Our Man In Canada
April 21st, 2003


Chris Marshall

By Chris Marshall

The last place I expected to find an editorial on sport fishery conservation was in the pages of a national newspaper: Nevertheless, there it was on the editorial page of The National Post on January 17, 2003, with the title "Investing in Nature." The writer was responding to a news item on the January 14 auction of 10 year leases for Atlantic salmon fishing on New Brunswick rivers, acknowledging that "while granting exclusive access. . .to the private fly fishing lodges and wealthy anglers who placed the highest bids runs contrary to the egalitarianism of the age, it is the surest way to guarantee a revival of the fragile Atlantic salmon population, and yet another sign that enlightened self-interest is at least as good a steward of nature and the environment as the public sector; and sometimes even better."

The writer concludes that "trout streams, old-growth forests, (and) wetlands have all been saved in the past ten years because someone was given an entrepreneurial stake in them. Permit landowners and entrepreneurs to charge to fish the streams on their property, or conduct tours through coastal rainforests, and one instantly creates a vested interest in preserving and maintaining that natural resource for the long run. Leave all the natural protection in the hands of the state, on the other hand, and the result all to often is what economists describe as 'the tragedy of the commons.' "

It's hard to disagree. I grew up in England, where this is a common practice, and I have first-hand experience of private waters there which are invariably better managed than those that are open to the public. Unfortunately, this is cold comfort for the majority of fly fishers who have neither the cash nor the influence to gain access to private water.

However, there is a middle ground between private and public management, which provides both good management and general access, and it can be found here in Canada. Across the country there are groups, such as Trout Unlimited, the British Columbia FFF, and various river associations, comprised mainly of local fly fishers, which have undertaken the stewardship of sections and even the entire watersheds of rivers. In most cases, these rivers are managed as well as those in the hands of wealthy leaseholders. Moreover, they provide access to ordinary fly fishers at no or little cost. These "publically" managed fisheries work for the same reason that privately managed fisheries work: anglers are empowered through self-interest. By spending time with sleeves rolled up to restore degraded channels, to assist spawning, or to plant streamside vegetation - or by political lobbying for water quality - participants acquire a sense of ownership and become fierce defenders of 'their' streams.

Public management need not be left solely in the hands of an indifferent and under-funded public service. We can all become "owners" of our local rivers and lakes by joining local associations (or creating them where none exist) and, through partnerships with local and provincial government, preserve and maintain our fisheries as effectively, or more so, than private fisheries managed by and for the wealthy few.

Many fly fishers tend to be solitary, spurning association with others. Fifty years ago, when our rivers were less pressured this was an option, but today it is not. Today, it is essential that we all assume stewardship. If we do, there need be no "tragedy of the commons." All we have to do is get involved. ~ Chris Marshall, Editor Canadian Fly Fisher

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