Sunday, September 27, 2015
THE FLY GUYS GET IT RIGHT
A few days ago, I came across a press release from the American Fly Fishing Trade Association announcing the expansion of the “AFFTA Fisheries Fund,” which it describes as a fund established in 2014
“with the main objective of funding organizations and projects focused on fisheries conservation and education.
“’The Fisheries Fund is a unique opportunity for not only AFFTA, but everyone whose vocation or avocation is fishing, to give back. To protect what we hold most dear…”
To date, the Fund has, among other things, supported efforts to restore steelhead and salmon habitat in Oregon, helped Trout Unlimited fight a proposed mine that would threaten an healthy, clear-running river in Montana and funded work to permanently end the threats to the spectacular Bristol Bay salmon and steelhead runs posed by drilling and mining interests up in Alaska.
All of its advocacy has been related to anadromous and strictly freshwater fisheries so far, but given the growing importance of salt water fly fishing, I have no doubt that if a worthy project came forward to help protect striped bass, redfish or tarpon, the AFFTA Fisheries Fund would give it serious consideration as well.
Such an industry-wide commitment to conservation is admirable. It’s also a classic example of doing well by doing good, for as I noted in a blog that I wrote eighteen months ago, if you want to have a fishing industry, it helps to have fish.
By funding conservation projects, AFFTA is helping to assure that future generations of anglers will get the opportunity to enjoy some of the pleasures that we already know, while at the same time assuring that their businesses also survive. For if the fish disappear, the fishermen will disappear shortly thereafter.
AFFTA’s wise actions contrast with those of the American Sportfishing Association, the trade organization that represents the greater part of the tackle and angling-related industry. ASA sees a threat to angling’s future, too, and created an organization called “Keep America Fishing” designed to help perpetuate the sport.
But where AFFTA concentrates on protecting the fish and the waters they swim in, Keep America Fishing announces on its Internet home page that it is
“PROTECTING YOUR RIGHT TO FISH.”
Protecting the fish appears optional—or perhaps undesirable, given that ASA supports H.R. 1335, the so-called Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, a bill just about identical to one introduced in the previous session of Congress that was so bad that conservationists called it the “Empty Oceans Act.”
Although H.R. 1335 would allow managers to perpetuate overfishing for an indeterminate amount of time, and delay the rebuilding of overfished stocks, ASA calls House passage of the bill last spring
“a victory for recreational anglers,”
and insists that
“the Senate version of the bill still must [be] passed.”
The whole notion of assuring healthy fish stocks in the future, in order to assure a healthy fishing industry as well, seems to have escaped ASA.
Even when it comes to such a simple issue such as litter, ASA’s views seem skewed. It tells anglers to clean up soft plastic lures, and not leave them littering the waters, which is a good thing. But the motivation isn’t to perpetuate beauty or to have anglers clean up their mess so that the next angler can enjoy unsullied waters, but rather the cynical
“Our waterways are being littered with worn-out soft plastic lures. If this habit doesn’t stop, we are giving the environmentalists and politicians adequate ammunition for making fishing with these lures illegal.”
So it seems that the whole notion of doing something just because it is right has escaped ASA, too..
Maybe that’s why, while AFFTA’s Fisheries Fund is helping to fight drilling and mining that could destroy pristine waters in places such as Alaska and Montana, ASA has no problem cozying up to someone such as Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, who has criticized actions by the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the Bristol Bay fishery, and has actually sponsored legislation that would take away much of the agency’s authority to do so.
The same legislation would remove the EPA’s authority to veto permits for “mountaintop removal,” a form of coal mining which is much what it sounds like—a process in which overburden removed from above Appalachian coal seams is dumped in the valleys and cool mountain streams which, often right up until then, held populations of rapidly-disappearing native brook trout.
But ASA thinks Vitter is a good guy, because he supports legislation that would allow anglers in the Gulf of Mexico to kill more red snapper than either the science or current law would allow.
And killing more fish is, I suppose, good for ASA’s members’ business—at least until the supply of fish starts to run out.
It always leaves me more than a little amazed that so many bright people—and the folks who run ASA certainly fall into that category—can’t look ahead for more than a season or two, and realize that the health of the fishing industry is directly related to the health of fish stocks.
Maybe it’s because the industry, and its allies in the marine trades business, are so caught up in their pretty fishfinders and GPS units and such, which make it easier for even mediocre anglers to find a few fish when populations are down, that they don’t understand that there comes a point when fishing becomes so poor even the best electronics can't help.
And maybe that’s why the fly guys get it right. They still keep things simple.
As my friend Capt. John McMurray, who runs a guide service specializing in light tackle and flyfishing, puts it,
“fly-rodders are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. The technique we use makes it harder to catch large fish, and we are the first to see the effects of a decline.”
That makes a lot of sense.
And what AFFTA is doing makes a lot of sense, too.
What doesn’t make sense is that rest of the angling industry hasn't yet reached out to lend AFFTA’s conservation efforts a hand.