Ladyfisher
Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

May 3rd, 1999

Another View?



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 situation.

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 with me.

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 & Wildlife funding.

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."

Editors note*

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

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.

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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