The Great Conspiracy

In last week’s blog, as well as previous blogs, I have mentioned “The Great Conspiracy.” What finally dawned on me is that I have not really addressed what I am referring to in any of these blogs. I have done so in other writings.

We’ll have to start back a few years according to the “nattering nabobs of negativism,” a term popularized by then Vice President Spiro Agnew but actually written by New York Times columnist William Safire. According to the proponents of this conspiracy theory before President Obama was elected, the environmental community led by the Pew Environment Group, the Environmental Defense Fund and maybe the Walton Foundation was infiltrating the fisheries management system and positioning the likes of Dr. Jane Lubchenco to become the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Somehow they knew the outcome of the election, but we’ll put that aside. Pretty amazing stuff! They couldn’t have simply guessed right, it had to be some sort of backroom deal. Actually, isn’t there a lot of that in politics no matter which side one is on. Yeah!!!

Well, OK, I’m getting a little sarcastic, but it does take a fairly vivid imagination to pull all the pieces of The Great Conspiracy together. So the environmental nongovernmental organizations ended up on the right side of the election, which should not be too surprising to anyone, as they tend to be more liberal than conservative in politics. According to the believers, Phase 2 was put in place with the confirmation of Dr. Lubchenco, and now EDF was running all the Regional Fishery Management Council activities. I must have been on an anomalous RFMC.

Yes, we had a council member who worked for EDF, but I’d be hard pressed to find a major or, for that matter, minor, council action that had EDF’s fingerprints all over it. Too bad, actually, as some of the ideas proposed by the council member made a lot of management sense. Oh, yeah, catch shares. Well, we have to rewind the clock on that one as well.

The New England Fishery Management Council began the catch shares discussion in 2001, well before any NGO infiltration, and the rollout of more extensive catch shares was just an extension of that discussion. What happened at the NEFMC may not be typical of what happened at other councils, but I am familiar enough with other council actions to know that the NGO community was not railroading a lot of new council actions through the system. Was the environmental community part of the council process? Yes, of course it was. It is one of the three constituent groups represented on the council.

If we look at inside the Beltway (Washington, D.C., for those not familiar with the world of politics), the story is different. The NGO community has been very active in the political process. In fact, it has been extremely influential in the legislative process. Environmental NGOs were able to get much of what they wanted in the Magnuson- Stevens Act reauthorization passed in 2006 that included annual catch limits, accountability measures and the continuation of mandated rebuilding periods.

This is not meant to be a debate about the merits of those measures but a discussion about our political system. Let’s face it: the environmental NGO community has deep pockets to use in pushing for the issues it wants enacted. From my standpoint the community has been very effective at using that influence to get what it believes in. It also has been effective at working collaboratively. Is that a conspiracy? If it is then organizations like the National Rifle Association, the farm lobby and for that matter all of K Street are involved in serial conspiracies. I am not saying that I agree with all the outcomes. Unless we change the system, the environmental community is simply using it to the best advantage. Money talks and BS walks. Do we need to change the system? I tend to think so, but that is a discussion for another time.

I always have wondered what the response would be from those who think that the environmental NGO community is hell bent on eliminating extractive uses of the ocean environment, if these NGOs used all their clout to do what the conspiracy theorists want. Would there still be a hue and cry of conspiracy then? I doubt it. Folks would happily say that is just the way the system works.

Call me crazy, oblivious or naïve. I do not believe that all environmental NGOs are out to end fishing. Nor do I support all of their proposed measures. I do believe that most are interested in having sustainable resources for the future. They have some very substantial economic clout and are not afraid to use it. What the recreational fishing industry should do is to find a way to partner with them … or would some see that as conspiratorial?

Fishing A High Desert River

Malheur Country, Ore. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

Southeast Oregon high desert is rugged and compelling country with over 4 million acres for the public to access. From the breaks of the Owyhee and Malheur Rivers to the rugged mountains of the Oregon Canyon Mountains, the topography is rich with sagebrush and native grass ecosystems supporting abundant wildlife.

Big game such as mule deer, California big horn sheep, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn, as well as upland birds such as sage grouse, chukar, California quail and native trout are present here.

Redband trout. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

The redband trout population in the Malheur River is thought to be derived from the Columbia Basin redband trout when a lava flow isolated the basin from the Malheur River drainage 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.

I set out to explore the countryside and fish the rivers for trout. After hours of driving, a dusty stretch of road emerges where there’s no fence line blocking an entry to the river. It’s almost dark, and I set up camp and fall asleep to the sound of the river at my feet.

The call of a western meadowlark wakes me up at 5 a.m., reminding me of my childhood days in church listening to the choir hum Amazing Grace. I rise out of bed, brew some coffee, and change my fly to a subsurface beadhead because the river is moving fast and the visibility is about two feet.

The Malheur River. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

The bank is green with tall native grasses; I analyze the river, determining where a fish might lie. There’s a small pool whirling behind rocks and a soft seam hugging the bank. My first cast is to the grassy cut bank. I make a cast up stream, strip the line fast to stay with the current, take a couple steps up stream and cast again.

To find an aggressive fish, I keep covering the water. My next cast is behind a rock where the current is moving at a considerable pace. The trout explodes; cart wheeling and breaking the surface. She’s strong, pulling, not giving in. After a few minutes I get her to the bank, remove the hook and release her back to the cool waters of the high dessert. This is what I came here for.

Experiences such as this keep me coming back and fuel my enthusiasm to see these special places conserved for future generations. I’m proud to be working to ensure the conservation of these resources through my work with the TRCP.

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Photo by Mia Sheppard.

Mia Sheppard is TRCP’s Oregon field representative. She lives in Brightwood, Ore., with her husband and daughter. In her free time, she fishes for steelhead and trout throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Photo: A Hard Working Girl Gets A Redfish

Laura Morris Redfish

We received the following photo submission from Laura Morris,  the PR coordinator for the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. Laura wrote, “Here’s what I was doing on my vacation! This was my first-ever redfish.” Congrats Laura!

Submit your photos on the TRCP Facebook page or send them to info@trcp.org. The winner will receive a “MeatEater” DVD!