Conversations and crocus were blooming in Washington with The Ocean Conservancy
Captain Dave Monti looked out his cab window at daffodils and crocus in full bloom alongside fresh cherry blossoms. Washington DC weather was a full month ahead of Rhode Island for sure so Nature offered her delightful and lovely display for everyone. Captain Monti was leading a delegation of anglers and scientists through two days of conversations to help protect fish stocks and shore up financial support for necessary, common sense regulations which do not ignore science or factor in television entertainment channels when considering our planet’s health and future. In cooperation with the Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit environmental group working to protect healthy oceans worldwide, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut were well represented in the halls and back rooms of Congress.
Captain Monti and the OC organized two representatives from each state to visit House and Senate offices. In private rooms, foyers and hallways, we spoke with legislative assistants, fellows, directors, staffers, military, representatives and senators. We shared stories of life we are witnessing right now as waters warm, benthic populations change and fish species move in and out. We asked staffers to support the Magnuson-Stevens Act, an effective and remarkably forward thinking law encouraging abundance with solid science, timely data and theoretically fast-acting council level triggers to prevent collapse or rebuild populations. Each meeting was an opportunity to speak directly to those who would share our concerns with the women and men who create laws. Waiting for our next meeting, we noticed an unassuming gentleman pushing a cleaning cart and wearing an earpiece. In Washington, everyone is listening.
Led by Rachael DeWitt, Ocean Conservancy’s Government Relations Manager, who is a remarkable source of environmental and Capitol Hill knowledge and Jeff Barger, the OC’s personable and seasoned Associate Director of Constituent Outreach, fishing guide Peter Fallon shared his concerns about stocks as he follows fish from Maine to the Carolinas.
Cape Cod Salties President Jon Ungerland calmly but passionately spoke to changes he’s seeing in just a few short years near the Bass River. That fresh, real, unbiased vision is invaluable in this age of quick change disinformation, especially when it comes to protecting fish. Abbie Schuster of Kismet Outfitters in Edgartown, MA offered her real-time observations from sea level. As a guide, Abbie has a special vantage point as someone in waders, working in the sea, releasing fish, finding new species while working harder to find others. For people in positions of power, listening to the real deal, like Abbie, has immeasurable insight to a world outside the beltway.
Captain Monti and I shared photos of breeding aged female stripers in shallow winter salt ponds and rivers long after they should have entered the Hudson or Chesapeake. We expressed concerns about interrupted migrations, increasing angler pressure on winter stocks then economic and population ramifications of clearly warming winter waters. Scientists Peter Auster and George Baldwin fortified all our concerns with ocean chemistry, trawl data and some plain as day statements that many species they study have either dwindled or disappeared.
It is not insignificant that all these folks left students, clients and brief winter windows of calm salt pond sunrises where perhaps one small fish might be caught and released or perhaps not caught at all, to wear leather dress shoes and suits that fit best a few years prior, to sit with people with access to real power. All that celebrates the power of the Ocean Conservancy and those who are not willing to let the health of our waters slip away in real time.
Progress begins with small steps and conversations
One staffer shared that, with a change in House majority, any bill with the word “climate” would likely be challenged. I had a hallway moment, standing with a chatty national group of drug store owners, to consider all that. Certainly we all have different beliefs but really, the word “climate” garnered a full stop reaction to bills which, accepting that everything submitted requires extensive review, might just help protect the health of oceans because climate change and global warming are some sort of liberal hoaxes? It is just such lame communal associations and lemmings off the cliff decisions which inspire anglers and scientists to walk the Hill to be heard.
Several years ago, I worked with an enjoyable guy with whom I had much in common. When anything resembling change arose in conversation, he reverted to an endless font of denial, blaming any vision which wasn’t his own on left-leaning crazies coming to take over a calm, flat, white, fair and balanced world. When posed with questions about climate change, such as, “Have you factored in billions of cars and trains and coal fired energy plants contributing to increasing global temperatures?” he would sidestep any research as nonsense, ignoring any consequences from two hundred plus years of industrial evolution.
I believe the most important part of being involved is to first consider all sides by listening. Listening fortifies logical conversation. Many of us encounter those who absorb blurbs from their nightly dose of entertainment and react, often with racist, homophobic, tiring and ultimately embarrassing rants, to issues they determine to be “wrong’ or “liberal.” Spanish essayist Miguel de Unamuno wrote, “Fascism is cured by reading, and racism is cured by traveling.” Pure truth. But I also believe that the best way to end many troubles and troubling rants, is to get off the Barcalounger soapbox and do something.
Progress begins with small steps and honest conversation, so while our divisions might be black or white, Republican or Democrat, it’s only by action that things change.
In Washington, everyone is listening
The Ocean Conservancy walks the walk, addresses issues with actions, supports science and has the will to visit every office, no matter the letters on the door. It was an honor to walk marble halls, watch staffers take notes, to be heard in a world of repetitive, circus tent echoes from folks who consume what some barkers feed them. Climate change is real, sea levels are rising, plastic is polluting the ocean, recycling reduces waste and populations are being altered by man’s carbon footprint.
But there is always hope. Groups like the Ocean Conservancy and anglers like Dave Monti are working passionately to protect a resource which many of us not just rely on but truly love because they believe in the power of education and action fueled by real science. Washington flowers were a few weeks ahead of New England’s but the OC delegation walked for two days hoping to be years ahead of troubles we are just beginning to understand.
For a look at a previous walk on The Hill, click here