception is any and all woodlands and open spaces are private by default. Such thinking is faulty to a fault. Nonetheless, I’ve had sundry police officers ask me if I have permission to be on this or that land. In a highly discreet manner, I explain: If it’s not posted, I do not need permission; all I need to be diverted are warning signs or fencing. That’s the law speaking, not me, sir.

Of course, cops can still make a citation move even when one is walking well within the tracks of the law – applying the no-sass standby charge of disorderly conduct, as a buddy was once charged. Disorderly conduct needs no signage; I therefore always stay polite.

Hugely Important: Hunters are within a whole other private property dimension. By strict law, they must know where they’re at, property-wise, every instant they’re out shooting. No exceptions – or, “I didn’t realize I had drifted into a backyard.” I’ve had state troopers misapply the hunter rules to me as an unarmed hiker. In a show of mutual respect, we have agreed to disagree on the matter … and I’ve been allowed to hike on.

Getting trickier, landowners can verbally assert their property rights, as in, close up and personal. And it’s legally binding. All they need do is civilly explain a parcel of land is private. Verbal warnings must include an explanation of property parameters. “It goes from here over there, way down to there” is not legally kosher. Face it; placing signs or fences is the only surefire way to exert ownership, especially absentee ownership, which is bugaboo in many South Jersey areas.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that some landowners can come on hard and uncivilly. In such cases, the grab-all “disorderly person” edict can then be applied to them by law enforcement. While I’ve been confronted by near-psychotic landowners, only one time did I file a complaint – after having a shotgun leveled at me. The gun-pointer got in so much trouble in court I felt lousy afterwards, though that apparently wasn’t his first shotgun-pointing rodeo, per the prosecutor.

But back to my deep-woods meet-up. Based on a lack of nearby signs, I knew where I was walking was legal, i.e. I was on firm legal grounds. This fellow picked up on that. I soon picked up on his displaying one of the main reasons behind NJ’s emphatic signage laws. I had simply wandered too close to his favorite deer-hunting territory and he was up in arms, though not literally. Inferring ownership of random pieces of property is an old hunter ploy. Some fakers go to the extreme of posting terrain that is far from theirs to post, thus the requirement that signage be signed, replete with contact info.

Anyway, it didn’t take much to dissuade this fellow from initial aggressiveness. I used a very legit approach by asking, rather formally, “And whom am I speaking to, please?” His obvious unwillingness to offer a name was a sure sign he was out of his comfort zone.

True owners are quite forthright about who they are – and how their names reside on tax maps.

To fill the name game impasse, I readily offered my sobriquet of preference. Oddly, such a carefree throwing out of my name often confuses ornery folks. It can also lessen the tension in the air. In this case, it inspired a quick smile. Dang, if he doesn’t read this column! Just like that, we were both getting an out-there laugh, seeing I was from distant Ship Bottom and he was from a farther away part of Burlington County – as we stood in the wilds of Timbuktu. He was there retrieving his seasonal deer stand. And he’s fine with me sharing this tale.

But, believe it or not, that’s actually not what I’m here to mainly mention. It was how he first got wind of me – make that how he first got sound of me. He hikes the woods (almost as much as me) while wearing “hearing aids” – his words. Although his everyday hearing is fine, he chooses to electronically crank things up to better hear birds and other wildlife, using Walkers Game Ear Buds.

Despite the slight hygienic threat, I tried them on. I’m in, dude! Where’s the order form?

While he had the volume set a tad too high for my gentle eardrums, I can see tweaking a set to where I can hear snakes in the leaves, or maybe a fence swift breathing heavily on the opposite side of a tree from me. For birding, it rocks the rafters of the pine tree canopy. Thank-you for sharing, my new friend.

By the by, I’m not even remotely voyeuristic enough to wear them on the beach – absorbing nearby, thought-private summer conversations. For that I’d use the full-blown, parabolic dishes. Not serious! Or am I not?

RUNDOWN: A recent die-off of spring-arriving bunker in the Shrewsbury River was most likely a predator-driven event. It was probably seals on their tails. Of course, for optimism’s sake, we can wish it were stripers or way-early bluefish shagging the many menhaden, driving them into shallows. Possibly playing into the deadly corralling were very low tides.

The doomed bunker must have truly been stacked like sardines since the 45-degree river water was quite high in dissolved oxygen.

Such bunker die-offs happen year ’round, going back to times immemorial. It’s a species that quickly gives up the ghost when things go bad, content with knowing sheer numbers are on their long-term survival side.

OK, so maybe they don’t routinely meditate on their short-lived role in nature’s survival strategy, but they still seem poised to pass on quickly – in quiet confidence.

The big bunker are just now arriving in Manahawkin Bay. They gather quite thickly under the Hochstasser Bridge (technically the East Trestle Bridge, nearest LBI). I have spent many a successful angling night atop that bridge, plugging and jigging for stripers – while watching clouds of bunker just lulling about in the fast-moving current. It was an angling mystery as to why the bass – which could sometimes be seen lurking near the surface in the shadows of the bridge – would go after small artificials while ignoring the thousands of meaty forage fish.

Traditionally, the mossbunker hoards totally disappear in an overnight flash, a sure sign that bluefish have arrived in the bay.

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