The mud and the water have always been a source of food. But when we start to see shorelines and rivers not as places where we get our food, but where we can make money developing property for the best views and highest value, we dishonor the importance of our surroundings.
When pollution has gotten so bad that we can’t fish or harvest shellfish from our home waters, we start depending on food from other sources, sometimes thousands of miles away. Folks down on the Gulf Coast are going through that right now.
Many people have started to recognize the importance of local food. They are called “localvores,” and I think they’re on the right track. I didn’t know it, but I’ve always been a localvore. We look for food that comes from where we live. In this place, where rivers run from glaciers and meet the saltwater on great tide flats, salmon and oysters are about as local as it gets.
To have these foods we must protect the environment from where they come. That means protecting habitat by fighting for better shoreline development standards and protecting water quality from failing septic systems and lawn fertilizers.
Treaty tribal and non-Indian shellfish producers are on the front line of monitoring and protecting water quality in Puget Sound and along the coast. We can measure the health of these waters by the health of the shellfish that live there. Healthy water produces healthy shellfish, and healthy shellfish is good food for all of us.
The problem comes when we stop connecting our food to the place where it comes from. Salmon and shellfish don’t come from the grocery store. They come from nature.
Our lands and waters are naturally productive, just like salmon and shellfish. All they need is a little help to let them do what they do. We should be celebrating the fact that we can still produce and harvest salmon and shellfish in western Washington.
Everything is connected. What happens in one part of the environment affects other parts as well. Salmon and shellfish are measuring sticks for the health of our ocean and Puget Sound. While we salmon and shellfish managers can control much of what happens on the water, state and local governments need to do a better job of managing what’s happening onshore.
Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
For more information, contact: Tony Meyer or Emmett O’Connell, NWIFC, (360) 438-1180