Originally published in 2014.
Since I was 10 years old there has not been one time in my life when wild fish stocks did not need our help wherever I was fishing. I grew up fishing in the Catskill mountain streams during probably the worst climate for native fish in the history of the region. The famed rivers had been greatly effected by habitat destruction. At the time the common ideology was to pump the systems full of hatchery trout and promote people to catch and kill these fish. It was obvious the brown trout were out competing the wild stocks, and by the time I was in my 20’s I rarely ever saw any of the native fish I had caught as a young child. My childhood fishing partner and best friend Nat Gillespie and I were fighting with adults about stocked trout programs and the effects on wild fish by the age of 14.
It was clear to us at that early age that stocked trout were weak, feeble and not worth the cost or effort or negative impacts to bother with. In the 90’s Trout Unlimited moved in and began to rebuild habitat and helped promote the idea of saving wild trout rather than put and kill mentality. It was the game changer that saved the fishery not only in the catskills but all over North America.
In 2000 I began to become greatly interested and concerned by the effects of Transgenic fish on wild fish populations. Transgenic fish are modified and contain genes from other species like todays horrific Frankenfish (gentically modified salmon). The real threat with transgenic fish is what it will do to wild fish. The dominance of sexual preference over Charles Darwin’s classic theory of survival of the fittest is not unknown to wildlife specialists and geneticists. A modified fish with exaggerated features or size can attract more of the opposite sex and eventually evolve the species in a false and dangerous way.
Science proved unequivocally that introducing a small number of transgenic fish creates a huge risk as they can spread quickly as a result of enhanced mating advantage. The problem is that the reduced capability of the offspring will cause eventual extinction of both populations. This is very similar to what happens with hatchery and wild fish by destroying genetic diversity.
Wild fish have always been an important part of my life. Now as an adult and as an outfitter in BC who strictly fishes for wild fish I am more terrified than ever. This year was the first in history where the human race consumed more farmed fish than wild-caught fish. This is a dubious record that really highlights the fact that we have had horrible management over our wild stocks of fish, and that the 30 year boom in aquaculture has failed us all miserably.
Working for wild fish is an important way to link issues on a global scale. As an outfitter we try our best to raise money for wild fish in Canada and the US to help change public opinion on hatchery and farmed fish, and the importance of native fish. Changing peoples views on the importance of native fish is not a regional mission but one that needs to be carried out across the west coast and beyond. Fish have no boarders and it is important that wild fish supporters don’t either.
Certainly, being Canadian I understand that our anadromous species need to be managed as a sustainable global resource as our fish are consumed all over the world. We can’t keep managing the stocks as a competing, overlapping grid of subsidized fragmented groups relying on antiquated science or sit idly by deciding when and when not to follow the what the science points to.