Fishing Club or Conservation Organization?

“To conserve, protect, and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.”
-Trout Unlimited Mission
“By the next generation, Trout Unlimited will ensure that robust populations of native and wild coldwater fish once again thrive within their North American range, so that our children can enjoy healthy fisheries in their home waters.”
-Trout Unlimited Vision

Recently a blog post on “Southern Culture on the Fly” came to my attention. I encourage you to read it.

The blogger, in an honest and open fashion shared why he felt the need to leave TU and engage with other groups who were being more effective (in his view) with conservation efforts.

I commend the blogger for the attitude he displayed on this subject. Would that we all could have open, honest conversations without attacking or being attacked, especially in the politically charged atmosphere of social media.
I don’t agree with all his points, but they are his truth – I respect that.

At a more personal level, the post and the replies to it highlight one of the challenges I have seen with my local TU chapter.
Texas has no native trout like North Carolina does, so we do not have the conflict of potentially stocking hatchery rainbows over native fish. Our one known wild population of rainbow trout in McKittrick Creek of the Guadalupe Mountain National Park is protected, and too far from most chapter members to be considered.

Thus to have a trout fishery at all (the southernmost sustainable trout fishery in the US, and a TU top 100 trout stream) our only option currently is to stock trout. This is a time, labor, and cost intensive effort that chapter members support. In our part of the country, periodic droughts, floods, low water flows and high water temperatures can all conspire to break the heart of even the most enthusiastic chapter member some years, but our stocking efforts continue as the lifeblood of our chapter.

Prior to Trout Fest which began locally in 2010 , stocking was the single largest volunteer effort that our chapter participated in. Not surprisingly this gives the impression to many inside and outside the chapter that our chapter is mainly a fishing club. That impression gives rise to all sorts of potential conflicts, not the least of which concerns our focus as a chapter.

I submit that the “fishing club” aspect has value in attracting and maintaining members. We would not have a chapter at all without the opportunity to fish for trout in our river.

However, I believe that a major goal of our chapter should be to use fishing as the catalyst to create river stewards and conservationists. Teach people to love the resource, and I believe most will want to protect it as they come to understand its value.

True, some will join and never make that leap. That is ultimately their decision to make. But as a chapter I think we need to re-focus our efforts on providing as many opportunities to move people as possible along the continuum from consumer to conservationist .

Our river is challenging with respect to implementing conservation (aka “rock rolling”) projects. Private land ownership and various governmental regulations complicate the process of habitat improvement. Thus most of our efforts in the area of conservation have been primarily helping fund projects that our state wildlife agency has implemented, such as telemetry studies and river substrate studies. But these efforts didn’t really allow many chapter members to roll up their sleeves and participate.

That is not to say we have not been active in conservation.

Our chapter has funded many conservation projects on other rivers through our Coldwater Conservation Outreach fund.We are working hard to train the next generation of river stewards through Trout in the Classroom and our Youth Camp. We started a student chapter of TU through the TU Costa 5 Rivers program at our local university. We funded a feasibility study of the aforementioned McKittrick Creek to determine suitability of potentially creating a Rio Grande Cutthroat refuge there. We should be rightfully proud of these efforts.

However we should do more on our river to give chapter members the chance to contribute their time and energy.

Options to consider –
– More river cleanups. Currently we do cleanups in conjunction with stockings, but honestly the excitement of stocking the river takes precedence over cleanups. We used to do several of these a year when I joined the chapter several years ago. We need a leader to champion this.

– Outreach. Spend some time going to visit those trout anglers who aren’t members. Let them know who we are and what we do. I lived in this area  almost 20 years before I heard about the local TU chapter. I bet there are future river stewards out there that we haven’t discovered yet.

– Participation in the Conservation Committee. If you have technical expertise with hydrology, fisheries/aquatic science, writing grant submissions, etc. we can use your help.

-Others?

Let’s not view the fishing club model as the enemy. Let’s embrace it and use it as a resource to build a stronger conservation organization. Yes, it is hard work. It takes time, but it is worth the effort. Please join us.

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