Saturday, July 11, 2009

Rights and Responsibilities

It is happening now.

Steelhead and salmon are disappearing from rivers all along the West Coast. Some rivers are now effectively lost altogether. The storied rivers of northern California that sustained some of the greatest runs of fish in the continent are now shadows of shadows of their former selves. The Skagit and Sauk are down to the last fish. Only twenty years ago they held amazing numbers of fish. The Salmon river in Idaho that took its name from the great fish that swam six hundred miles from the sea is empty.

It is happening now.

Mankind’s legacy of development and destruction is coming to fruition. Rivers dammed, habitat destroyed, forests logged, mine tailings dumped, soil eroded, we are all witnessing the end game.

Us sportsmen have by default become the last standing protectors of wild fish. Ironic in a sense. The very people who shoot game and catch fish have become the protectors of the resource.

With the right to chase game obtained by purchasing a license comes some inherent responsibilities. The main responsibility is to become involved in the stewardship of rivers, fish, and habitat. This often does not involve much more than joining a conservation organization, writing a letter or two, or even speaking at a public meeting. Alas, it seems that this is too much to ask for many anglers. Someone else will do it… right?

One of my favorite rivers to chase steelhead has a crowding problem. If one didn’t know better, it would seem that more anglers then ever before are fishing for steelhead. Instead, it is the few remaining rivers left that offer fishable numbers of steelhead that are concentrating anglers. The rest is just a memory. See that cover shot of the happy guy holding the monster steelhead in that 20 year old book? Chances are the fish are long gone from that river. Twenty years. A blink of an eye in time. Gone. The genetics developed by natural selection over thousands of years destroyed and never to return.

Conservation is a daunting battle, and we are always outnumbered and out financed by development interests, but now and then we manage to win a few contests. On rivers all over the country, dams have come down allowing silt buildups to dissipate and fish to migrate freely, habitat is being set aside for preservation, and riparian areas are being restored.

In all forms of government there is power in numbers. People in numbers can defeat any corporate, development, or state interest, but only if we act. Apathy will get you nothing… literally.

Given the drastically declining numbers of salmon and steelhead from California all the way to Alaska, this may be the final inning. We either need to step up to the bat, or retire forever. The slogan “Think globally, act locally” should be our motto. We may not all be able to fight environmental battles in Alaska, Russia, Botswana, or even Washington state, but our efforts through local conservation organizations can reach farther than we often think.

It is happening now.

So, you have a right to fish? Now you have a responsibility too. Will we answer the call?
Only time will tell.

It is happening now.


  1. Erik, when I marched in the Glendale Days parade with the MRPA, I brought along a hat that I hooked some lures into for someone else to wear. They got caught in my Statue of Liberty costume and were nearly impossible to remove- like just brushing against the fabric, they hooked in immediately, and ripped the material. The hat (for necessary sun protection) is ruined, as I had to cut out the hooks. It showed me vividly how barbaric catch-and-release fishing really is. I was a little sad that my stuff was damaged, but more sad for injured fish that are caught, injured, and released. I do eat fish and other meat, but we have to be responsible. Is there a better way?

  2. R.O.
    I will not argue that fishing is inherently a blood sport.
    Catch and release though is different than catch and mangle.
    In fly fishing we use single hooks not treble hooks, and we remove the barb. The fish are hooked inside the mouth, landed responsibly and quickly released with a minimum of handling.
    There are those that practice catch and release with treble hooks, but the fish are mangled anyway. Thus, single hooks. See my little essay on fishing with Dad for a little humor on treble hooks and clothing.

    Catch and release with barbless hooks has been extensively studied. Mortality rates are lower than 1% for released fish. However, it is still a blood sport.

    The interesting and rather ironic thing is that sportsmen and women have been the most active in conservation efforts to preserve the sport and the fish. Thus, my call to other anglers to get active in preserving the environment. I have seen with my own two eyes what a dead river looks like. Sad. We don't have the same problems here that the PNW has, but need to be active on our own issues.

    Fish farming is not the answer either, it has caused major ecological disasters. Nature never intended for fish to be that densely crowded. Antibiotics with your food?
    No thanks.

    Sorry about your hat. Next time use single hooks, and pinch down the barbs. They come out real easy.

  3. I don't no nothin' 'bout this save the fish stuff but I just got me a gill net from Cabeler's (somebody said there was free beer; nope!) that'll git ever' fish in the streams that I know.

    The net and 'nough gas fer ma 4X4'll keep me happy for the rest of the summer.

  4. River Otter,

    Is there a better way for what???

    It is pretty obvious you have never gone fishing with an artificial lure/fly using a single hook, barb pinched down, and caught/released fish. Very, very, very few of them are worse for the wear.

    There is nothing similar to what happens when you hook a fish in the mouth versus hooks lodged in fabric. Let alone if the barb is pinched down.

    Instead of coming with prejudice why not gain some actual experience? You know...walk in somebody's shoes?

    You do eat meat and you do eat fish. Your killing is done behind closed doors. You are effectively sanitized from the blood and gore. That to me is barbaric. Hypocritically barbaric.

    I feel sad for the livestock raised in cramped quarters so an entire society can be so damn blind.

    I do not feel sad for the wild animal whose life succumbs to a hunters bullet or arrow. I feel joy for the hunter who will sustain him/herself/family with a hard earned gift from nature. I feel respect for the animal. I am happy it was able to live its life naturally. It is an entirely diffent perspective to KNOW where your meat comes from. And what it takes to put in on your table. Transcends money.

    What makes me SICK (not just sad) is the non-freaking-stop destruction of our wild migratory anadromous fish. From the garbage hatchery practices/reliance, dams, resource extraction, and so on.

    125 - 135 years ago there were an estimated 10 to 20 million pure wild chinook ascending the columbia river. Today? MAYBE 40,000 in a good year. Nearly every wild salmon or steelhead race in the columbia is listed as threatened, endangered, or extinct. Millions upons millions upon millions of fish squandered so a handful of people could get disgustingly rich.

    Puget Sound steelhead? 125 years ago estimated 3/4 to 1-1/4 million. ONE MILLION pure wild steelhead returned the rivers and creeks that flow into Puget Sound. Today? MAYBE 20,000.

    Columbia River steelhead? Estimated 1 - 2.5 million pure wild steelhead. Hundreds of strains all with critical genetic material. Today we are LUCKY to see 70,000. With several races extinct. Genetics muddied with pisspoor hatchery clones. Candle burning from all ends.

    If the citizens of this nation fail to force effective change ALL the wild fish from the Columbia Basin will be extinct by the middle of this century.

    And you are sad about a fish getting caught, absurdly assuming they are all injured, and then released to continue its life???

    If you want to be responsible then DO SOMETHING TO HELP. Stopping the responsible recreational angler doesn't add up to saving a grain of rice out of a million pound box. Brilliant thinking to criticize the only friend these fish have. Put your money where your mouth is and get involved. Write lawmakers. Join the conservation groups- Wild Steelhead Coalition for Washington State and Native Fish Society for starters. Atlantic Salmon Federation for the East Coast.


  5. You have put it better than I could. I live on the west coast and what is alarming is what has happened in just the last ten friggin' years.
    Steelhead broodstock programs are finishing off the last runs of wild coastal winter steelhead. The endangered coastal cutthroat trout are harvestable state wide without the numbers to sustain any harvest.
    You combine those with all the other factors and well here is what we have! Next to nothing! The Deschutes is just a pretty river with few fish. We had to fight tooth and nail against big California corporations to keep golf course out of the Metolius basin. The lower Columbia wild winter steelhead are pretty much extinct.
    Anyone who buys a fishing license and then sits on his or her ass and does nothing is as culpable as the misguided so called managers of our states resource.
    The Pacific northwest is a shell of what it once was and those who have sat on the sidelines are to blame. If this applies to you then so be it!

  6. I've often thought about when the wild Steelhead will be officially "extitct". It can't be too far off. With all the studies showing that hatchery programs are a detriment to the wild Steelhead numbers it's amazing that they continue to artificially propogate their populations with hatchery "rats".

    If all hatchery programs ceased to exist, my expectation is that we would STILL have full Steelhead extinction within 20 years. It really is sad to think about.

    Realistically, with the damage caused by climate change, population growth, fish farming, and oceanic pollution, I don't see any likely scenario under which the wild Steelhead, Salmon, Tuna, Marlin, etc. have any chance whatsoever. Barring a mass extinction of humans by Swine Flu, Bird Flu, or some other random human eradicating disease.

    Unfortunately there are too many people out there like the River rOtter, who think that all fishing is barbaric, that pretending to be "green" is cool, and that buying "farm raised" salmon will save the wild salmon. That's the ignorance that is the norm.

    P.s. River rOtter, if you believe you can draw a rash generalization about the brutality of all fishing based on "lures" you stuck in your hat, than you are more ignorant about fly fisherman than I thought. I guess I was wrong when I thought you were smarter than the average Glendale riparian.

  7. Lastly, what the Rotter had efectively become is an Internet "troll". Trolling for reactionary comments to her outlandish claims. It's kind if funny but at the same time sad.

  8. Wow. Sorry, guys. I didn't realize I was trolling... just coming to visit a well-written, lovely blog written by a guy whom I respect.
    Guess I'll stay away from now on.
    I just will leave you with a link to Will Allen's Growing Power aquaponics fish farming that is completely organic and amazing. It's like a complete ecosystem.

  9. Otter,

    Nobody is asking you to leave.

    Without reading the link I do have a question about where the food comes from to feed the farmed fish? Over half the problem of farming fish is the groundfish that are decimated furthering the problems in the wild.

    It doesn't get any more organic then wild produced fish. Which could be accomplished.


  10. OK Guys - River Otter asked me to read this blog entry and the comments because she was so surprised at the backlash she received.

    Note that I am a conservative republican Catholic who has major issues with the environmental movements, so don't be accusing me of being just like River Otter - we're good friends, but differ greatly on many issues.

    Basically, what I think is going on here is that River Otter (who believes in and subscribes to many environmental initiatives as promulgated by the green movement) automatically applied the principles of those initiatives to fly fishing. Innocently. And without knowing anything about fly fishing methods, history, or the sport's philosophy. You can't blame people like her for this - she's been "brainwashed" by the environmentalists to think a certain way about these issues - her along with millions of other people. (I'm sure she won't like me saying that, but it's what I think.) There is a systemic kind of green-think that is being promulgated everywhere in our society....and while fly fishing isn't high on the environmental list of public concerns, she has applied a systemic type of thinking from that movement and transfered it to another issue - fly fishing.

    Believe me, she is NOT a troll. Not even close. Instead of jumping all over her, maybe it would have been better to NICELY explain your viewpoints - especially seeing as she expressed her thoughts in a nice and respectful manner in the first place. That's all I have to say about River Otter.

    But I will say something for myself, since I took the time to read this entry and the comments. First, I support hunting. I support it for different reasons than expressed here, but the reasons offered up here are fine with me too. Real men hunt, if they're so inclined.

    That being said, it seems that there is an attitude permeating these comments that says something similar to this: "If you buy meat or fish from the grocery store, you're supporting the destruction of natural reserves of meat and fish"

    Here's my question to all you naturalists out on the west coast: WHERE would you like me to buy my meat and fish? I live in Racine, Wisconsin, an industrial hellhole located between Milwaukee and Chicago. We live on one smallish income so that I can stay home with my kid. I can't afford Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck). I can't even afford storebrand organics. We have to shop at Aldi's and Walmart to just survive. In this kind of scenario, what's a person to do? (In fact, even if the salmon at my grocery store is farm-raised, I can't even afford to buy it anyway. Fish is a luxury.)

    The feeling I get is that we're all supposed to stop eating meat/fish unless it meets some list of stringent requirements as concerns how it was raised/bred and harvested? It's NOT gonna happen - for me and for most people. We just don't have the money and in most cases, we don't even have access to that kind of pure food anyway.

    Many of us who you think are callous and ignortant really aren't. I'd LOVE to buy free-range chicken, etc., like all the rich democrats who live in the mansions here along Lake Michigan (which has its own slew of disturbing fish problems here - ask River Otter about that - she's well versed I'm sure). But I can't, period.

    Reality sometimes has to override principles.

  11. Everyone:
    I will respond to Charlotte's post simply by saying that nobody that commented here as I read it intended for everyone to live as hunter/gatherers. Instead they defended what I consider living closer to your food. River Otter took some heat because she posted about fishing being barbaric, especially on a post about stewardship of the declining populations of wild steelhead and salmon, a subject which both I and my readers know and care a great deal about. Whether you are a shinto republican catholic or brainwashed liberal, I hope somebody was informed and learned something about the fate of our wild migratory fish. I am going to lock this thread as the comments have gone far off topic, and future readers researching articles on declining wild fish stocks don't want to read personal blatherings. Feel free to email me with your concerns.