Photo: Bob Rees with a June 4th Newport, Oregon halibut, weighing in at nearly 53 pounds.
My wife is an accomplished writer, and certainly wiser than I, so I take her words seriously when she says, “If you write it down, it can no longer own you.” I’m not so sure that’s true, when talking about what lies ahead for our planet’s most prized asset, our oceans.
We’re fortunate here in the Pacific Northwest. Our fisheries are intensively managed, we have safeguard environmental regulations that help keep our waters cleaner than most other countries, and opportunity for ocean harvest is on the increase, versus other countries that are leaving their depleted waters for more fruitful ones in other parts of the world. I’ve frequently written about the benefits of our historic protections in the deep reef areas that have led to larger fish and more abundant populations spilling over into other regions of the ocean. These historic protections have literally saved some species from becoming overfished to the point of no return.
Now it seems, nearly every year, we get more time to fish in the deep reef fishery, we get a higher bag limit of sea bass, and the groundfish we are catching are larger in size than I ever remember. Our fishery management strategies are working; there’s no reason to modify, but certainly ways to improve.
Unfortunately, at nearly every turn of the tide, we see the bigger picture. If you’ve ever had the chance to see some of the out-of-this-world footage from BBC’s David Attenborough’s Planet Earth series, it is captivating and educational beyond belief, and gives you a sense for how unique and inspiring our wild earth is. As incredible as the terrestrial footage is, relatively speaking, ocean footage, while wildly remarkable, speaks volumes as to how little we know about the ocean in comparison to our terrestrial lands.
Watching the June 6th 60 Minutes program was just another eye-opening experience when they featured David Attenborough and the incredible body of work he’s created for mankind and the planet. While it’s all wonderful to watch, if you go to the 7:40 mark, he starts in on coral reefs and our world’s ocean. Attenborough states, “We depend on the natural world for every mouthful of food we eat, and indeed every lung full of air that we breathe.” Nothing could be closer to the truth.
It’ll be a memorable year this season. Coho salmon numbering over a million back to the Columbia River, spring, summer and fall Chinook numbers rebounding from rock bottom in recent years and abundant opportunities for rockfish and halibut will fill the tables and freezers of many northwest families this summer. But we also know, it won’t stay this way for long. The fish production pendulum will once again swing low, and what’s most alarming is that the low swings are becoming even lower every time.
Most of us with any gray hair have seen the highs and the lows of our fish populations, especially the ever-volatile and short life-cycled salmonids we often pursue. Because salmon have such a short life cycle, they are a more “canary in the coal mine” indicator of ecosystem health than other, long lived species such as rockfish or sturgeon. Since that’s the case, we’ve all seen firsthand how the ocean and our freshwater ecosystems are performing, volatile at best.
There are really only two courses of action that I can see, in making a difference for the future of our fish and the future of our world.
- Either be an influencer: YouTube star, Tik Tok influencer, Instagram… you know the type. Yeah, I know, not my cup of tea, but those with thousands of followers do get a reaction from those followers, so who knows, maybe one day Kim Kardashian will make a pitch to save our oceans. Or…
- Enact state and federal legislation that saves our oceans.
It would still help if Kim Kardashian testified in front of Congress, pleading with Members of Congress, to do more to protect our fish and our ocean, but yeah, I have a bigger chance of being a Tik Tok star than Kim Kardashian coming to the rescue. So let’s focus on meaningful, science-based legislation that improves our most valuable resource. Fortunately, we have some in the queue.
- Chairman Jared Huffman is talking a long overdue reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act, which will secure rural fishing jobs around the country.
- Rep. Chellie Pingree’s (D-ME), with cosponsor Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), introduced the “Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act.” The bill will establish a $12 million Working Waterfront Grant Program to help preserve and expand access to coastal waters for water-dependent businesses, create a five-year pilot program for a $12 million loan fund for waterfront preservation and establish a Working Waterfront Task Force at the Department of Commerce to identify and prioritize critical needs for working waterfronts and to address the impacts of climate change.
- And maybe the most exciting for salmon fishermen along the Columbia River, Congressman Mike Simpson has a very bold proposal to restore Snake River salmon to Idaho, benefitting fishermen from Alaska to Idaho, which needs our support. See Congressman Simpson’s proposal.
At the very least, please recognize the importance of our oceans and educate your fellow anglers and certainly your children that collectively, if the oceans fail, so do we. There’s so much at stake and if we want to continue to reverse the trend and stave off a point of no return. Bold action must be taken now, and it must be taken with bi-partisan support.
Enjoy our oceans, I certainly do and I’m one of the fortunate few that have been able to make my living at it. Fishermen have a larger stake in the ocean’s health and productivity. It’s our great responsibility that we do our fair share in making sure it’s here for future generations to also enjoy and thrive.