From Our Science Comes Our Song: An Introductory Essay
Donald C. Jackson
The first international ictalurid symposium (Davenport, Iowa 1998) launched a decade of outstanding and highly focused science on the biology and management of catfishes. Catfish 2000: Proceedings of the International Ictalurid Symposium (Irwin et al. 1999) and Biology and Culture of Channel Catfish (Tucker and Hargreaves 2004) quickly became standard references providing foundations for future work in the field. These major works, along with new scientific initiatives that followed them, were in response to increasing public, agency, and professional scientific awareness of (1) catfish angling as a popular and growing public activity (particularly angling for trophy-size fish), (2) catfishes as focal points for ascertaining environmental health and ecosystem characteristics and processes, and (3) the role and influence of catfishes as members of fish assemblages.
In these “Catfish 2010” symposium proceedings, we are privileged to explore the advances in understanding and managing catfishes and their fisheries that have evolved since the “Catfish 2000” symposium and its proceedings. As was the case for the “Catfish 2000” symposium, the “Catfish 2010” symposium proceedings rests on a solid foundation of good science previously conducted.
However, and in spite of having spent an entire career as a fisheries scientist in academia, primarily addressing catfishes, their supporting environments, and associated fisheries, I find it difficult to write this introduction for the “Catfish 2010” symposium proceedings solely from a scientist’s perspective. Our work as fisheries professionals is deadly serious, but it also can be awesomely beautiful. And it can, ultimately, take us to places we never imagined… to places beyond science. We enter these places by transcendence beyond hypotheses, beyond knowledge and understanding, oftentimes beyond expression. They are the ethereal, shadowy, mystical, fleeting realms of meaning.
When moving into these realms, and with respect to these proceedings, haunting questions arise. What is the meaning of catfishes, their world, and the fisheries they support? What is the meaning of science and scientists that focus attention on these subjects? The answers received from such realms are never articulated. They are (at least for me) only sensed…but deeply sensed. As a scientist it is admittedly tough to deal with things that are not counted, measured, or articulated, but that is what the realms of meaning demand and that is what they give.
To get into the realms of meaning for this symposium and its proceedings I shut my eyes, took a few deep breaths, became very quiet…very still… and focused on caring for something so much, so absolutely, that I became part of it. Within moments after initiating this discipline, I was able to hear the songs of rivers, and lakes, and ponds, and backwaters. The songs came from around the world, linking me again, as in a dreamtime, to ventures experienced as a fisheries professional across landscapes, across continents, across seas. Each song had its own unique movements. They were as sirens calling my name. Then the movements from the songs coalesced, merging into a symphony. Being neither the conductor nor one of the musicians in the orchestra, I was free to plunge into the soul of the symphony as an avatar, moving ever deeper, sensing the evolving synergism of swirling currents around me. I followed those currents, knowing them from years spent as a scientist among them, understanding where they led, and…as my heart and mind merged in the exercise (perhaps it actually was more sacrament)… I felt myself slipping beautifully into the world of catfishes, absolutely…not just places, but the world of catfishes in a universal sense. Catfishes surrounded me. I reached out to touch and in touching unity evolved and I was whole. Nirvana for a rapidly aging fisheries scientist can be a very weird thing indeed.