The General Public’s View of Fisheries

California's Great America

After guiding for about 60 days straight, I decided it was time for a vacation. After all, I hardly had any time with my daughter all summer, and my wife was headed to Chicago for her I-won’t-say-how-many-year class reunion. I can entertain my 8-year old on the water, but one-on-one stuck in Oregon City, I was needing some help; California Great America and Six Flags Amusement Parks, here I come!

Of all the years and all the months I could have picked, however, I picked the one when wildfires were taking out entire neighborhoods and compromising my weekend with my daughter. I know, compared to the tragedies those that lost their homes and vineyards, I had nothing to complain about. My sympathies to those left homeless.

Our trip started out flying into the Bay Area, obviously. I have been there before, and even though my view was somewhat obstructed by the smoke, the bay delta tells quite a story from 10,000 feet above. The landscape modifications, the loss of wetlands, and the sheer number of people that live in this area has certainly taken a toll on the region’s once-abundant (maybe 200 years ago) fish and wildlife species. Now, the delta is laden with invasive species and a once freshwater ecosystem is now saltwater because of the water extraction that goes on there. Freshwater sportfishing opportunities are dwindling by the day it seems.

After a good dose of human density and concurrent road rage associated with human density, we finally made our way to Santa Clara, ready to recreate at Great America. I had been there as a kid, and I may have been more excited than my daughter in going back. Although far from my idea of pure entertainment, we enjoyed our day riding roller coasters and attempting to win prizes worth a fraction of what I was paying trying to win the darn things. All part of the program, however.

After continuously checking the air quality to the north of San Francisco where day 2 was supposed to be at Six Flags, I was pleasantly surprised that the destination was actually a possibility. The winds clearly shifted directions, so to the north we traveled in anticipation of more fun and adventure. This is where I was a bit awestruck.

Somehow, we spent a good part of an hour in the “Ocean Discovery” section of the park, visiting the lone walrus, a couple dozen penguins, and a handful of harbor seals and California sea lions. Although the walrus and penguin exhibits were fun to look over, I had rides on my mind. And from the lack of density of other visitors, I think everyone else did too. I had to call it quits when my daughter asked if we should buy a pound of smelt to feed the seals… I had to tell her I had done enough of that this summer, except with sport-caught salmon. They were plenty “full.”

As we continued around the park, viewing the menus of the different junk shacks to eat at, I came to the realization about just how few people know about where their seafood comes from, and how come we still have seafood to harvest (leave out the last remaining California salmon, mind you). I couldn’t bring myself to look at the Seamoore Cott’s Fish and Fries menu, because I have such a hard time purchasing seafood as a professional fisherman, especially after going on the Medusa ride.

How do you engage the vast majority of society in critical fisheries issues when they don’t even know where their food comes from? And from the head count at the walrus exhibit, I don’t think many people, park-goers for sure, even care.

As a battery of bad bills remains queued up in Congress, thankfully, commercial fishermen and sport anglers are paying attention to what’s happening. Rollbacks in the conservation gains we’ve made under the bi-partisan supported Magnuson-Stevens Act are under threat. While some sport angling groups in the Gulf States support these rollbacks to gain more access to certain stocks of fish, it’s bad business for those that support a legacy of opportunity for our future fishermen.

We’re still working on a bill that can pass the litmus test for both conservation and opportunity, but those can be hard to come by in today’s Congress. If not for the fishermen, who would pay attention to our fisheries, which have come back from rampant overfishing just three decades ago? Certainly not my fellow theme park goers, and most of America for that matter.

Top photo: California’s Great America, via Wikipedia.

About Bob Rees

Bob Rees is a professional fishing guide and executive director of the Association of NW Steelheaders.

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