In response to last week's
column, I received the following. It may be time! ~ dlb
A Modest Proposal
By Bob Margulis
Fishing in the Pacific Northwest, particularly Washington
State, becomes more complex each year. In 1985, whenever my
fishing buddy Tom or I would bring the first fish aboard the
12' Sears cartopper we used to fish on Puget Sound, we would
joke about needing to bring an attorney along as a guest.
It was our hope that they would be able to correctly interpret
the fishing regs so that we could figure out whether what
we caught was legal or not. Those were in the days when
there were still salmon, no closures, and keeping a fish
seemed to be a guiltless option.
Today we find ourselves in a very different situation.
In 1986 we moved from the twelve footer to a 23' Olympic
with a 235 Evinrude. We had to provide care for the beast,
pay insurance, feed its insatiable appetite for gas, and
pay moorage over the summer months, in addition to boat tax
and registration fees. By 1993 the boat was history: so was
salmon fishing in Puget Sound as we had known it. I have
not kept a salmon since 1994.
In the 1980's, while many of us carped about how fishing
had gone downhill, (we didn't have the historical perspective
to know how good it still was,) our focus was on how to catch
fish. In the 1990's we were forced to think more about if
there would be fish to catch and an open season. To my
constant amazement, in spite of the jeopardized fishery,
the typical fisher remains uninvolved in improving this
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had more fish to catch,
longer (or any) open seasons, and a healthy and large number
of sizeable fish to catch? In the hopes of achieving this
end I would like to make a 'modest proposal.'
Swift, the noted author of Gulliver's Travels,
wrote a satirical essay in 1729 entitled "A Modest Proposal:
For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland from
Being Aburden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making
Them Beneficial to The Public." Swift, a supporter of the
Irish in their struggles against English rule, penned this
tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the Irish improve their
impoverished condition by putting aside a small portion of
their children for breeding stock, and at the age of one,
sell the remainder to wealthy British aristocrats. "I have
been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance
in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a
year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food,
whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no
doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout."
Swift's satire, suggesting that the Irish escape poverty
by offering their young as food to the wealthy strikes a chord
As fishers, by not doing all we can to steward our
finned resource, are we not in essence, eating our young?
Given the many who covet catching a decreasing number of
fish, allowing fish to be harvested to the point of extinction
is analogous (metaphorically, of course) to selling our
children to others to be eaten.
When it comes to threats to fisheries here are the four
H's we all know about: harvest, habitat, hatchery, and
hydroelectric. In Puget Sound, we have no hydroelectric
threats from dams, so let's put that one aside. As for
hatchery fish, well, that one's getting stickier all the
time. Groups like Washington Trout and Trout Unlimited
have very strong leanings towards eliminating hatchery
fish as they see those fish as a threat to the genetic
strength of the wild fish population. On top of that, a
decreasing Fish & Wildlife budget is causing that agency
to propose we have no more steelhead plants. Of course,
with fewer fish to fish for, the decreasing number of people
buying licenses will lead to a downward spiral in Fish &
Habitat: This seems to be the darling of both
the business and environmental communities. There is a
heightened awareness that we must restore what we can and
destroy nothing more. Frankly, I think this is the
one area where progress is being made (in large part due
to fear by community leaders on the overall economic impact
of a Federal Endangered Species listing) and we are just
at the beginning of much greater future strides.
So what is left? It is obvious - harvest.
Look what happened last year when British Columbia
banned commercial net fishing for salmon in the area of
the Skeena River. As a result, steelhead returns were 4
times the 10-year average and marked a new all time record
(13% above the previous historical high!)
But how can we impact harvest? The complexities of dealing with the
commercial fishing industry and their lobbyists; the
federal treaty rights of Native American fishers; and
trans-state, trans-border catch limits are legion.
Let me digress for a moment. Remember the 1960's when
Cesar Chavez was organizing migrant farm workers into the
United Farm Workers Union? By 1970 the UFW got grape growers
to accept union contracts and had effectively organized most
of that industry. While the outcome was clearly due to Chavez's
tireless leadership and nonviolent tactics, it was his fasts
and the 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento in 1966 that
focused national attention on farm workers problems.
The fast was a declaration of noncooperation with
supermarkets who profited from California table grapes.
What Chavez was able to do was get people like me to
stop buying grapes unless they had the black Aztec eagle
UFW label. Chavez got us to tell our grocers that unless
they sold UFW picked grapes, we would not support the
exploitation of these migrant workers by buying non-UFW grapes.
In the 1980's, a similar event occurred with dolphin
protection. After years of protest, negotiation, and pleading,
the tuna industry remained unmoved and carried on net fishing
in a way which maximized tuna harvest at the expense of dolphins.
Through the efforts of Greenpeace and others, we, as consumers,
became aware of the devastating effect of by-catch on dolphins
from commercial tuna harvesting techniques. The result of our
declining to buy net-caught tuna was a change in harvesting
technique and tuna cans clearly labeled as "dolphin safe."
It is clear the almighty buck rules. Consumerism
is the easiest path to behavioral change. If there was no
market for non-farm raised salmon and steelhead, would there
be a commercial fishery for these fish? Of course not. Tribal
fishing would be similarly reduced to subsistence and ceremonial
fishing. And of course, there seems to be no compunction on
the part of the government to curtail sport fishing. And so,
here is my modest proposal.
In years past 'market-hunters' were allowed to take what they
wanted to supply the demands of commercial interests. This practice
included trout, ducks, partridge, and deer. The commercial value was
not considered in opposition to the sport value. 'They' had rights. These
'rights' were indeed only privileges and until the population of the 'game'
fell to disastrous levels nothing was done. The 'game' was simply declared
'Game' and that was that. Case closed. The 'market-hunters' were not
rewarded. They simply had no more occupation. Today many are prepared
to 'buy out' those same type of interests. In every case, naming one to a list
of endangered, or threatened is the first step. The second is recognition of the
fact it is near extinction. These two things need to be present before any
meaningful solution can happen. We are at that point now. ~ JC|
Let's all stop fishing for at least two years while
still focusing on the habitat and see what that does for
the fishery. We'll do it longer, if necessary. How can
we make this happen?
Stop buying non-farm raised salmon and steelhead.
It is just that simple. Yesterday, I found myself in
a restaurant where the waitress proudly announced that
the special was Alaska troll-caught King Salmon. I told
the waitress that I was appalled that they would serve
non-farmed salmon. Didn't she know that Puget Sound King
Salmon were on the verge of being listed as an Endangered
Species by the federal government?
Yes, she said, but this was an Alaska caught fish.
I proceeded to bore her with the details of Chinook
life-cycles and got her to understand that there was
every chance that this was one of our fish, even though
it was caught in Alaska. I then told her to please tell
her manager that I would not buy a salmon in their
restaurant unless it was farm raised. My companion,
upon hearing this story, admitted he had wanted
to have the salmon for lunch, but now that he had heard
my comments to the waitress, changed his mind and ordered
a different dish.
What if we all started doing this? The next time
you go to a restaurant and see there is salmon or steelhead
on the menu, ask if it was farmed. Even if you had no plans
to order it. . . ask if it was farmed. And what if each of us,
the next time we went to Safeway or QFC went to the fish counter
and told them we would not buy non-farmed fish? What if
the FFF and TU and all the local clubs sent out letters to their
members urging them to do this? And we told our friends and
they did it? And the fishing equipment manufacturers got behind
this? My guess is this: two years to see a big difference,
tight lines! ~ Bob Margulis
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