I am also concerned about some of the negative aspects associated with the recreational fishing industry and the associated economic drivers for the management of rivers. Stocking of nonnative species, impacts from hatchery operations and physical manipulation of rivers can create long-term problems for rivers. Critiques of fishing, including mine, create friction with anglers who otherwise feel they are on the correct side of the river conservation and preservation issue. I know that anglers need to be part of any solution to the problems river face today. Roughly 28 million Americans will buy freshwater fishing licenses this year and more than 290 million will not. TU’s 135,000 members and I share a passion for the protection of aquatic ecosystems, trout and salmon. Unfortunately, we are greatly outnumbered; most people are indifferent. Anglers and non-anglers who care about rivers need to find common ground. Otherwise, how are we going to convince the rest of the nation that their public waters need more restoration and better management? The answer is not simply for everyone to pick up a fishing rod, as has been suggested to me more than once when I mention I gave up angling for environmental reasons.
Rivers are complex entities with rich histories, dynamic currents and uncertain futures. Our perception of rivers is just as multifaceted. Rivers are places for contemplation and soul searching. Rivers are also economic resources that fuel hydropower production, transportation networks and a number of entertainment industries. Many industries are out for short-term gains, but not all. Fishing is an industry, economics drive management decisions and anglers are viewed as customers and consumers. But individual anglers and even groups of anglers don’t see themselves this way. They often have much more altruistic motives for fishing with an honest love of the outdoors and a passion for protection of rivers. For many different reasons, people want free-flowing rivers with healthy ecosystems to canoe downstream, fish along, swim within, stroll beside and collect data from. If the ultimate goal is to improve our nation’s rivers, the key is finding a shared vision to address problems effecting rivers.
There are many organizations citizens can look to for support. Local watershed alliances and land conservation groups have sprouted up all over the country. Large non-profit groups like The Nature Conservancy, American Rivers and Trout Unlimited work to organize for their own causes, which benefit rivers on the whole. Visit your local river, learn what the issues are, find a group that share your concerns and get involved. Politicians at the town, state and federal level listen to voter concerns. Individually, these activities can accomplish a great deal, together they can do more. It is time to build bridges among various interest groups in a more coordinated fight for more conservation and preservation of rivers. Rivers need everyone’s help, anglers and non-anglers alike, to create better aquatic ecosystems now and in the future.