Engbretson Underwater Photography

Search The Fish Photos

News From Behind the Scenes at Engbretson Underwater Photo and Stories about the Freshwater Environments We Visit.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Why Do-It-Yourself Artificial Fish Habitat Fails:

Fishiding Artificial Fish Habitat is unique because of its size, complexity, and the protection it provides juvenile fish.

Constructing a conglomeration of rubber tubing, plastic barrels, and old hose, throwing it into the lake and calling it fish habitat because we saw a bass next to it, is like putting a cardboard box on the street corner and calling it “housing” when a homeless person takes refuge in it. Most DIY fish habitat is as much fish habitat as a plastic tarp strung between two shopping carts is “a house” to a homeless person.

Look around at your own home. Why is it comfortable? Why do you like it? Look past the man cave you’ve built in the basement, the expensive wall-to-wall carpeting, and the refrigerator with the built-in ice-cube dispenser. What makes your house useful and practical is its utilitarian functionality.

The insulation keeps you warm in the winter. The roof keeps the rain out. There’s a dark bedroom to sleep in at night. The doors and windows all have locks that provide you with safety and security. Your pantry is stocked with food and you have a kitchen to prepare it. Your home functions in a way that addresses all your family’s needs in a utilitarian way.

By and large, DIY artificial fish habitat doesn’t do anything close to that. To be comparable, artificial fish habitat needs to be large to accommodate many fish. (You wouldn’t want to live in a one-bedroom bungalow with a family of six would you?) It needs to provide a refuge for young fish the same way your children have their bedrooms where they can be away from grown-ups while hanging out with their friends. There needs to be on-site food so you’re not driving to McDonald’s every single time you want a snack. Size, security, protection, privacy, and food are just some of the important aspects of any home that we would never compromise on in our dwellings yet seemingly never consider when constructing habitat for fish. Instead, we create the equivalent of tent cities in the most impoverished part of town and congratulate ourselves when homeless people congregate there to get out of the rain. That’s not a solution to the homeless problem any more than lashing rubber hoses to cinder blocks is to solving the lack of fish habitat.

What’s needed in both scenarios is genuine housing/habitat for both impoverished people and fish.

When looking at the wide variety of homemade so-called fish habitat, one thing seems to be evident. Most well-intentioned builders don’t seem to know exactly what fish need and the poverty of their designs betray this fact. Bad designs continue to be copied, while far superior ones are ignored. This is because so few of us can tell the difference between good designs and poor ones. This failure is epidemic but also understandable. Fish live in a separate world largely invisible to us. We rarely glimpse them in their natural habitat and have little idea of how they live or how they spend their time. Our only interaction is when we hoist them into the boat on the end of our fishing lines. Occasionally we notice that fishing under the neighbor’s dock or next to that old Cyprus tree stump seem to be good spots, but we’re completely in the dark about why. We often leap to the false conclusion that any structure in the water is a fish’s home and any solid piece of material we find in the back of our garage could work just as well. Do it yourselfers are thwarted not only by their lack of understanding of fish but also by what materials might currently be available in their sheds and garages. I think this explains why we see so many awful constructions.

To design and construct authentic fish habitats and not merely dilapidated, makeshift shelters of the kind we might see on urban streets, we need to think backward. We need to think first about function over form. Utility over availability. We need our designs to meet the specific needs of fish. We can look to natural habitats for guidance. Natural habitat has a myriad of desirable characteristics but for this discussion, we can single out the three most often violated elements that any proposed artificially constructed fish habitat must have. The first is size. Is our construction large enough to accommodate a community of fishes? The second is protection. Are there tight spaces, crevices, alleys, pockets, holes, depressions, and retreats that smaller fish can occupy that larger fish absolutely cannot access? The third is complexity. Is the structure large and complex enough to offer shade, to block sight-lines, and to hide or conceal what’s in and around it? If it were in your backyard, could your kids use it when they play hide and seek?  Keeping in mind this trio of primary functions will help you begin to understand what fish need and enable you to reject bad design ideas and eliminate potential construction materials that don’t amplify these important characteristics.

Across our country, there are many bodies of water from large sprawling reservoirs to small backyard ponds. Many of them are lacking fish habitat for a variety of reasons. In many cases, artificial habitat can be a surrogate but only if it addresses in utilitarian ways the features of genuine habitat. 

If you work in the fish management sector, you and your colleagues have an obligation to be very critical of the designs being paraded in front of you. If we’re not more careful about scrutinizing and properly evaluating artificial fish habitats, we run the risk of unknowingly filling our waterways with useless materials instead of creating legitimate habitat. 

Certainly, there’s much to discuss about creating artificial fish habitat, and because true innovation has slowed to a trickle, we find ourselves mired in a kind of estuary between realizing we have a habitat deficiency and creating the kinds of authentic habitat that will make any difference. Artificial fish habitat needs to provide functional value to our fish. The scale of the problem is enormous in many locations, and won’t be solved by adding more sub-standard and inadequate structures any more than human homelessness can be solved by putting out more cardboard boxes and tents. 

No comments:

Post a Comment