The Real Threat to Coastal Fishing

ke gill-netters, purse seiners, and those interest-stacked policy boards seem like minor nuisances.

This fight isn’t about who gets which share of the fish – it’s about having any fish left.

At current rates of sea level rise, many coastal estuaries will be flooded before the end of this century. When that happens, both recreational and commercial coastal fishing will collapse.

That’s because 80 percent of the recreational marine catch is estuary-dependent.

Figures for the commercial side run to 70 percent nationally, 90 percent in the Gulf.

Estuaries are not just the daily habitat for fish like speckled trout, flounder and drum, they are also the farmland that produces groceries for a vast array of other species – including many that spend their entire lives in the open oceans.

Biologists say during previous periods of sea level rise, estuaries adapted by migrating inland. But coastal development has now blocked that adaptation. In the U.S. alone, 40 percent of the population now lives along the coast. Low lying coastal plains that once could convert to new marshes are now layered in concrete.

This threat isn’t something dreamed up by computer models. It’s an unfolding disaster that’s been measured daily for decades. The history can be viewed on the NOAA site Sea Level Trends.

Screenshot from NOAA Sea Level Trends

These are graphs of the high tide level recorded each day at tide stations along our coasts (and around the world) for many years. Plotted on a graph, they display trends. And as the arrows show, the trends are rising. (The exceptions north of the U.S. are in areas where water stored as ice has melted, leading to a rebound effect – like a memory foam mattress after you rise in the morning.)

The seas are rising because water expands while it is heated, and because water once stored on land as ice is melting and pouring into the oceans, adding to their volumes.

The rises on the Louisiana coast and east Texas coast are four times larger because those areas are also subsiding while the sea is rising, a process called relative sea level rise.

These trends are bad news on their own because the steady rise will mean the slow death of a many estuaries. But the news gets much worse in the last few decades of the century, as sea level accelerates due to accumulated warming. In many areas now, the mid-range projections of sea-level rise are close to three feet.

In Mississippi River delta – the most productive coastal estuary in the lower 48 – the rate will be between 3.5 and 5 feet.

The impacts of climate change on coastal sport fishing don’t stop there. Pollution associated with global warming is causing acidification of oceans, killing reef communities so important to a wide range of species, as well as expanding the dead zones (areas of low dissolved oxygen) already plaguing coastal areas.

All of these impacts have been known for some time, but have gained little attention from the marine sport fishing industry. Instead, its major voices have been aimed at the old fight with the commercial section over who gets what share of the fish.

Sportsmen’s conservation groups have been partners in that fight, for good reason. But it’s time for them to begin focusing on the real threat to the future for the resources and our traditions.

This fight isn’t about who gets the fish. It’s about how many fish will be left, period.

deer hunt seasons

Do You Forage for Wild Foods?

much of the country. It’s also when a lot of hunters are in the woods hunting turkeys, so there’s a natural convergence of people and wild food happening anyway. According to this article in the Austin Chronicle, there’s also a renewed interest in urban foraging:

“Until approximately 12,000 years ago, when the first agricultural systems were developed, across every border and cultural divide, foraging was the predominant means of sustenance… The lost art is gaining momentum for a variety of modern reasons, including economic hardship, increased interest in sustainability and ecological well-being, and a desire to reconnect with nature and food.

“I think foraging fits in with any city, any town, any rural area, and any wilderness,” says Eric Knight, one of the Earth Native Wilderness School’s main teachers of edible and medicinal plant classes. “It’s part of who we are as humans.”

Admittedly, I’m not much of a forager. I’ve found a few morels in the woods, but I’m typically too busy chasing far-off gobbles to watch where I’m walking. (Not coincidentally, I’ve never found an arrowhead either so I must not spend any time looking at the ground.) I do pick chokecherries, wild plums, and crabapples in the late summer — mostly for my winemaking efforts. Other than that, most of my non-meat food comes from the market or the garden.

I’d like to change that as I’m sure there are plenty of great-tasting opportunities I’m stepping over every day. I do plan to pick some dandelions from my yard this spring — again for homemade wine, but I know everything from the yucca plants on the prairie to cattails offers sustenance. Maybe this will be the year I give it a try.

Are there any Wild Chef readers that forage for food? Any advice you can give?

Slide Show: Fishing the Kayak Classic Outtakes

Kayak Fishing Classic, put on by Jerry Collins, a retired FDNY lieutenant who owns a kayak shop on Long Island and is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Yesterday Field & Stream published the piece which documents the fun and chaos. Today I thought I’d share the rest of the story with outtakes and a larger photo edit from the event. Enjoy.

huntinggrizzly bear

E-Book Review: “The Tug is the Drug” by Chris Santella

and MidCurrent.)

Santella, author of “50 Places to Fly Fish Before You Die” (which is soon to become a television series on WFN), is one of the best in this business, and every story, every word from this collection demonstrates why I say that.

Over the years, I’ve not only become a fan of his writing, I also got to travel with him to some very cool places. We were both part of “The Kodiak Project”; fished together in Ireland; on Bimini in the Bahamas; and we went to fish the Ponoi in Russia last year.
Santella has a great ability to turn a phrase like no other — virtually planting your feet in the water right next to his (I know this because I have read his work, and my feet have actually been planted in rivers next to his, so it all matches up). He can be witty, sometimes very lyrical, but he’s always honest.

What I like about this collection is that he is able to show more of his reporting side. Fishing is always a fun story, but there are often more complex and subtle issues to consider as well, like stocked fish and manipulated landscapes. Here’s an example from “The Man Who Brought Trout to a Valley of Gravel”:

“For some, the notion of a river that has felt the shaping hand of man is mildly distasteful, like an overly manicured golf course or a fussily symmetrical garden. On the late September morning that I approached the river with the fly-fishing guide and ranch manager Damon Scott, I harbored some of these concerns. Would the Rio Blanco be the trout stream equivalent of a miniature golf course—tricked up and obviously artificial?

We crossed the river above our first pool to keep our shadows off the water. Perhaps 20 rainbow trout, illuminated by the sun, finned in the sluice of current that spilled from between the two large boulders that helped form the pool. Scott tied a dry-fly pattern, the Emulator, on my tippet, and several fish proved willing before their interest waned. It was not shooting fish in a barrel, though the trout seemed vulnerable in the slow water.

The next stretch we fished was a different story. This section of stream meandered through a stand of aspens, bending left and right, with several sets of riffles and submerged logs to provide cover: A close-to-perfect trout stream, with the granite face of El Rancho Pinoso’s version of Half Dome presiding over the scene.

A trout was delicately sipping small bugs on the surface, just off the edge of one log. Scott tied on an Adams, a great all-purpose dry fly. Because of the current and the log, it was a tricky presentation. After a few tries, I made the right cast. Soon, I was cradling a big-shouldered rainbow, all of 21 inches.

I knew that the fish was not native to the river, and that the river would not exist without Dave Rosgen. But I hardly cared.”

scoutingbuck deer

Wild Game Recipe: Try a Pickle Juice Brine

t these birds develop. As I’ve written about recently, marinades don’t add moisture to meat like most people think they do. However, there is a technique that all but guarantees a moister end product, whether you roast, grill or fry your turkey – brining.

As you probably know, brining is the act of soaking meat, in this case turkey breast, in a saltwater solution for a period of time, typically overnight, though as little four hours works wonders. The salt in the brine breaks down proteins in the meat known as myosin, offering more space to absorb water and reducing the amount of shrinkage during the cooking process. The result is a tender, moister end product. Typically, I make my brine with a cup each of kosher salt and sugar dissolved in a gallon of water. Sometimes I add peppercorns, garlic cloves or other flavorings.

Recently, a friend clued me in to a new way to brine wild turkey, or new to me anyway. It seems this little secret to moist, delicious wild turkey breast has been around for a while, but hunters have held it close to their vest. Well, I’m going to blow the lid off the jar and let Wild Chef readers in on it. (Most likely, you’re already in on it and I’m just slow to the punch.) In fact, you probably already have this brine in your refrigerator – pickle juice. That’s right, the liquid used to make commercial pickles makes a great brine for poultry. It’s so good, it’s reportedly used by Chick-Fil-A to brine the chicken breasts used in their famous sandwiches.

If you think about it, pickle juice makes a lot of sense as a brine. It’s typically made with water and salt, with vinegar, garlic and other flavorings added. The salt concentrate is high enough to break down the myosin in wild turkeys and create a flavorful, moist meat, whether you bread it and fry it or put it on the grill. I would suggest injecting some of the brine into the turkey to speed up the brining process, but otherwise, give pickle juice a try. That’s what I’m going to do with at least one of the breasts from this Osceola I killed with my Mossberg FLEX 20-gauge in Florida last week.