Why Should Fly Anglers Care about Conservation?

The modern movement for conservation of recreational fisheries resources is a relatively recent development.   Prior the 1970’s management of most recreational fisheries in the United States were based on a — harvestable daily limit per angler.   The problem with this management plan was that most trout fisheries — for example — in rivers and lakes quickly became depleted of wild populations due to over harvest above a sustainable level.

Recreational fisheries like other common resources quickly became casualties of the increasing participation by anglers for a limited resource.    This has been a reoccurring tragedy of shared common resources since ancient Greece.

Conservation and management of all natural resources – including recreational fisheries – is based on understanding population dynamics and what level of harvest will allow for a given population to continue to reproduce itself and hence be sustainable in it’s environment.    In addition to harvest levels there are other factors such as predation, disease and the health of a populations ecosystem that will all contribute to whether or not a species of fish in a stream or lake or the ocean will continue to be sustainable or not.

Recreational fishery management prior to the mid – 1970’s was then pushed to supplement wild fisheries with hatchery produced cousins of the wild fish species to augment a specific wild population that was in rapid decline from over harvest from recreational anglers.    Fish hatcheries have their place in providing recreational opportunities and as a tool for enhancing fish population back to sustainable levels and developing population of fish where previously they did not exist — but in most cases hatcheries are used to simply mask the underlying lack of actual conservation and management of a naturally occurring fishery resource.

Catch and release angling was the fisheries management tool that allowed an increasing rate of participation by recreational anglers to limit the impact on a population of fish and maintain a sustainable population.   This is the backbone of modern recreational fishery conservation.  The State of Montana was the first testing grounds for this recreational management plan for wild trout populations in the mid to late 1970’s and combined it with elimination of the planting of hatchery produced competitors.   The net result was the creation of the world class sustainable trout fishery of today in the Treasure State.

Almost without exception – all quality fly angling fisheries are presently managed under some level of catch and release angling or a limited minimal harvest as a conservation method for sustainable fisheries.    Most other states including the State of Washington took some time to embrace fisheries management plans that have conservation and sustainability at heart.   Many of the depleted wild Puget Sound Steelhead populations can be blamed on too little too late management by Washington Department of Fish and Game.  Other factors – such as declining habitat had major impacts on wild Steelhead, but strong conservation measures such as eliminating the harvest of all non-hatchery Steelhead sooner would have made a significant impact.

So – why should we as fly anglers care about conservation?   There are many reasons, but I think most importantly it is because we are primary participants in the management plan, by the eliminating or limiting of our harvest and are the equal beneficiaries with sustainable viable recreational fisheries.    In addition — we have a voice for protection of the wild waters that host the fish we pursue and provide not only a health environment for fish, but also provides the back drop of scenic beauty which fly fishing provides us the excuse to travel to and enjoy.

Without ongoing conservation of our recreational fisheries resources and the management for sustainable fishing opportunities, there would exist limited if any viable remaining wild recreational fish populations anywhere near major metropolitan centers in the United State today.

Conservation and proven fisheries management are the center of what should motivate an avid fly angler.  It is what will provide this generation and the next with the treasured opportunity to fly fish.