What Changes & What Remains
“Why do wild fish matter to you?” I asked our longtime River Steward, former board chair, and friend, Peter Tronquet. For the life of me, I cannot remember where we were or what we were doing, but Peter’s words stuck with me.
“I value wild fish because I value clean water and clean air. In the Northwest, wild native fish are a core element of a healthy environment.” Simple as that.
At the time, some ten years ago, I was freshly immersed in the science and policy history of Northwest fish as a new employee. Wading through the immense body of scientific research on dams, hatcheries, overfishing, habitat loss, genetics, and ocean conditions felt akin to sliding over slick bedrock in murky water, searching for sure-footing. The sheer volume of information was hard to register. Don’t believe me? Take a friend newly interested in fish conservation to speak with a lifelong wild fish conservationist like Bill McMillan. You can watch their mind spool deep into the backing in about 15 minutes. There’s just too much to digest in any one sitting.
Mercifully, Peter’s answer reminded me of leaning over the railing on Mott’s Bridge high above the North Umpqua River. Where many times I’ve peered down through a translucent window of clear water, to recognize the shadow on the bottom is not a log, but a shimmering wild fish. Peter’s values-based answer was high ground where I could reset my bearings and recognize the central role wild anadromous fish play in the health of this wondrous place and in our communities. Data and science are critical, ever refining guides for our advocacy, but the central tenets of our work stem from deeply held values.
Why bring this up now? Undoubtedly, 2020 has left many of us feeling unmoored during this year’s tidal waves of change. For posterity, a shortlist includes a global pandemic that has killed 250,000 US citizens, a nationwide racial reckoning over the systemic injustices facing the Black community, an economic recession, and here in the Northwest, record-breaking wildfires driven by climate change. I want to take a page from Peter’s example and anchor ourselves in the core values that guide the Native Fish Society’s work and advocacy through this tumultuous time and in the years to come.
Wild, native fish are keystone species. They are uniquely entwined in a natural relationship with people and wildlife. Their well-being and success affect us all.
A romantic notion holds that the Northwest is everywhere that salmon and steelhead can swim. When these fish are abundant and healthy our oceans are rich with life, our streams and rivers are full of clean water, our forests sequester carbon, clean the air we breathe, and filter the rain, and our communities thrive in a healthy and abundant Northwest. When our wild fish falter, we know that we’re fighting to revive not just the fish, but the 137 species of microbes, stream invertebrates, mammals, and birds they support - including us. For this reason, we’re passionate about returning as many native fish to the landscape as possible.
Wild is our common ground. Anglers, conservationists, naturalists, outdoor enthusiasts, foodies & foragers, educators, scientists, policymakers, and traditionally underrepresented communities all have an important role to play in the future of wild fish.
Native Fish Society’s voice is strongest when we include all of the people who care deeply about wild fish and our homewaters. We love our roots in the science, angling, and conservation communities, and we’re working intentionally to invite more folks in through our partnerships with Tribal Nations, BIPOC led organizations, and our Women for Wild Fish Initiative. We are all essential members of the groundswell for reviving abundant wild fish.
We are keepers of the wild. Native Fish Society supports people who take action on behalf of fish, their homewaters, and local communities. We forge lasting relationships to educate, inspire, and mobilize everyone committed to keeping fish and their homewaters forever wild.
What many people don’t realize is that by and large, history’s most significant conservation victories started from small groups of concerned community members determined to make a difference. Empowering, inspiring, and growing the largest most capable network of local advocates and multidisciplinary experts is what Native Fish Society’s River Steward and Native Fish Fellowship programs are all about. Supporting these remarkable advocates as they work together is absolutely core to the future success of wild fish.
Our motivations are urgent but our views are long. Science-based knowledge and cultural wisdom inform our strategies to ensure the complex lifecycle of wild fish continues for generations to come.
Today, most of the Pacific Northwest’s wild fish populations hover at just 1-10% of their historic abundance. These fish are met by a myriad of challenges, which are only being intensified by climate change. We’ve run out of time for expensive band-aids like trapping and hauling fish around dams, endless hatchery programs, and restoring habitat without addressing the pace and scale of habitat degradation. Native Fish Society is committed to advancing the long-term, science-based solutions to the root causes of native fish declines.
Our passion for wild fish runs deep. Our mission is more than an environmental movement, it's about preserving our shared cultures.
One of the best things about this work is the people who love wild native fish. I know them because their eyes light up when they talk about the last fish they caught, snorkeled with, saw on a redd survey, shared with friends and family around the dinner table, or prayed over as the first fish to return for the season. Native fish enrich our land and our communities and we use all of those reasons that inspire passion to fuel our collective advocacy.
Heraclitus said the only constant in life is change. And it’s true for much of the Native Fish Society. Our staff, our partners, our membership, and our conservation campaigns change. What endures, however, shaping our day to day actions and long term goals are these values. I hope no matter our politics, race, color, or creed, we return to the values that unite us across difference, so we can rise up together for the revival of abundant wild fish.