It has been a while since I have written up a solid rant on fly fishing and conservation, so here goes:
I have been pondering this post, in some form or another, for quite some time. However, reading the Chum today and their fantastic dig on AFFTA for celebrating the abismal record of Mike Enzi, has me inspired to jot some thoughts down. The other motivation came last week when I was asked to give a talk for the local, well state-based, fly fishing club. The talk led me to blow off the dust my dissertation and post-dissertaiton research - you know all this history stuff which has sat (mostly) dormant since I have taken up employ in the fight to protect Bristol Bay.
It was nice to dive into all the research, think again about how we anglers, and fly fishers in particular, have over time evolved in our thinking on conservaiton.
I lectured on how we came ashore to North America, saw fisheries abound with fish. Over time, we (along with factories, logging, pollution, etc) first decimated the fisheries and then became the early spokespeople for coldwater conservation. Anglers and fly fishers have continually dabbled in fish-culutre, yet failed to learn the hard lessons that hatcheries and steelhead and salmon don't mix, while we mixed trout all around the world. By the mid 1970s we were touting 'wild trout' and turning our gaze from fish, to streams, to watersheds. By the late 1990s, while the practice was somewhat old, fly fishing based conservation organizations were issuing native fish policies and working to restore native salmonids. The talk ended on the subject of resilience and the need to protect places like Bristol Bay . . . In the end, I insisted that if we want to call ourselves fly fishers, among other things we have a historical responsiblity to care for the habitats and watersheds that have given so much to us since we first wet that line in quest of trout centuries ago.
From the begining and as I spoke I saw a man snicker and jeer in the audience, he seemed indifferent, perhaps a bit arrogant while he listened to my words. I thought he might be bored, afterall, I was talking history.
When questions started, they not surprisingly focused on the last five minutes of the talk and not what I spent the last ten years of my life working on. For the most part, the audience was concerned about Pebble, even a woman who was a gold miner's daughter was vehemently opposed to Pebble. But this one guy, who I thought was just bored about history, began to speak his mind and it was clear his mind was made up: Pebble was needed.
He gave the jobs argument - a tired one indeed, one that holds no bearing when A) all polling says that up to 80% of the region opposes this mine, ie, they don't want Pebble jobs, B) there are not that many jobs to begin with - a recent report/plan from Norther Dynasty Minerals shows roundly 1300 jobs at full operation in 18 years most of which won't necessarily go to Bristol Bay residents and C) the people the region cherish their ability to subsist and which Pebble could destroy.
I noted that the mine and all that would come with it would drastically change the culture of the region. He replied, "Well, that culutre has already been changed by white people, so what is the big deal about more change."
The response I wish I said, "Your answer is like saying, 'So, you are already slightly addicted to heroin, you might as well just overdose."
In short, his answers were uncreative, stuck, and reflected a failure to creatively assess the issue. More importantly, though, his answers reflect a troubled streak in the fly fishing culture. Just the same as AFFTA honoring Enzi . . . A failure to see the connection between our sport and the demand for conservation.This failure results in groups like the one I spoke failing to find the chutzpa to speak out and speak in favor of protecting places like Bristol Bay or fighting for access (as in Utah, Idaho, Montana and more).
The future of our fisheries depend upon diverse communities, diverse fisheries, and diverse thinking. If you cherish your habit, religion, sport, or whatever you want to call it, I am inclinded to say that you have no business in this sport if you don't take conservation seriously.
In a time when resources are being squandered and access is being threatened it is not enough just to fly fish. It is not enough just to belong to a fly fishing club. Or, for a fly fishing club to just be a club. No. If you can't stand up for what gives to us, for what is right, for the future of our fisheries, you might as well get off the water - because clearly you don't really care that much about it anyway.
History gives us many reasons to be proud of our sport - tradition and all that. History teaches us many things - where we have gone wrong, learned lessons, and gone right. The point of my talk was that we must understand where we have come from in order to protect the future. In short, we have a historical responsiblity to care for sport and its waters, so that my son, your kids, and their freinds might fish the way we love to fish.
Either speak up or get off the water.