The Last Little Fish

Michael O' Leary with a Tillamook Bay spring Chinook from June 2016

Michael O’ Leary with a Tillamook Bay spring Chinook from June 2016

Some funny things happened in this last election. Besides the obvious, not all of the votes went the way you would think. One of my fellow Marine Fish Conservation Network bloggers mentioned on a recent call, that a district that voted strongly for Trump, also voted strongly for a bond measure that enabled a community to restore a historical wetland that clearly meant a lot to the community. Thankfully, this too goes against the stereotypes we as a divided nation have boxed each other into. There is a clear disconnect between rural and urban communities.
This just proves another point; sportsmen and women are one of the few constituencies that can find support on both sides of the isle. This may be a crucial factor for securing the future of our fish and wildlife resources.

One of Oregon’s most “liberal” (there I go, labeling again) legislators has had a brilliant idea of bringing a busload, well, at least a van-load, of urban Oregonians to the far eastern part of our state. The idea was to help bridge the gap between the needs of rural communities and the wants of urbanites. I can’t say the experiment has reached any conclusions, but if we better understand the needs and wants of divided communities, we’re much more likely to come up with workable solutions, versus exacerbating the divide. I hope there will be a successful model we can work from.

On a funny note, I was able to take this “liberal” legislator fishing myself, during the peak part of the salmon run on the lower Columbia River a few years ago. We didn’t have any trouble catching fish, and although I never asked, the politics of this legislator were likely of the type that would protect the voracious California sea lions that have taken a chunk out of the Columbia River salmon run, instead of advocating for a strategic removal of the problem few. Well, as luck would have it, there was a large California sea lion working the Astoria Bridge, along with about 40 other sport boats. Well, needless to say, shortly after hooking a nice Chinook salmon, the unnamed legislator had some difficulty reeling in the hard-fighting fish (I might have loosened up the drag, just for the entertainment value). Low and behold, the sea lion grabbed his fish, took it upstream and around a bridge abutment, and broke us off. I was sure to let “legislator X” know that the sea lion peeling his line off of the reel was fully responsible for his fish not hitting our deck for his upcoming barbeque. Much to even my surprise, he angrily shouted, “We gotta do something about those sea lions!” It kinda made my day.

Most of my friends, both liberal and conservative, know where I stand on conservation issues. I feel fortunate that both sides seem to understand my need to conserve, and my need to harvest, but although I can have both of these types of friends in the same room at the same time, they likely wouldn’t give each other the time of day if they didn’t have a common acquaintance between them. It’s a clear case of misunderstanding.

The fact of the matter is, we want the same thing: abundant fish and wildlife resources for ourselves, and for our children. Even the most conservative of folks would likely agree, we’re not growing our fish and wildlife resources, but the human population doesn’t seem to be suffering any.

Many of us are unsure where the next administration is going to lead us, but no matter what administration is leading our nation, the divide between our communities seems to be growing larger, not smaller. That may just be the master plan of all our competing interests. As we squabble amongst ourselves, competing industry takes, chunk by chunk, more of our lands that grow our wildlife, and more of our water that grows our fish. And like two African lions fighting each other for a freshly killed gazelle, the laughing hyena whips right in and takes half of the animal before either lion got a meal off of it. We’re getting too easily distracted, and it’s paying big dividends for big industry.

The question may just be, however, who will take the first step and extend your hand to your neighboring Oregonian, or whatever state you live in. Are we so deeply divided that this can never happen? With one party on top and the other toppled, if the underdog is reaching out to make peace, is it just because they were the loser and have nothing to lose? If it’s the red citizen that has felt disenfranchised for so many years, will they want to ride the wave and make the gains they want for the next 4 to 8 years?

It’s quite the quandary, but like many other things we agree on, if we continue to “agree to disagree,” there won’t be anything left to fight over.

About Bob Rees

Bob Rees is a professional fishing guide and executive director of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association.

1 comments on “The Last Little Fish

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