Friday August 29, 2014

Conservation key to fishing future

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Welcome to Week XCIII of 'Fishing Parkland Shorelines'. Like most of us I am a novice fisherman, loving to fish, but far from an expert. In the following weeks I'll attempt to give those anglers who love to fish but just don't have access to a boat, a look at some of the options in the Yorkton area where you can fish from shore, and hopefully catch some fish.

Last week I started an extended piece with Bill McMillan and his son John, authors of the fine book May the Rivers Never Sleep.

This week will conclude the interview with the authors and their heartfelt view of the subject of conserving our natural waters and the fish they are home too.

You will recall from last week Bill and John are both fishermen, but their passion has evolved to be more focused as conservationists.

To tell their story the father and team uses a rather ingenious viewpoint in the book to talk about a river, its beauty, its needs and is frailty.

May the Rivers Never Sleep captures readers by following river life through the 12-months of the year, explaining how the passage of time on the calender is also a passage of life cycles for a river. It is an interesting way to take the reader into a wild river, how it should be, and how it may have been altered by the impact people have had on rivers through dams, fishing and introduction of new fish species.

The underlying question of course is if rivers are improving after generally decades of neglect, or are things still getting worse thanks to the negative influences of man?

"Well, I am not sure actually," said John. "I do believe, and there is evidence of this, that we are increasingly focused on conserving salmon and rivers. I believe this is leading to improvements. We are seeing dams being removed, designation of wild salmon gene banks, and thorough reviews of hatchery practices. Those are all great.

"But at the end of the day, it still takes a strong lead to implement those types of practices at the State and Federal levels. I am not sure we have that at all the levels yet.

"But there are some great people working on the problems, a lot of people in fact. And the more aware we are of the plight of rivers and fish, the better of our environment will be."

Looking at the situation of whether rivers and fish improving, or devolving Bill said it was something of a mixed bag of results.

"There is just enough of the former to keep hope alive, but the larger pattern is the latter," he said.

"Regarding improvements, who would have thought 25 years ago that seemingly permanent structures such as large dams would ever come down. I had considered them to be human monoliths, as lasting as mountains and the pyramids.

"Yet, here we are. They are ageing and they are coming down as they do. We have begun to realize alternatives and the importance to recover life once sustained by rivers in a connectivity of mountain headwaters to the sea.

"One shining example of initiating recovery of a major river is that of the Rhine in Europe.

"But on the whole the West is on track to replicate what occurred in Eastern America with extensive eradication of anadromous fish life. The Eastern U.S. had a 200-250 year head start on Euro-American settlement in the West. We can hope that the West will have learned enough from the East to prevent its replication ... but at this point it remains that of hope rather than the substance of any proof."

Of course for rivers to be healthy, we as fishermen have to care enough that we work to look after natural habitat. Bill and John suggest we can all play a role.

"To embrace personal responsibility as a primary component to the future of rivers in their ability to sustain wild fish. We can't only take. We have to give something back," said Bill.

"To only take insures continual diminishment ... and this does not mean limiting one's role of responsibility merely to catch and release.

"Giving back can occur in differing ways. Those of affluence can provide significant monetary support to legitimate conservation organizations whose agendas are that of protecting and recovering the self-sustaining ecosystems of rivers, lakes, forests, deserts, and seas.

"And those with affluence, or without, can both choose to alternatively transition some portion of their fishing time to that of otherwise coming to learn from and find the joys of the life of rivers without a fishing rod, and volunteering at least their time to conservation organizations."

John wholeheartedly agreed.

"I think it is up to each of us -- to quote Gandhi -- 'To be the change we want to see'," he said.

"I have lived through an array of lessons and experiences and each has contributed to my knowledge of personal effects on fish. These experiences have lead me to 1) always fish barbless hooks, 2) use the right size tippet to land a fish as quickly as possible, 3) to not remove fish from the water that are to be released, and 4) acknowledge when I am having a negative effect that outweighs the pleasures of angling. I will use some of my personal data to help make the point.

In John's case he has worked to accumulate data which can help track fish, and determine the impact we have as we fish.

"Over a six-year period I landed a few thousand coastal cutthroat trout and recorded the hooking location, size of the hook, whether the fish was bleeding, and whether the fish appeared to die or survive," he said. "I found that almost 15 per cent of the trout I released were probably going to die, or did die. The reason for such high mortality on a fly was two-fold. First, large hooks (size 4-8) were particularly deadly on smaller cutthroat, such as fish 10-13" in length, while I had very little mortality when using hooks that were size 10. The cutthroat were feeding and simply engulfed the fly, and the fly -- being hooked often in the deep part of the throat or gill rakers -- would create a tremendous amount of tension in a very sensitive part of the fish's mouth and throat. That tension led to tears in the gills and throat, and subsequent high levels of bleeding and inevitably death.

"Second, coastal cutthroat were particularly sensitive to water temperature. My mortality rate was much higher for fish caught in water that exceeded 16C than in cooler water.

"As a result of this I changed the way I fished. I stopped using larger hooks when I thought I targeted cutthroat and stopped fishing for them once water temps reached 16C and above.

"I think every individual owes it to the fish, and to the future of rivers, to understand their own impacts and act on them to the best of their ability."

In John's case he is a trout and salmon fisherman.

"At this point in my life I almost exclusively fish for native salmonids, and mostly cutthroat trout and steelhead," he said. "I live in an area with numerous species of Pacific salmon, and I fish for those also, but my favorites are the coastal cutthroat and winter steelhead. And particularly the latter because they are such a challenge in the rainy conditions of the rainforest."

It is a passion shared with his father.

"My fishing interest is primarily limited to the native salmonids, both resident and anadromous, in the Pacific Northwest," he said. "Among the resident species, my favorite is westslope cutthroat because where they mostly remain is in the uppermost headwaters of streams that remain closest to what they were at the time of Lewis and Clark. My favorite anadromous fish is the anadromous form of rainbow trout -- steelhead -- because of the challenge of fishing for them every month of the year using only a floating line as my personal choice. However, I enjoy fishing for any of the native salmonids of wild origin in their original habitat.

"As a boy I fished the warm-water species and as a younger man in the 1960s and into the early 1980s I would travel to Montana to fish for introduced brown and rainbow trout that had become naturalize wild populations. But I decided I did not have enough lifetime left to experience all those places left around the North Pacific Rim where true wild populations remain in their original habitat.

"I no longer care to diminish what time is left to experience these diminishing wild places and populations that so remain."

The authors said the reaction to May the Rivers Never Sleep has seemed to strike a chord with readers.

"We have been particularly pleased with reader feedback, as well as with previous reviews," said Bill. "We are most encouraged that it has stimulated interest in snorkeling as a means of finding greater breadth of opportunity to learn from and to find joy from rivers and wild fish. People do seem to understand the intent of what we tried to convey, and to want to live it out by doing."

"We have had many wonderful reviews and people have reached out to share our concern. That feels really good," added John.

May the Rivers Never Sleep is a book I appreciated because it reaffirmed my own belief that we, and I mean mankind, have impacted our natural resources greatly, whether it's a dam on a river, of clear cutting trees, or by leaving garbage on the shores when we fish.

If we want our grandchildren to be able to fish, we need to change our ways. Such change will not be easy, or overnight, but it does start with each of us as individuals recognizing the dilemma wild fish face, and doing what we can through talking to government and being respectful when in the wild so that positive change can come.

This fine book is part of that process. Check it out through



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