- By: Greg Thomas
My girls have a book titled Swimmer. It documents the life cycle of a wild Pacific salmon, including the very end, when Swimmer starts to decompose and litters the river with shreds of her flesh. Her death feeds big rainbows and Dolly Varden, but more important, she fuels the river’s nutrient base and, eventually, her offspring.
The girls still don’t grasp why Swimmer has to die. After all, they say, the author could have allowed Swimmer to live in some sort of supernatural state. But their biggest question remains: “Why, Dad, don’t we do something good when we die?”
Recently I was walking the floor at the fly-fishing industry’s annual trade show, filing past all the glossy booths featuring new-gear displays and imagess of anglers hoisting giant fish toward the sky, when something else caught my eye—the presence of preservation and the possibility for each of us to leave something for future generations.
Right there was Craig Hayes, who founded Turneffe Atoll Trust and helped implement catch-and-release-only restrictions on Belize’s bonefish; over there was Bill Klyn, at Patagonia, where that company’s World Trout Initiative is placing money in the pockets of those who protect threatened trout watersheds around the globe; standing there with a hand outstretched was Andy Danylchuk, a professor of fish conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who is bringing attention to the Northeast’s sea-run brook trout and striped bass; around the corner was Erica Stock, of the Western Native Trout Initiative, who is systematically restoring the West’s indigenous fish, from Alaska all the way to New Mexico; in the Costa booth was Liza Jones, explaining the conservation projects that company supports, including an effort to tag permit and learn more about that fish’s life history and ways in which that awesome species might be better protected; and in the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska booth was Scott Hed, who spearheads a most pressing campaign to save Bristol Bay from the devils pushing for Pebble Mine—part of his effort could be found in every urinal at the Reno Convention Center, where Hed placed PEBBLE MINE-emblazoned urinal cakes for us to aim at and, er, voice our opinions.
It was a combined visual that offered a template for each of us to do less whining and more participating or, at the very least, to show our support through purchases from those companies and organizations that care.
When I got back from Reno and the girls wanted me to read, they picked Swimmer. And as I read about that fish’s finality, for about the 50th time, I came up with a new answer to the girls’ repetitive question: “Girls,” I said, “we can be like Swimmer. But the great thing is we don’t have to wait until we die. We can live our whole lives like Swimmer and give back to what we love.”