29 August 2020

An Underwater Friend book cover

An Underwater Friend Shines a Light on the Underside of Fishing

Written by Howard Edelstein

Illustrated by Jessica Henderson

Published by Who Chains You Books.

Order from Amazon or from Fish Feel.

Reviewed by Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns

“Today Timmy’s dad was taking him on his first fishing trip, and he was so excited.”

So begins a day that introduces many children to the lifelong “pleasure” of hooking fish in their sensitive mouths, hurling them out of the water at the end of a rod into an atmosphere in which a fish cannot breathe and who, flopping violently in the air and on the ground, is actually suffocating to death in panic and pain.

An Underwater Friend gently leads the young reader to discover the underside of this taken-for-granted experience, on which few people reflect, through the eyes of Timmy Jackens. After hooking and unhooking the fish he finally catches, “Timmy could see the panic in her eyes. He started to feel bad that he was the cause. . . .”

Luckily, Timmy has a dad who sees and cares that his son is upset. Instead of ignoring or ridiculing him, Mr. Jackens offers him the choice of throwing the fish back into the water, explaining, however, that “because of the injury and shock,” she may not survive. With this in mind, they put the injured fish in a bucket of water and take her home to their small pond, where in time she appears to recover to the point where she can be returned to the lake, “her true home.”

While in the family’s pond, the fish goes from being a generic “fish” to being Wilma, an individual who “began coming to the edge of the pond when Timmy came by.” Their friendship grows. As it does, so does Timmy’s understanding of the true meaning of “treating others as you would want to be treated,” something he’d always been taught by his mom and that now includes a fish named Wilma and, by extension, all fish.

An Underwater Friend is a much needed, engaging book for children, and for adults as well. The fact that fish have feelings, families and friends of their own in their water world is still largely unappreciated by most people, though science proves it. Fishing, including recreational fishing, is still regarded in most communities – and is regularly portrayed in commercial advertising – as a wholesome, relaxing, benign activity, the very essence of a sentimental Norman Rockwell painting of a boy, his dad, and a fishing rod.

Living in rural Virginia surrounded by water, I meet not only men, but women who love to fish. Cultural and personal resistance to the idea that fishing is cruel, that a fish yanked out of the water is experiencing pain and terror and brain damage, is strong. An Underwater Friend tells the story of fishing in a way that children and adults alike can not only enjoy, but learn from. It is dedicated to Fish Feel, “the first organization devoted to promoting the recognition of fish as sentient beings deserving of respect and compassion.” I recommend it highly. – Karen Davis