The fisherman, Eliot Malherbe, 19, was soon joined at the river’s edge by his friend Kacim Machline, 22, an art student. But first, Machline spray painted a greenish striped fish on the concrete walls by their spot on the river, in an renovated former industrial area near the Jardin des Plantes on the Left Bank. The Seine used to be the fishing playground of older, working-class men who whiled away their retirement days at the river. These days, a younger and more diverse generation is disrupting the scene.
Many of the younger anglers were first drawn to the Seine by the promise of other adventures. The city’s quays offer some of the city’s prime skateboarding territory, and for graffiti artists, it provides areas with little traffic so they can discreetly spray their tags during the night. While fishing’s more sedate pleasures might seem to lack the same thrill, that’s not the case, said Manuel Obadia-Wills, 40, a former graffiti artist and skateboarder — and now a fisherman during his free time.
“There is a buzz, a repetition until you reach the moment of grace,” Obadia-Wills said. “In skateboarding, it’s the perfect trick. As for graffiti, it’s all about the adrenaline rush when you are in a forbidden place. When you fish, it’s about the most beautiful catch.”
Like skateboarding and drawing graffiti, fishing in the Seine, too, sometimes flirts with legality. Many fishers go out after work or school — although France has officially forbidden fishing after sunset since 1669 even during wintertime. During the official fishing season from May to January, young fishers meet at certain spots — near barges stretching for miles along the river and under which fish shelter, or by the Canal Saint-Martin or Canal de l’Ourcq, where the water is calmer and warmer than in the Seine. Eager to find unexplored grounds, though, some venture to restricted areas like under the Bastille square at “the tunnel,” as it’s known, a mile-long underground canal covered by a stone vault. The city recently sealed off its entrance to try to prevent people from getting in.
Although they are carrying on a centuries-old tradition of fishing in the shadows of Notre-Dame or below the Eiffel Tower, younger fishers have brought with them updated rules and codes. Foremost among them: The ultimate aim of the day’s catch is no longer about sharing a meal with friends and family. Instead, the goal is to share on social media close-up images of pikes, perches, zanders, wels catfish — and then releasing them back in the river.
Fishing is a sport and fish are our game partners, that’s why we release them,” said Gregoire Auffert, 21, squatting on a parapet of the Quai Anatole France facing the Tuileries Garden across the river. “You would never ask a tennis player to eat the ball.” Also, the new generation uses plastic artificial baits to lure the fish, not the natural baits like the worms still favoured by beret-wearing retirees. The fish don’t swallow the lures, and fishers can hook them by their mouth cartilage, causing the least possible harm. The new customs are aimed at protecting the increasing biodiversity in the Seine. In the 1970s, there were only three fish species left in the river, but after decades of water purification policies, there are now more than 30.
Antonella Francini is a journalist with NYT©2020
The New York Times