A month or so ago, my 10 year old son Kian and I drove across the Continental Divide on our way back home to western Montana. We were more than a mile above sea level when we hit Rogers Pass, and we talked about how all that water flowing west off the Divide would eventually end up in the Pacific. It blows me away that our western Montana rain and snow will, in time, swell the cold-water rivers that gift us with strong runs of Pacific steelhead and salmon.
“Mitakuye Oyasin,” as the Lakota say: “We are all related.” Or, if you prefer, we are all connected. If you pull on any single thread in nature, you find a web of life, of interdependence, of synergy. Our water, falling high up in the Rockies, is an essential component of a system that produces some of the most incredible fishing I can imagine.
But there’s a flip side to all this interdependence. If any one element of the system fails – if climate change heats our rivers past the tolerance levels of our steelhead and salmon, or if ocean acidification makes life impossible for the plankton and the pteropods that help make up the base of the oceanic food chain — then the ramifications are felt far and wide.
I thought about all this as we were driving home last month, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether millions of American anglers will eventually start to focus on these existential threats to our fishing. Ocean acidification and climate change threaten it all, from our Montana trout streams to our Pacific coast salmon rivers to the vast waters of the Pacific itself — and we’re just now waking up to the catastrophic nature of the situation.
So what can we do? For starters, call your Senators and your Representative and tell them to take ocean acidification and climate change seriously. Ask them to support renewable energy, reduce America’s CO2 emissions, and fund additional ocean acidification research through legislation like the bipartisan Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2015 (H.R. 2553). We can also push for a stronger, more nimble Magnuson-Stevens Act, an MSA with ecosystem-based management models to protect the forage base and address environmental stressors. It’s time we recognize the true interconnectedness of our anadromous fisheries and begin to manage our ocean waters as a functioning ecosystem.
Most importantly, though, take just a second and think about what you love.
Personally, I love to swing a long line for steelhead. I love the early-morning mist on the water and the quiet music of the river. I love that moment when my fly stops and the rod surges and the synapses in my brain fire off those urgent, unspoken words: “Fish On!”
I love it all — and sadly, it’s all at risk. So let’s do something about it. Let’s stand up for ourselves. Let’s give our kids and grandkids a shot at the same incredible fishing that we’ve been fortunate enough to experience. Let’s act as stewards and caretakers, and pass on healthy waters and landscapes. Let’s rise to the challenge. Because the alternative — a future where we’ve gambled away our fisheries and our American birthright — is literally unthinkable.