Volunteers from the Association of Northwest Steelheaders are just days away from delivering hundreds of thousands of Chinook salmon and trout eggs to Oregon schools under the Eggs to Fry program. This has been an incredible success story for our area schools, getting schoolchildren interested and involved in the detailed and incredible life histories of these iconic species. It’s the first stage in a critical process of making our future foot soldiers.
I never had the opportunity to learn about fish and wildlife that today’s school kids have, but I vividly remember checking out the same book week after week from my grade school library, and of course, it had deer and fish well incorporated into the pages. A simple poster created by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, printed in red ink showing all the wildlife Oregon had to offer, literally kept me a resident to the state of Oregon. Until I saw that poster, I was literally pricing motor homes (I was in the 1st grade) in preparation for my move to Pennsylvania to finish out my days hunting and fishing for what I thought was paradise at the time. Pennsylvania is where I spent every other summer visiting my grandparents, cruising the hay fields, looking at whitetail deer and wild turkeys, and trout fishing the small streams behind my grandparent’s deer camp. I also remember the picture in the newspaper, highlighting a winter steelhead that was caught on the Sandy River, just east of Portland. Until then, I thought you could only catch cool fish (salmon) in the summer time. I’ll never leave Oregon.
My point is, every person has a passion for something. It’s both a good thing and a bad thing that not more people have a strong passion for sportfishing. It’s a good thing that I can still put my boat in at the boat ramp and not have to wait an hour to launch it. I can fish some reaches of river without another boat in sight, and I can have epic fishing with few other anglers to compete with. It’s a bad thing that we didn’t have passionate sportanglers when the 14 mainstem Columbia Dams went into place six and seven decades ago, that we didn’t have passionate sport anglers when Oregon’s Forest Practices Act was crafted and when regulations went into place that stopped overfishing of most stocks that sport and commercial fishermen pursue. It’s up to us to be the catalyst that triggers the next generation of sport angling enthusiasts. It can be a picture, a story or best of all, an experience. For someone with the fishing recessive gene that I have, it didn’t take much. For most others, it takes a fairly positive experience; it’s up to us.
And like the evolution of a sport angler (I’m not sure I’ve evolved in the last two decades), there’s an evolution that takes place in our commitment to the resource. We typically start out as consumptive users, with a single goal in mind: harvest fish. Anglers then seem to care more about getting their family and friends into fishing, than catching fish themselves. It then seems that once they have the skill of fishing mastered, then they become more willing to fight for their right to angle and often recite the social benefits of the sport we love. It’s a natural progression, but we all needed that catalyst and the ability to develop our passion before the final culmination of advocacy. I’m afraid the next step is frustration as few feel their efforts were worth the gray hairs that it took to get them this far. No matter what stage you’re in, there has to be a mentor to foster the progression of an advocate; again, it’s up to us.
Every angler has a stake in the future health of our fisheries, our watersheds. As one commercial fisherman so bluntly put it, “Any fisherman that’s not an environmentalist, is a damned fool!” It’s hard for me to disagree. I know it’s early to be making New Year’s resolutions, but wouldn’t it be fun to be more versed in the politics of fish? You have so many options to choose from! Just as it took a simple photograph to inspire me to feverishly learn about Oregon’s fish and wildlife, what issue would draw you deeper into the conversation of conservation? Here are a few to choose from:
- Eggs to Fry Program: Bringing pure joy to a school near you.
- Carcass toss: I love the smell of rotting salmon flesh in the morning!
- The Land and Water Conservation Fund: Are you kidding? How could Congress mess this one up?
- Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization: How could Congress mess this one up, too?
- A strip nickel mine in the middle of Salmon Nation? Who needs to catch a 50-pounder anyway?
- Family Fish Camp: Teach kids to fish, and they’ll abandon their hand-held devices forever!
- Take a veteran fishing: It’s the best way to heal the wounds of war.
These are just a few of the programs the Association of Northwest Steelheaders are involved with. Make it a clean sweep and just become a member! Remember, it’s up to us!