I have been asked more than once about our willingness to openly advocate for the environmental conservation of our area and region. For example, we’ve recently posted to social media about our opposition to proposed mines near Montana’s Yellowstone and Smith Rivers. Don’t I worry that we’ll offend current or potential customers and clients? After all, Sweetwater Fly Shop is first and foremost a business. Without customers and guide trip clients, we perish. Clearly, not everyone that might cross the threshold of the shop will agree with the stands we take. Why risk that they’ll take their business elsewhere?
Yes, this is a business. And we don’t go out of our way to intentionally raise anyone’s hackles. We do value our current and potential future customers, regardless of their views on specific conservation issues. Fly fishing is a big tent, with room for differences of opinion. We try to give the same level of exceptional customer service to everyone, whatever views they may hold. If you come in our door, you’ll be treated with respect, period (even if you’re asking us where to purchase bait). I choose my words carefully, because of what follows.
Fly anglers, make that all anglers, should be conservationists. The sport we love and the quarry we pursue demand it of us. All fish need water to survive. Trout, in particular, need clean, cold water. The watersheds that support trout are under almost constant threat. Then there are the aesthetic aspects of fly fishing. Fly fishing is a beautiful sport, best carried out in beautiful, unspoiled surroundings. Isn’t it our duty to protect and enhance the things we cherish? Don’t we want future generations to enjoy fly fishing and its attendant qualities?
I can also make a selfish economic argument for conservation advocacy. People come to my shop because they are going to fish the Yellowstone River or other area fisheries. Without a cold, clean Yellowstone River, there wouldn’t be trout. Without trout, we wouldn’t have customers. More broadly, tourism, including fishing tourism, is a major factor in the local and regional economy. People don’t come to the Livingston, Montana area (and spend money) because it is ugly (or to visit mines). Yes, mining would bring some jobs to the area, as would the monitoring and cleanup of the waste that would follow. But extraction industry jobs tend to be boom-and-bust. And selfishly again, working at a mine would not be my idea of living the dream. Therefore, I feel the need to try and protect what I love and what keeps the lights on in the fly shop.
For those reasons, I believe that the shop can and should do what we can to educate our customers about the threats facing our fisheries, not just locally, but even globally. Fly anglers fish around the world, after all. We simply can’t idly stand by when there are so many challenges at hand. Taking a stand, educating those who look to us for information, and providing resources to fight back against those threats is, in my view, a moral imperative.
All that said, fisheries conservation is a complex topic and even like-minded conservationists and anglers are not going to agree on every issue. Native trout versus wild introduced species versus hatchery fish, for example. Dams block fish passage, and inundate beautiful canyons and valleys, but their downstream tailwaters are some of the most productive fisheries. There’s room for debate, but not for silence.
I realize that their are plenty of fly shops out there that come down on the other side of the argument. I disagree, but I also understand. It’s a tough business in which to survive. Perhaps my willingness to speak out about environmental threats will be the downfall of my beloved fly shop. I certainly hope not.
So, Protect Paradise, Save Our Smith, and No Pebble Mine!
What’s your opinion? Do you believe that fly shops should be open advocates for fisheries and landscape conservation? Leave us a comment; we’d love to hear what you think!2