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Fishers are an aggressive, meat-eating member of the weasel family found in the northern U.S. and Canada.
“Mondays with Martok” reader Karen Surprenant submitted this question that I’m really excited about answering this week: “How can you deter Fishers? I’m having a big problem with them.”
Karen, you don’t mention where you live, but it must be in Canada or the northern United States because that’s where most fishers live. Pockets of fishers occur as far south as the Virginia, but for the most part, they’re a species found in Canada and the northerneastern United States, though habitats are being restored throughout the upper Midwest and western states.
Fishers are long, low-slung, sinewy members of the weasel family. They’re called fishers not because they eat fish but because 18th-century French-Canadian fur traders called them fiche or fichet, the French words for polecat, an Old World animal that they resemble. Other names for fishers include pekan, pequam and wejack. Some people call them fishercats.
In 1794, a man named Samuel Williams wrote about fishers in his book, The Natural and Civil History of Vermont. He called them “fierce and ravenous [animals] of great activity and strength.” That pretty well describes fishers.
Fishers are swift, agile, pugnacious and very strong for their size. An average male fisher weighs 8 to 12 pounds and is 36 to 48 inches from his nose to the tip of his long, bushy tail. Female fishers are 20 to 30 percent smaller than males. They have long, slender bodies and short legs, large paws to help them walk on top of snow, sharp black eyes, and small, rounded ears. During the winter both sexes are dark brown to nearly black in color, fading to mottled brown in the summertime. Their soft, plush winter pelts were considered prime furs during the era of the Canadian and American fur trade and were used to make fancy collars for rich people’s coats. Fisher pelts were so valuable that trappers trapped fishers to extinction in most of their southern range.
Fishers eat meat, though they also nibble wild fruits and nuts. In many parts of their range, they prefer the flesh of snowshoe hares, rabbits and porcupines. In fact, the fisher is one of few animals that dine on porcupine, so they’ve been reintroduced in some places to control porcupine populations that are damaging timber crops.
Fishers will, however, eat any kind of small mammal, including mice, moles, voles, shrews, squirrels, muskrats and woodchucks. As fisher populations increase and woodland habit disappears, fishers move closer to human habitation, where they also dine on poultry and occasionally, cats and small dogs.
Game laws protect fishers in most states, so controlling them can be tricky. Discourage fishers by removing food sources. Keep small pets indoors, especially at dusk, overnight and at dawn, when fishers are most active. Build really secure chicken coops and keep chickens, ducks and geese indoors during fisher predation hours, as well. Don’t encourage squirrels to set up camp in your yard; fishers consider them prime eating. And don’t overlook those yummy mice. You might have to stop feeding wild birds because dropped seed attracts mice and a host of other small rodents. Cover your compost heap and don’t leave windfall fruit or berries lying on the ground. Feed cats and dogs indoors, or if you must feed them outside, pick up food left uneaten and store feed in rodent-proof metal garbage cans.
Your best bet, however, is to contact your state game commission or your local animal control office to see if they’ll live trap and remove marauding fishers. If that isn’t an option and there’s a fisher season in your state, perhaps you can trap or shoot pesky fishers yourself.