“Radical” Anglers Needed Now

Hatch Magazine posted an open letter to America’s anglers and hunters earlier this month. You can read it here.

This is a call to arms, or at least awareness, of the increasing attacks on anglers and hunters by the extraction industries who take exception to any efforts to preserve lands and water. Groups such as Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Isaak Walton League, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have all been labeled as fronts for extremist leftist groups – by naming so-called radical sponsors, while failing to note that these same groups also receive monies from radical organizations such as Orvis, Conn-Edison, and the J.R. Simplot Company.

Consider the grass-roots work to stop the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay Alaska has been met with lobbying and legislative action by some in Congress and the State of Alaska (both with their deep-pocketed owners) who have questioned the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its use of the Clean Water Act to stop the mine from moving forward.

Call me cynical but I fear in the end the mine will move forward and the salmon be damned. Profits – and executive bonuses – trump everything else.

The politics in this country of divide and conquer has been polished to a fine art. Climate change, resource preservation, and a number of other exploitable issues have been added to the pastiche of God, guns, and gays. The National Rifle Association, once an organization for hunters, is now a lobbying group for arms manufacturers and approved Republican candidates. One can only hope that Ducks Unlimited maintains its integrity in its focus on duck habitat.

The national organizations have a leading role in preserving natural areas and resources. But in the end it comes down to the individual anglers and hunters who can look past wedge issues and realize that in the end the waters and lands they value are looked upon by the extraction industries as potential commodities to be exploited.

It’s time for us to pay attention and get angry.

Steelhead: As Hatchery Fish Go Up, Wild Fish Go Down

I came across an article about a presentation last December by Dylan Tolmie, sponsored by Emerald Water Anglers, about the threat posed to wild steelhead by hatchery steelhead. Dylan Tolmie is an environmentalist, Patagonia sponsored athlete, and former guide, who lives north of here on Bainbridge Island.

There’s been a lot written about the threats to wild steelhead here in the Northwest. Given the magnitude of the problem, it’s nowhere near enough. Tolmie introduced his topic by saying, Are you guys ready to get pissed off? Because I’m pissed about this. The more I’ve found digging deeper and deeper, the more upset I get.” The specific incident that drove that question was the closure of the Nooksack River due to lack of hatchery steelhead eggs needed for production quotas.

As in everything, economic needs, e.g., “production quotas” drive everything.

To those who would ask why protecting hatchery steelhead poses a risk to wild steelhead, Dylan has the ready answer. A wild steelhead is an example of survival of the fittest – even those smolts making it from their spawning beds out to the ocean have gone through a natural selection process. Hatchery steelhead have not faced the same challenges, being raised in production facilities. The sheer numbers released means they out compete for food.

The hatchery system is paid for by taxes – taxes that could be used for better purposes; certainly better purposes than reducing fragile stocks of wild steelhead.

You can read the article here.

Hood Canal Bridge: A Steelhead Deathtrap

The Hood Canal Bridge connects the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas in Washington state. It is the world’s longest floating bridge that exists in a saltwater tidal basin (7,869 feet in length). A vital link between those peninsulas, daily traffic flow is over 16,000 vehicles daily. Made up primarily of pontoons, it’s anchored at both ends by fixed bridges.

But it is those center sections that may be acting as a deathtrap for Hood Canal steelhead – and potentially salmon. At low tide, the pontoons cover 95% of the canal’s width. Steelhead, which swim in the upper layers of the water column, may be held up by the 12-foot deep pontoons, making them easier prey for predators (eagles, seals). Or the complex water flows around the bridge may be confusing the fish.

Fisheries scientists don’t fully know yet what’s going on. But it’s clear this is another adverse impact on increasingly vulnerable fisheries.

Read more here.

Climate Change: A Time to Act

I came across a timely article in Conservation Hawks. Called “A Time to Act”, it was written by Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia), Craig Matthews (Blue Ribbon Flies), Tom Rosenbauer (Orvis), and Todd Tanner (Conservation Hawks). Conservation Hawks is a non-partisan group of hunters and fishers united by a desire to pass on a healthy world for sportsman.

The authors add their voices to the millions of others that see the impact of climate change on our planet. For every one of us, whether as fly fishers or fellow travelers on planet Earth, the time to act is now – both at an individual level by our daily actions as well as by working together to force change.

You can find the article here.

Orvis and Trout Unlimited Partner to Repair Culverts

Many years ago, I was in graduate school, studying water resources (Department of Civil Engineering, Oregon State University). Not having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I wasn’t familiar with the problems of migratory fish – specifically, salmon. A lot of research was going on regarding fish ladders and ways to get the salmon around the dams on the Columbia River drainage basis.

Now these many years later, the problems still exist – not just fish ladders, but culverts that impact fish in rivers and streams across the country.

This year (2014) Trout Unlimited has partnered with Orvis in the 1,000 Miles campaign, the goal of which is to reconnect 1,000 miles of fishable streams by repairing or replacing poorly constructed culverts that have restricted the passage of fish.

This is a worthwhile endeavor that will benefit everyone. You can learn more here.

There’s a nice video that explains the problem and shows a lot of nice footage of streams.

Another benefit of this campaign is that Orvis is matching every donation to Trout Unlimited.

Killing Trout for the Hero Shot

Look at the majority of fishing (fly or not) magazines and web sites, and there’s typically a photo of someone holding a recently caught fish. You know the photo – the one with the smiling person proudly holding the sought after fish. It’s understandable to some degree – it’s about a trophy and sharing a memory of the event.

But what’s often not clear to me is whether that fish is being returned to the stream or water, or whether it will wind up in someone’s fry pan later that day. In many cases, and required in sport fisheries, those fish will be returned to the water. What’s left to ponder is how many of those fish ultimately survive the encounter.

There are many causes if they do not: Using too light a tackle and playing the fish too long; think about that next time someone tells you how they really like to use “too light” tackle. Or careless handling – stripping the protective mucous from the fish by not wetting hands before handling the fish. Or tossing the fish back into the water rather than letting it swim out of your hands.

And then there’s the most obvious – holding the fish up and away from the water for the shot of the happy fisher with the prized catch.

It’s difficult to resist. I know that. I posted earlier about my careless handling of a sea run cutthroat trout. That led me to the use of a net for all catches. See my post here.

But for those determined to hold up the fish for the prized photo, the fish needs to be held carefully to avoid damage to the heart, liver and gills.

Bishfish has an excellent post that shows examples of crushing grips – the same kind of grips one often sees in photos – that likely lead to fish mortality. There is also a photo of a fish held properly.

As I said above, it’s difficult to resist the urge to get the trophy shot; as either a keepsake or as proof of one’s skill with a rod.

But with the pressure on fisheries everywhere, unless the fish is to be taken and eaten, it should be left in the water. A fish in the net can still be a great photo.

Perhaps the ethic John Muir expressed about the woods – “Take only memories, leave only footprints” – needs to become the ethic of the 21st sport fisherman: “Take only memories, and leave the fish in the water.”

You can read the Bishfish post here.

On the Beach: The Fukushima 21st Century Version

One of my favorite movies is On the Beach.  Released in 1959, it is a post-apocalyptic story of a group of people in Australia waiting for a radiation cloud to spread over them after a nuclear war in the northern hemisphere.

But this is not a summer blockbuster about radioactive monsters or mutants. This is a movie about people finding love and redemption in the everydayness of ordinary life as they cope with the coming reality.  I won’t discuss the plot – see it for yourself. I will only say one of the final scenes of the movie where a submarine sails from port as the soundtrack plays the Australian ballad “Waltzing Matilda” is one of the more haunting movie scenes ever.

I raised this movie because we on the west coast of North America face our own On the Beach moment – maybe we have already. I’m talking about the past, present, and future releases from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disasters on March 11, 2011. And in the worst case scenarios, maybe the majority of the people on Earth face the same moment.

Though government officials in both the United States and Canada continue to minimize the degree of exposure and risks in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami when three plants had complete core meltdowns, each new revelation is more frightening,

Recent reports have indicated the radioactive plume of water will hit the northwest coast of North America starting in early 2014. Some oceanographic simulations conducted in Spain predict that while the radiation will begin arriving then the levels of radiation will be much lower than in the waters surrounding Fukushima. Other studies by German oceanographers suggest a three-year plume event – again with lower levels of radiation.

Does that mean the days of eating salmon are over?  In the worst case that might not even matter.

I think the governments of the United States and Canada may have misrepresented (in not lied) about the amount of radioactive fallout hitting the west coast of both countries in the days following the earthquake and tsunami when the cores melted – but it may take years to know how much radiation exposure there was (to be determined by the rates of cancer).

And the mixing of a radioactive plume in the wide basin of the Pacific Ocean means perhaps a significantly lower concentration of radioactive water on the shores of the Olympic peninsula and other coastlines in North America. Still it gives pause to think that the days of eating salmon and walking the coastline may be coming to an end for years, if ever.

Even more frightening is the announcement this week that Tepco (the plant operator) has been given permission to remove the fuel rods from the spent fuel pool in Plant Number 4. The issue is that the building in which the fuel rods are stored is crumbing and the rods themselves are in an uncertain state. Without going into all the technical details, the rods are clad in a chemical element (zirconium) that burns if exposed to air. If there is a collapse of rods or the building, fuel rods would begin to burn. The impact of burning fuel rods grow to apocalyptic levels based on how bad the fire is and how far it spreads to other areas of the Fukushima plant – starting with a need to evacuate large areas of Japan (if not the entire country) and growing to a highly radioactive cloud of a dust spreading over the entire northern hemisphere.

This is serious stuff and not to be ignored by concerns about Kabuki-theater politics or what NFL game is hot this week.

You can begin reading more here.


National Geographic Article on Warming Streams

Climate change is claimed by some to be pseudo-science, as if belief in magic, cynicism, and ignorance represent sound scientific thinking; yes, I’m talking about religious conservatives; paid flacks of the fossil fuel industries; and corporations planning revenue streams based on climate change.  They represent a toxic mix that stifles any serious debate about the seriousness of the climate crisis and the steps necessary to minimize the inevitable changes underway.  The public is left confused, in spite of the increasing evidence of radical weather (think Hurricane Sandy and the floods in Colorado) and the ongoing drought in the Midwest.

Now National Geographic has written an excellent, if disturbing, article on the impacts of climate change on fishing streams across the country.  Many of us may be dead or decrepit before many of the worst impacts are felt – or maybe not. But our children and grandchildren will live in a world unknown to most of us.  And our hopes and dreams about passing on our love of fishing (whether fly or gear) may be dashed.  To quote only item from the article, a scientist at the National Wildlife Federation said, “The science is telling us that in the lifespan of a child born today, 50 percent of the habitat suitable for cold-water species of fish will no longer be suitable for them.”

The article can be found here.