Spring brings opportunity for conservation and reconciliation

As the ice begins to retreat from the streams, rivers and bays and warm rains start to fall, a fish’s mind turns to romance and that often hazardous journey home to the waters of its birth. For the volunteers of Manitoulin’s fish and game clubs it also heralds the time to don waders and long gloves and to prepare to dip into those still frigid waters in pursuit of conservation.

For decades now, those hardy volunteers have gathered up some of those finned seekers of aquatic romance with a singular and practical frame of purpose—adding the procreation of game fish species. In the case of the Little Current Fish and Game Club (LCFGC) that species is walleye, one of those fish most sought after by anglers.

The sheer size of many of the fish that make their way into the trap nets of the LCFGC would boggle the mind of most anglers, who could only dream of latching onto one of these monsters of the deep (primarily females). The size of the female walleye is enhanced dramatically by the burden they bear as they make their way upstream and into the spawning beds each spring—hundreds of thousands of eggs that represent future generations of broad smiles and well-spent summer days on the water.

This is a shared resource, an example of what those who study such things might call the bounty of the commons. It behooves all of us to lend our support to the efforts of those volunteers who spend so freely of their precious time, energy and treasure in order to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the bountiful fruits of the water just as their ancestors did.

Sometimes it might appear as though there is a conflict between the rights and traditions of the original inhabitants of this land and the goals and aspirations of conservationists and avid adherents of sportsfishing—but nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, the basic tenets of the Anishinaabe culture and traditions cites the responsibility of each and every one of us to ensure that resources, particularly finite resources such as the walleye fishery, are preserved for the next seven generations. It is inherent in the Seven Grandfather teachings that responsibility is paramount.

The exercise of inherent treaty rights to harvest the fruits of the land and the water are not trumped by those responsibilities in most laws (although a number of First Nations communities have begun to implement such laws themselves), but they are most certainly informed by those teachings.

In plain point of fact, there is no need or benefit to be found in conflict between what might be seen as competing interests and a lot to be gained through understanding, education and accommodation leading to a respect for the rights of future generations of Anishinaabe, on both sides.

There will always be those who will seek to sell the future of their communities for short term personal gain and that particular trait has nothing to do with skin colour, language or nation. The devastation of the fisheries in our waters that has taken place over the past generation is not to be laid at the doorstep of the First Nations communities or even aberrant individuals—the objective evidence clearly and definitively does not support that theory.

What is clear is that conservation and the protection of the water and its finned citizens will take a concerted effort from all of us—an aquatic reconciliation project if you will—we owe it to our future generations and our shared natural heritage.