“Oooohhh, it was a really nice fish,” Emily whispered, wading waist-deep back to the boat.
Somehow, our one-year-old son Enzo is still asleep in my arms. A few moments earlier, our dog tumbled out of the boat in a whining, giddy frenzy as Emily connected with the biggest wild steelhead of her life. Her old reel sang and the fish raced and tumbled and leapt across a shimmering glide of dark water. After the fish swam off, I watched Emily carefully reel up the line and amble over the cobbled bank. Her posture transformed: tall, positive, and proud. I could see that full-person uplift that happens after an encounter with a big fish. Hours later, as we wound through redwood trees on the drive home, she turned to me, “I can’t stop thinking about that fish.” I just smiled—uh oh!
It has been a long time since I’ve seen someone’s perspective transformed by a fish. But most of us with a few years on the water have seen it at least a few times. A brief encounter with the wild power of an anadromous fish quickly reorders perspectives and priorities. A long, cold day on a winter river transforms into a place of a thousand opportunities for hope. The perilous, reckless power of that fish spoke to her in a way that is rightfully difficult to capture in language. However, the old saw, that actions speak louder than words, keeps surfacing in my mind as I put together notes for this article.
Since a relatively young age, I considered myself someone who was concerned with the wellbeing of my favorite places. I read the books about the environment: Carson. Thoreau. Emerson. Abbey. Lichatowich. Then, through first-hand encounters with the people, places, and species on the front lines of environmental degradation, my own perspective transformed. This precious and beautiful planet cannot wait for others to take action on our behalf. As British Columbia angler and activist Bruce Hill stated so perfectly, “activism is the rent you pay for living on the planet.”
Homewaters: Rise Up is our conservation initiative for 2020—a year when our collective action must outpace the rhetoric, apathy, and willful ignorance currently defining our public demeanor. Everyone has a role to play. All deep social change starts with you, the individual. Native Fish Society’s work is about building a groundswell of public action. We work to inspire and invite you into the actions needed to heal our planet through the beauty and importance of wild fish. The vast, vast majority of wild fish in the Pacific Northwest are facing the most challenging conditions in recorded history. As the stewards of this place, we cannot wait for others to step up and act on our behalf. Join us as much as you can, we invite you to participate in this work.
For those wondering: no, calling you off the sidelines to make change isn’t a vague sentiment. Research on social and political movements by Erica Chenoweth, a political science professor at Harvard University, found that the sustained, non-violent engagement of 3.5% of a population creates a tipping point that no government or agency can deny for long. Of the more than 1,000 social and political movements she surveyed between 1900 and 2006, the non-violent ones were increasingly popular over time, more people participated in them, and they were twice as likely as violent action to be successful. In light of the overwhelming data, Chenoweth’s initial skepticism turned 180 degrees. Non-violent collective action is the most effective way to create durable and sweeping change.
Through the challenge of a global pandemic, we’ve seen that people around the world can change their perspectives and their actions over the course of a few weeks. Just a month ago, the seriousness of the coronavirus was viewed by many with casual skepticism. At last, we witnessed the juxtaposition of political bluster and scientific fact. At the writing of this essay, 200 million people in 21 states are sheltering in place and avoiding all non-essential outings. We’re acting collectively for those most vulnerable to this disease. It is a fundamental mistake to only plan for today.
Reading through these stories and updates, it’s apparent that much of this work is being done by people like us—people who care about wild fish and the health of our environment. They let their passion lead them to speak up and take action.
In the Northwest, a gauge of our community’s health and long term resilience can be summed up by the status of wild, native fish. These fish are as local as your craft beer and as global as our twenty-first-century economy. Our native fish are the solution to an immeasurably complex organic equation—an equation informed by a relationship with our entire terrestrial, freshwater, and marine landscapes. Experts can point to the need for big solutions, but it’s the collective action of people that catalyze change. So join us—let’s rise up for our homewaters, native fish, and communities.