Fishers On Cape Cod

Locally Rare Predator Active On Our Borders

You thought they were gone, but you were incorrect. Fishers are alive and well on the Upper Cape... except, of course, for the one that was run over in Sandwich on February 22nd.

The fisher (also known as a Fisher Cat, though it is not a feline) is a member of the Mustelid family that also gives us weasels, otters, badgers, and wolverines. They are a carnivorous mammal. They can grow to 4 feet, although Cape Cod is far south for them and the larger versions of many creatures tend to be the more northern ones. We can get a 3 footer here. A lot of that distance is Tail. It looks like an angry ferret.

They live on the forest floor, although they are skilled tree-climbers. They eat small rodents like mice and bunnies, but are not above killing a wild turkey now and then. They eat carrion, and yet they have a berry-nut-mushroom vegan section of their diet. They have been reported to have killed bobcats, which also live on Cape Cod. They are dawn-dusk operators.

Fishes are rare in that they are one of the few predators to hunt porcupines (they make repeated bites to the face), no mean feat. They love chicken coops. While they can do it, it is rare for a fisher to actually catch and eat fish. The name comes from the French word fichet, which refers to the pelt of a polecat.

Fishers once ran free on Cape Cod in large numbers, before we chopped down all of our trees for farmland, heat and industry. Cape Cod was importing firewood from Maine long before the Civil War. The fishers vanished as their natural habitat did, and they were also the victim of large-scale trapping for their valuable pelts. By the mid-1800s, the fisher no longer lived on Cape Cod.

As farming and industry left the region, the forest began to claim back some of the land. Fishers began to inhabit central Massachusetts in the 1950s, and diffused eastward over the decades. There is also talk that they were introduced along the Canal as mousers about a century ago, when canal-digging displaced the region's rascally rodents.

Fishers were spotted on Cape Cod around the turn of the century, although wildlife officials generally laughed off reports. A 2005 fisher roadkill in Sandwich ended the debate. Wildlife officials are slow to accept change. For instance, not a decade before a bear was seen wandering all over Cape Cod, Thomas French (assistant director of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife) said "It's going to be... decades and maybe never.... before.... a bear crosses the Canal."

Fishers seem to have established at least a ten-year foothold in Sandwich, and they can be seen scampering around the Canal in Bourne during evening hours. They seem to be in the Massachusetts Military Reservation grounds, as well as the Shawme-Crowell State Forest.

Although they can and will kill a pet (a fisher was discovered with cat fur in his tummy up in New Hampshire), it isn't their normal modus operandi. Even a small dog would give a fisher a terrible fight, let alone a big Rotty or something of that ilk. Bobcats and coyote, which also inhabit Cape Cod, are a far greater threat to the local pet population.

Properly motivated, a fisher could do terrible damage to a small child (there is at least one report of a fisher attacking a 6 year old in Hopkinton), but attacks are beyond rare. An angry soccer mom can kick one away.

If you are kicking one away and happen to kill it, skin it and make a hat out of it. Fisher hats are going for between $195 and $500 on EBay. I may be incorrect, but fisher fur is more costly than mink.

There's no need to panic, and the fisher is actually pretty cool in his own way. He is a sign that wildlife which we thought was lost forever is instead returning to the region. "Moose" and "beaver" are the next wild animals to wish for on Cape Cod.

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