Other fish in the sea

It seems like half the state is all aflutter over the proposed closure of the salmon season this year. There are a wide variety of groups agitating for different outcomes here, and most of them seem to be working against each other.

I think that a couple of things are going on here.

The first is the steadfast refusal to acknowledge that there are thousands of fish species in the ocean, and that a large number of them are edible, and tasty to boot. I understand that there is high consumer demand for salmon, though I can’t quite fathom it. In my opinion, it’s a rather dull fish. Yes, it’s novel that the flesh is pink, but the excitement ends right about there for me.

When I think back to transcendent oceanic dining experiences, salmon doesn’t figure in the list. I think about cod, tuna, sardines, mackerel, squid, barramundi, octopi…freshwater trout, scallops, limpets. Sure I’ve had some decent salmon. I’ve also have some really bad salmon. Farmed, salmon is notorious for being polluting and gross. Wild caught, you may be putting fish stocks in danger.

So we have salmon as a big industry, thanks to consumer ignorance.

One of the biggest lobbies against closure is the “sport fishing” industry. A friend of mine and I were discussing the term “sport fishing” earlier this week. Like “sport hunting,” I believe it to be a misnomer. It’s not sport, it’s wholesale slaughter. You in a truck with a rifle against a deer is not sport–likewise, you in a high powered boat with a bunch of lines is not sport. Sport is communion with the animal you kill, sport is meeting it face to face in its own environment. Sport is chasing deer on foot after your hounds, spearfishing in the ocean, or sitting on the bank of a stream on a drizzly afternoon with a rod and fly.

I don’t quite understand this obsession with vacations geared around killing things. It really sounds rather dull to me. Now, I enjoy a high powered weapon as much as the next girl, but I prefer shooting at targets, not perfectly good meat. As my friend pointed out, he’s not opposed to hunting perse, but hunting for glamour or for the fun of it is repulsive.

Sport fishing makes a lot of money here. The real fishing industry has essentially collapsed (although progress is being made, thanks to rigorous monitoring), but here are all these boats and someone has to do something with them. Sport fishermen claim that the closure of the salmon season would ruin them. Once again, I am forced to ask if they are aware that other fish species do exist. Or if they might want to pursue other economic paths, like offering tours of the coast from the water (something I’ve done by kayak and loved). I find this inflexibility regarding their “prey” to be foolish and short sighted.

What people seem to be overlooking here is that in theory the ban is supposed to be protecting the salmon and allowing their stocks to recover. Frustratingly for Californians, California salmon stocks are rising, and will be particularly high this year, thanks to respectful and careful stewardship. Unfortunately stocks in the Klamath river, which originates in Oregon, are falling. Because California and Oregon salmon mingle, the Department of Fisheries is arguing that there needs to be a total ban on salmon fishing in order to ensure that Klamath stocks aren’t further depleted.

Now, as Haddock recently pointed out, there are a lot of politics involved here, and the closure of the salmon season has some nuances which should be carefully considered–I recommend that you read his post for an analysis of some of the political undercurrents here. The important thing to take away from any analysis of the situation is that the Klamath river is also used for farming irrigation, and that in this case, the farmers won. Which is a sad thing to say, because, like Haddock, I don’t like the idea of pitting farmers and fishers against each other.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about the ban. On the one hand, I sort of do want to see the season closed, in order to educate people about conservation and stewardship issues. I would love to see diners expanding their palates, “sport fishers” expanding their offerings, and all of us thinking more about where our food comes from. Haddock also points out that aquaculture is the future, so now is a really great time to start thinking about sustainable and healthy aquaculture.

On the other hand, I struggle. I am not a supporter of the tourism industry, despite the fact that many of my friends and neighbors make their money from tourism. I am especially not a fan of “sport fishing,” because I think it’s a vile practice. I don’t think that closure of the salmon season would cause a total collapse of the tourism industry, though I suspect that many fishermen would go bankrupt, and that is something that troubles me. I don’t give a rats ass for the yuppie scum that are infesting and destroying my formerly beautiful home–I do care, deeply, about people who are trying to make a living from the land and sea.

To wax cheesy for a moment, we do need to work together as a planet, and if the Klamath stocks are in danger, perhaps we owe a season’s closure to them. What we do off the coast of California does affect what happens in Oregon, and Mexico, whether we like it or not. I just wish there was a way we could work the situation so that people weren’t getting shafted–if, for example, salmon fishermen put out of work this summer could assist the government in monitoring California fish stocks.

Whether or not the closure goes into affect, I think the extensive news coverage and public debate over the issue may have raised awareness about fisheries issues, and that’s a good thing.