Monkey Fishing

Jay Forman wrote an occasional "Vice" column for the online magazine In it he often described various bizarre activities he had engaged in or witnessed over the years. For instance, one column probed the synergies between guns and liquor. Another discussed his short career in the pornography trade. In his 8 June 2001 column, he described his participation in the extreme sport of monkey fishing.

Monkey fishing, in Forman's usage of the term, was not a slang expression for some untraditional method of fishing for fish. Forman meant exactly what he said. He went fishing for monkeys.

The event in question supposedly occurred sometime in 1996 on the island of Lois Key in the Florida Keys. Lois Key was the home of a large population of rhesus monkeys used by a pharmaceutical company for experiments. Local fishermen, according to Forman, had developed the 'sport' of rowing out to the island, attaching pieces of fruit to fishing rods, casting the fruit onto the shore, waiting for monkeys to pick up the fruit and impale their hands on the hook, and then yanking the primates off the island into the water. The fishermen would then cut the lines free, allowing the monkeys to swim back to shore.

Forman's article offered many unusual details about the art of monkey fishing. For instance, he noted that oranges are the fruit of choice for baiting monkeys. But almost as soon as the article was published it attracted criticism. The Wall Street Journal didn't believe a word of it, declaring "Slate Gets Hoaxed." Initially Michael Kinsley, Slate's editor, insisted that his magazine stood behind the veracity of the story. But under the weight of continuing criticism Kinsley backed down. On June 25 he published an apology, acknowledging that key details in Forman's story were fictitious.

Was the article a complete fiction? Apparently not. Lois Key was inhabited by rhesus monkeys until 1999 when the monkeys were removed for environmental reasons. Kinsley assured his readers that once or twice a fisherman had rowed out to the island and thrown pieces of fruit attached to a line onto the shore. Fortunately for the monkeys (but unfortunately for the reaction of the monkeys to the fruit was somewhat underwhelming. A few of them had picked it up and then dropped it back down.
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