Ten Seconds for Survival

The Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife News Bulletin reports that a new study adds to the increasing literature on the fish mortality caused by catch and release practices. The study adds recommendations to further ensure we as fly fishers are not contributing to delayed mortality of the fish we target. The key recommendation coming from this study is that no more than ten seconds of air exposure should elapse from capture to release. Even this may be too much for a significantly stressed fish.

Three factors to consider are exhaustion, water temperature, and air exposure.

As I had written earlier here, fly fishers need to use tackle that brings the fish in as quickly as possible to minimize exhaustion. The days should be gone when fly fishers exalt over using very light tackle that requires long fights to land fish. An interaction with a live wild animal, even with a short fight, should be the thrill.

Fly Fishers should also refrain from fishing when water temperatures exceed the normal for the target species. For trout, that means no fishing above 68 degrees – and lower for some species (read here).

And finally, air exposure leads to a cascading set of conditions that dramatically increase mortality for the fish: Rainbow trout in particular have the highest mortality when exposed to air after the struggle to be landed. The fish should be kept in the water – even for a photograph (see here).

We have a responsibility to the fish we love and that we seek to bring to net. Each fish must be thought of as a link in a chain, with that chain leading to the future of the fishery.

You can read article here.

Angler, I (Probably) Don’t Feel Your Pain

I am far from the only angler who’s been asked whether fish feel pain when hooked. While having no definitive answer, my feeling has always been the answer is no. Now a study at the University of Wisconsin, and reported in the scientific journal Fish and Fisheries, has attempted to put the question to rest.

A team injected acid or bee venom into the jaws of rainbow trout. They reported little effects on the trout, suggesting at the same time a human similarly tested would have experienced significant pain.

While a test of a single species may not be considered by some to represent all species of fish, it is a strong data point. And some might argue, as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals do, that fish exhibit other behaviors that represent pain.

So the debate likely will continue.

At this point, I think the best approach is to treat fish, like all other animals – and people for that matter, with respect. Fish hooked should be landed quickly to prevent the buildup of lactic acid; if sport fish they should be left in the water and quickly released; and if a fish is to be killed, it should be done quickly.

You can read the article here.

Trout At Risk – The Canaries in the Coal Mine

Two recent reports have provided an alarming view of the future of trout in this country. Taken together they should also serve as a warning to us about our future.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the last week released a report (Climate Change in the U.S. – Benefits of Global Action) on climate change that concluded by 2100 there will be only one small trout population east of the Mississippi River (and that in the northeast corner of Vermont). In addition, with unmitigated climate change there will be an overall 62% decline in cold water habitat across the country.

This report follows another recent study by Trout Unlimited, called the State of the Trout. This study was not limited to climate change, but included looking at the impacts of energy development, non-native species, and water demand (other uses).

Consider the following highlights from the Trout Unlimited study.

The United States historically had 25 native trout species. Now, three are extinct. Of the remaining 22 species, half occupy less than half their original habitat. Each of those 22 species also has at least one moderate or major risk factor.

Those are looking at the overall patterns. The regional patterns – in terms of the areas that might interest here in Washington are as troubling.

The Pacific Coast region, including western Oregon and Washington (and roughly half of the eastern parts of each state – and western California faces threats in climate change, non-native species, and water demand. They classify the coastal cutthroat population – near and dear to us in Puget Sound – facing only moderate risks in climate change and water demand. Other species including Dolly Varden and bull trout are classified as having major risks in multiple categories.

We should not be smug in western Washington. As this summer reminds us, high heat can impact our streams and surface waters too, and forest fires destroy habitat for all species, including salmon.

The northern Rockies, including the hallowed ground of fly fishing – Montana, face risks to their native populations (e.g., western cutthroat and bull trout) in terms of non-native species and climate change. I suspect that many people don’t recognize that the prized trout of Montana – the brown and rainbow – are non native species.

While their future was not examined in this study as they are non-native, other Trout Unlimited studies in the past looked at the risks of stream warming. As might be expected, they are in trouble too.

Combined these reports add to the growing list of publications and studies that highlight the threat of climate change. For climate change is happening in spite of the efforts of the fossil fuels industries, their paid agents, and useful idiots to deny it.

And water demand – and supply – is not an issue for only fish.

Forks, Washington – on the western coast of the Olympic peninsula and one of the wettest places in the country – has imposed water restrictions this summer due to the water levels in the wells dropping. Water rationing may become a future we all will learn to live with.

Denial of the problem may be easy for some; thinking those problems will occur long after they’re pushing up daisies in some boneyard.

But no one knows when exactly the tipping point will occur and rapid climate change commences. Beyond that, it doesn’t matter if we are alive when the apocalyptic events begin. We have children or grandchildren, or know of people who are younger than us. We owe it to them to fight the future that appears inevitable if we do nothing.

You can read the reports at the following links:

EPA Report

Trout Unlimited Study

The Lucky Molecules


Yesterday was Earth Day 2015.

It passed, with the expected of flurry of speeches by politicians “demanding action” on climate change – who will now do absolutely nothing to push such action.

I expect little from self-serving political cynics such as Obama (co-conspirator with the one percent) and Kerry (member of the one percent) who talk about climate change, then work to push through the Trans Pacific Partnership.

ABC News, in keeping with the primary duty of the “major news networks”, to serve business, ran a story on the Earth Day “freebies” and deals available to consumers. FOX News continued its role as propaganda ministry for the lunatic right-wing of this country by reporting everything is just dandy and there’s no need to worry about anything related to the environment – so let’s just go bomb another country.

Contrast all of that to an essay written by Robert Parry (Consortium News). Robert Parry is an independent investigative reporter; the type of journalist so desperately needed in a world self-promoting court jesters passing themselves off as reporters and anchors.

He writes of the vast reaches of space and the unknown numbers of molecules that result from the novemdecillion (10^80) atoms in the observable universe. And in all of those untold numbers of molecules – a relatively few came together as life on Planet Earth.

It is the Pale Blue Dot that Carl Sagan spoke so poetically of so many years ago. And now, only in the last 25 years of the Hubble telescope, we do know how much larger the universe is and how unique our Dot seems to be.

I recall from Cosmos when Sagan reflected on whether other civilizations in other star systems or other galaxies had come to their own existential crisis point and failed to pass through successfully – whether due to loss of control of their technologies or failings of what we might call their value systems. We have time left – only barely I think – to avoid that same failure.

Near the end of his essay, Parry recalls a speech John F. Kennedy gave on June 10, 1963: “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.” Enough said.

You can read Parry’s essay here.

Fish Fundamentals and Responsible Angling

This spring has been slow in the South Puget Sound for finding Sea-Run Cutthroat (SRC) Trout. Even my nearby beach, which tends to be prolific on an outgoing tide, has been barren this year. The last three times I was there I caught nothing, with not even a hit.

I was discussing that with the guys down at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop – and one of the guides mentioned that he’s noticed in the relatively few years he’s been around here that the SRC population appears to be much less than it used to be.

There may be many reasons for that; my opinion is that the fish are sensitive to the growing pressures on them from the urban and industrial pollution and runoff that surround Puget Sound. That is only going to get worse as the impacts of climate change bear down upon them – and us humans.

One may argue cause and effect, but one thing that seems inarguable is that anytime we come in contact with fish in our sport activities we should do whatever we can to protect them so we, and others, can continue to enjoy our sport.

Patagonia’s The Cleanest Line has an article by Andy J. Danylchuk, PhD on how to properly handle fish – whatever the species.

He recommends the usual practices: matching rod and line to the species; using a barbless hook; and keeping the fish in the water as much as possible.

Other recommendations may come as a surprise to those who have sought “hero shots” in the past. He recommends not lipping a fish (holding it by its lips) as that can put undo torsion on the head and vertebrae. Even holding a fish in a net (in the water) is to be avoided, as it’s a risk to the fish; much better to keep the fish totally submerged and use a forceps to reduce the hook.

Underwater cameras, as Andy points out, are becoming mainstream. One hopes the new ethic for fish handling and the “hero shot” is that of the fish kept totally submerged, underwater held only briefly until the shot is taken and the hook removed by a forceps.

The “new normal” may mean treating sport fisheries as the precious resource they are.

You can read the article here.

“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.