Overview - Sport Fishing

I grew up in Washington State in the heart of salmon and steelhead country and have been a fishing fool since the age of 8. My earliest and best memories are of time on the water wish my dad and grandpa plying the waters of the Pacific Northwest for salmon, steelhead, sea-run cutthroat and whatever other treasures awaited me in the deepest depths of Puget Sound. To this day, I barely remember my first date or even my first kiss. I do however remember with vivid and loving clarity my first steelhead, my first really big hooknose silver salmon, my first rockfish, and the first time I brought a summer run steelhead to a fly on the N.F. Stillaguamish River. It is these memories, these times, which more than any other shaped me as a man. Over the years I have watched with my heart breaking inside of me as the salmon and steelhead runs of this great region have dwindled to a mere shadow of their former selves. I have spent many hours wrestling

There are many reasons for the decline of fish populations—habitat destruction due to industry and property development, pollution, and of course, overharvest—reasons many people would like to avoid facing. One of the saddest realities suffered by those who love these fish as I do, is the daily recognition of how vulnerable they are to greed and self centeredness on the part of all interest groups that benefit from them, and how prone these groups are to blaming others and rationalizing their own behavior. Non-native commercial fisherman blame native fishermen, native fishermen blame them right back, sportsmen blame both, so does industry, and property owners blame all—everyone it seems, blames everyone else except themselves. While there is no disputing the fact that each of these interest groups have had numerous and large impacts on fish runs and their complaints about each other are largely valid, the question of one's own responsibility still remains—and remains despite attempts to divert attention away from it. Whether we accept or reject our own responsibilities defines us and men and women who are part of the problem, or part of the solution, and defines whether or not we have a moral right to criticize others for their abuses.

As a sportsman, I am particularly concerned with these issues within my own community of other sportsmen. Many sporting groups have done much for fish and game. Groups like Trout Unlimited and the Northwest Fly-fishers have been active in a wide range of conservation efforts such as habitat restoration, the implementation of quality fisheries, the encouragement of catch and release, and legal advocacy for fish and game protection. Science plays a significant role in such activities. In fact, in the United States it was sportsmen who launched the first true conservation efforts, long before the modern environmental movement appeared on the scene. Roderick Haig-Brown, one of sportfishing's greatest writers and conservation champions, was arguing forcefully for habitat preservation and catch and release fisheries as early as World War II, and organizations like the Northwest Fly-fishers were fighting for conservation protections for the N.F. Stillaguamish watershed and the unique Deer Creek wild steelhead run before any environmental organization recognized the need. It is because of the dedication of these sportsmen that the N.F. Stilly today enjoys the protections of Fly Fishing Only regulations during the summer season—one of the few remaining protections this watershed still has.

But many other "sportsmen’s" groups seem more concerned with whether or not their seasons and bag limits are going to be restricted and how much of the responsibility for the problem can be shifted to others. Such groups have been vehemently and at times even viciously opposed to most conservation efforts. There are a variety of reasons for this. Many of these sportsmen, particularly those from rural areas, tend towards conservative and ultra-conservative views, and as such tend to distrust any and all environmentalism. Part of this is because the modern environmental movement can more or less be traced to the 60's—a period usually associated with social and political trends most conservatives find offensive. To at least this extent, the reactions are mostly knee-jerk.

But beyond that, many sportsmen place a high value on an ethic of "living off the land" and freedom from governmental constraints, particularly those regarding private property. Those with these values place a great deal of symbolic importance on the right to bring home a day's kill without having to be burdened by larger constraints, and they tend to resent bag limits and seasonal restrictions, which they feel are often unduly limiting. Those that own property on rivers and streams may also resent the idea that the lake and stream habitat on their property is necessary for the survival of fish, leaving them responsible for maintaining it. As such, they do not want to believe that hatcheries alone cannot fully replace losses from harvest and habitat destruction and they resent the substantial scientific knowledge base that says they cannot.

Whatever the reason, such "sportsmen" are more concerned with their "right" to hunt and fish whenever they please without having to be burdened with any responsibility for fish and game conservation. These groups have made many valid points regarding the abuses of commercial fisheries, but their recalcitrance in other areas and their frequent refusal to embrace the science of fisheries ecology seriously damages their larger credibility, particularly in comparison to the many sportsmen who are active in legitimate science based conservation efforts. Fortunately, there are still many true sportsmen—men and women who care more about the future of fish populations than simply filling their own freezers at the expense of others. Yet sadly mutual misunderstandings between these sportsmen and environmentalists have prevented them from working together—in no small part because true sportsmen are seldom as loud—or as demanding—as the freezer filling hook-and-bullet crowd and are often confused with them. If these groups would only get to know each other and unite, they would make a powerful lobby.

Few fish inspire as much awe as salmon and steelhead, and fewer still are in as much trouble due to careless management. They are of critical importance to Pacific Coast watersheds and ecosystems, and the economies they support. But their real value is in their beauty, fierceness, and in what they have to teach us about ourselves and our Maker. It's no exaggeration to say that encounters with these magnificent creatures taught me more about manhood, wholeness, and the value of the natural world than anything else in my life.

But the degree to which they are misunderstood, and taken for granted is staggering. In recent years their numbers have plummeted from their historic levels due to a wide range of factors including open ocean conditions, habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing, dams and real estate development. More than $1 billion has been spent to improve salmon runs, and still populations decline. Most of this money is spent on superficial fixes that avoid stepping on the toes of special interests, but do not address the real problems. Many proposals to save salmon have been made, some more effective than others—timber harvest restrictions, dam removal, fishing restrictions, pesticide regulation, the Endangered Species Act, and others. Of these, the most promising are the ones that aim to preserve the genetic viability of salmon populations, as these insure a base for natural selection from which healthy runs can be sustained though any and all natural or man-made disasters. These however, involve protecting salmon spawning habitat, watershed erosion control, and river water—all of which step on the toes of the special interest groups with other agendas.

Timber and property rights interests in particular have been strident in their opposition to salmon recovery—the financial impacts of timber harvest and land-use restrictions being their one and only true priority. A great deal of opposition has also come from fishermen, including sport fishermen. Over the years these groups have mounted countless legal, lobbying, and public relations efforts to stop salmon recovery plans. Few of these involve science in anything other than a token or severely distorted manner. That sportsmen, of all people on this earth, would actually be opposed to salmon recovery is almost beyond belief. True sportsmen are not of course and fortunately, their numbers are growing. But there remain legions of so-called "sportsmen" who refuse to accept these responsibilities. The reason? Why, bag limits, of course! Many Pacific Northwest anglers simply cannot enjoy a day on the water without feeding their hunter-gatherer instincts by killing something. To this fillet-and-release crowd, the thought of having to curtail harvest is too much to bear. And if there are no salmon a generation from now? Well... it was unavoidable and besides, it’s' their kids' problem not theirs.

Timber, hydropower, property rights, meat fishermen. Whatever their treasure, these people all have one thing in common - a desire for salmon "recovery" that doesn't cost them anything. This could be achieved - if only there was a way to generate salmon at higher rates than they are being destroyed by the activities these interests really treasure. Which brings us to the overwhelmingly favored alternative....


Page:      1    2       Next >>
Managing Our Impact
Sustainable Communities
World Population
Fossil Fuels
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Commercial Fisheries
Sport Fishing
Policy & Advocacy
Christianity & the Environment
Climate Change
Global Warming Skeptics
The Web of Life
Caring for our Communities
The Far-Right
Ted Williams Archive