Calling fish 'trash' is now racist

A University of California, Davis study alleges that labeling fish as 'rough' or 'trash' is racist and harmful to conservation efforts.

The researchers argue that colonialism and white male preferences are at the root of the problem.

A University of California, Davis study argues that the designation of some fish as “rough” or “trash” is rooted in the historical prejudice of “white males.” 

A team of researchers from UC Davis — joined by colleagues from the University of Oklahoma, University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Notre Dame — called for a “paradigm shift” in conservation of native fishes, as well as  “indigenous perspectives into fisheries management.” 

“Perspectives of white males have overwhelmingly dominated fisheries science and management in the USA,” the study states. “This dynamic is exemplified by bias against ‘rough fish’ — a pejorative ascribing low-to-zero value for countless native fishes. One product of this bias is that biologists have ironically worked against conservation of diverse fishes for over a century, and these problems persist today.”

[RELATED: ASU welcomes new prof who focuses on applying ‘critical race theory’ to music]

The study argues that designating certain species as “rough fish,” “trash fish,” or “coarse fish” is a byproduct of white males’ dominance of freshwater fisheries in North America for the past three centuries. 

“When you trace the history of the problem, you quickly realize it’s because the field was shaped by white men, excluding other points of view,” UC Davis ecology professor and lead author Andrew Rypel told UC Davis’ official news outlet. “Sometimes you have to look at that history honestly to figure out what to do.”

Rypel and his co-authors write, “Eurocentric natural resource management tends to focus on a notion that there is only a single ‘knowable truth’ … this idea, when applied to fisheries, has led to controlling and patriarchal views that emphasize dominance over natural ecosystems and peoples.”

[RELATED: UW-Madison editorial calls to ‘decolonize’ ‘eurocentric, whitewashed, sexist’ curriculum]

Campus Reform asked Rypel whether his team evaluated if populations in the United States would willingly adopt new labels for certain fish species if pushed by state governments. He explained that “if there was concern among anglers about adopting specific new labels, outreach efforts might be helpful to arrive at a consensus option,” as “engaging stakeholders is always an essential aspect to successful natural resource management.”

In their study, the scholars call on state governments to “recognize that the pejorative rough fish reflects a cultural problem and remove it from official documents.” Furthermore, use of the terms “sportfish” and “gamefish” versus “non-game fish” may also be “problematic.”

Campus Reform reached out to UC Davis for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow Ben Zeisloft on Twitter