Fishing in the desert? Fishing in the city? What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing, let me repeat, nothing! Fishing, long a sport romanticized as an escape to bucolic surroundings, has gone urban. It’s a case of “urban gone wild.” According to a survey commissioned by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, 72 percent of all anglers live in urban areas. And those anglers are staying close to home to cast their lines.
It’s happening everywhere. The Foundation’s consumer website, takemefishing.org, identifies the best urban fishing sites in each state and refers fishermen to a recent Field & Stream article listing the best American cities to fish. Miami came out on top, followed by San Diego, Minneapolis, Seattle and New Orleans. After more than a decade of decline, the number of paid fishing-license holders increased by more than half a million over the previous year, according to the Fish & Wildlife Service’s 2004 National Fishing License Report. Urban fishing certainly contributed to this increase.
The estimated number of adults in the USA who fish: 34.1 million, about 16 percent of the population, according to Fish & Wildlife; the percentage of the population who have tried fishing at least once: 88 percent, according to the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation. And these people spend more than $36 billion a year on fishing, according to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. But, the metropolitan rivers, lakes and ponds in the US haven’t always been fishable.Their value as urban fisheries helps to protect them. We protect things we value.
What’s Happened to Our Rivers?
Rivers and their tributaries are the veins of the planet, pumping freshwater to wetlands and lakes and out to sea. They flush nutrients through aquatic ecosystems, keeping thousands of species alive, and help sustain fisheries worth billions of dollars. Rivers are the lifeblood of human civilizations, as well. They supply water to cities, farms, and factories. Rivers carve shipping routes around the globe, and provide us with food, recreation, and energy. Hydroelectric plants built from bank to bank harness the power of water and convert it to electricity. But rivers are also often the endpoint for much of our industrial and urban pollution and runoff. When it rains, chemical fertilizer and animal waste peppering residential areas and agricultural lands is swept into local streams, rivers, and other bodies of water. The result: polluted drinking water sources and the decline of aquatic species, in addition to coastal dead zones caused by fertilizer and sewage overload.
Most fresh water pollution is caused by the addition of organic material, which is mainly sewage but can be food waste or farm effluent. Bacteria and other micro-organisms feed on organic matter and large populations quickly develop using up much of the oxygen dissolved in the water. Normally, oxygen is present in high quantities but even a small drop in the level can have a harmful effect on the river animals. Animals can be listed according to their ability to tolerate low levels of oxygen. Animals that can tolerate a low level of oxygen include freshwater hog lice, blood worms, tubifex worms and rat-tailed maggots. If you find only blood worms, tubifex worms or rat-tailed maggots it would suggest that there is little oxygen in the water and that pollution is occurring.
If there are dead fish floating on the river or the water is discolored and smelly any one of the following forms of pollution may be the cause:
- Industrial waste
- Warm water
Fertilizers. If large amounts of fertilizer or farm waste drain into a river the concentration of nitrate and phosphate in the water increases considerably. Algae use these substances to grow and multiply rapidly turning the water green. This massive growth of algae, called eutrophication, leads to pollution. When the algae die they are broken down by the action of the bacteria that quickly multiply, using up all the oxygen in the water, which leads to the death of many animals.
Industrial Waste. Chemical waste products from industrial processes are sometimes accidentally discharged into rivers. Examples of such pollutants include cyanide, zinc, lead, copper, cadmium and mercury. These substances may enter the water in such high concentrations that fish and other animals are killed immediately. Sometimes the pollutants enter a food chain and accumulate until they reach toxic levels, eventually killing birds, fish and mammals.
Oil Pollution. If oil enters a slow-moving river it forms a rainbow-colored film over the entire surface preventing oxygen from entering the water. On larger stretches of water the oil contaminates the feathers of water birds and, when they preen, the oil enters the gut and kills them.
Warm Water. Industry often uses water for cooling processes, sometimes discharging large quantities of warm water back into rivers. Raising the temperature of the water lowers the level of dissolved oxygen and upsets the balance of life in the water.
Because streams and rivers are so important economically and ecologically, restoration of these ecosystems is receiving much attention and enormous financial support. Restoration activities are diverse, ranging from channel engineering, to hydrologic experimentation, renewal of riparian vegetation, bank stabilization and habitat improvement. All levels of government, as well as volunteer groups and non-governmental organizations, are players. Projects vary in scope from some of the largest imaginable, such as the Everglades, to small reaches of headwater streams. While some of these efforts are being catalogued on a local or regional scale, few are analyzed at all, and even fewer are evaluated for ecological success.
The National River Restoration Science Synthesis Project, however, aims to provide a national level synthesis that can be used to inform policy at local, regional, and national levels. Their method involves in-depth research at seven or eight geographic regions in the United States. The depth of analysis they have proposed can be accomplished only by harnessing the collective knowledge of widely respected research scientists with intimate knowledge of restoration practices and policies in their respective regions. The project is designed with American Rivers’ grassroots partners in mind, and the outcome of the analysis is available to policy makers and river restoration groups across the nation.
American Rivers is the leading conservation organization standing up for healthy rivers so communities can thrive. American Rivers protects and restores the nation’s rivers and the clean water that sustains people, wildlife, and nature. Through their work in five key program areas, Rivers and Global Warming, River Restoration, River Protection, Clean Water and Water Supply, American Rivers is working to protect the remaining natural heritage, undo the damage of the past and create a healthy future for our rivers and future generations.
With these committed program groups at work, the science team will refine the design criteria for selection of projects, and develop criteria to assess the quality of the science underlying the restoration efforts and their outcomes, using a broad range of descriptive data, including who, what, where, restoration goals, outcome/results, costs, methods, from a representative sample of restoration projects from various regions within the U.S.
American Rivers works with the scientists to develop data sets that represent issues of greatest concern to policy makers and grass-roots groups. The science team will synthesize this information and draw general lessons concerning the links between the practice of restoration and the science of restoration ecology. American Rivers then incorporates the data and analysis into electronic form on its website, designed in an accessible format to accommodate searches and linkages with its other research and outreach tools and ensure that the project’s findings are communicated to restoration practitioners and policymakers across the country. American Rivers will also enable managers, river groups, scientists and other interested parties to add new restoration projects to the database, ensuring that it will be a growing resource center for restoration practitioners in the future.
Progress is Being Made
Rivers in some American cities are fishable again. In Ontario, Canada, for instance, people are encouraged to launch a canoe or kayak in the Ottawa River or along the Rideau River and find some great fishing spots along our rivers in Canada’s Capital Region. Canoeing and kayaking along the river is a great way to enjoy the sport of fishing. There are many places along the rivers that a canoe or a kayak can be launched with relative ease.
It’s happening in Europe too. Last year brown trout were released into the Wandle River for first time in 100 years. The Wandle flows through south London, meeting the River Thames at the heart of Europe’s largest city. It was once the best trout river in Britain, prized by anglers for the size of its fish. But the Wandle began to decline with the industrial revolution—an 11-mile stretch of river supported more than 90 water mills, which made everything from snuff to silk to gunpowder. Inundated with toxic chemicals and raw sewage, the Wandle was officially designated an open sewer in the 1960s.
Between 1860 and 1960, like the Wandle, the Thames was reduced to sewer status. Deprived of oxygen by feces-feasting bacteria, the river’s London reaches formed an impassable barrier to salmon and other fish, said Neil Dunlop, of the United Kingdom’s Environment Agency. But the city’s main sewage-treatment facilities were enlarged and improved, Dunlop said, “That’s the major reason why the tideway has been cleaned up.”
While the urban renaissance of trout and salmon is in large part the result of regional environmental actions, the trend also reflects tougher European Union legislation. For instance, the 1991 Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive requires all settlements with populations of more than 10,000 that discharge wastewater into environmentally sensitive areas to meet the highest collection and treatment standards.
Many cities do not have rivers flowing through them, but urban fishing is a reality in these cities too. Ponds provide easy, safe access for fishing for many children and adults. Examples of city ponds available for fishing abound. Here is an example.
The Boulder City Nevada Urban Fishing Pond is located in Veterans Memorial Park in Boulder City, operated by the City of Boulder. The pond is located in the northeast area of the park next to Buchanan Boulevard. Veterans Memorial park is a major urban park facility, which is still being developed by the city. The fishing pond was constructed in 2001 as a joint project between the City of Boulder and the Department of Wildlife to provide enhanced angling opportunity for residents and visitors.
The Boulder City Urban Fishing Pond is approximately 3 acres with a maximum depth of approximately 15 feet. The entire perimeter of the pond is accessible for angling with a paved access trail. There is a paved access trail from the adjacent parking area which makes the pond accessible for the mobility impaired; however, the pond is located approximately 15 feet vertically uphill from the parking area and a moderate slope must be negotiated to reach the impoundment. Water quality is generally good year-round and the pond is maintained at near capacity whenever feasible. Seasonally, moderate green algae blooms may occur but these are usually of short duration and will not affect the edibility of fish caught from the pond. The game fish species in the Boulder City Urban Fishing Pond are rainbow trout and channel catfish, which are stocked seasonally depending on water temperature. Because of the small size of the pond, other game fish species are not stocked. Small spinners, still baits such as salmon eggs, and fly fishing can all be effective for rainbow trout.
Season is open year round, during hours when the park is open to the public. The daily and possession limit are 3 fish of any species in combination. The use of live bait is prohibited in the Boulder City Urban Fishing Pond. There is no fee for park access.
Youth Fishing Programs
Richard Louv, in his highly acclaimed book, Last Child in the Woods, made a compelling case for what he called the “nature deficit disorder.” He says “Reducing that deficit—healing the broken bond between our young and nature—is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depends upon it. The health of the earth is at stake as well. How the young respond to nature, and how they raise their own children, will shape the configurations and conditions of our cities, homes—our daily lives.”
Since Louv’s book was first published in 2005, many states and local agencies have renewed their efforts to provide outdoor activities for kids. Fishing has become a favorite activity, bolstered by such private programs as the Boy Scouts of America, Hooked on Fishing, which is now Kids All-American Fishing Derby, and TakeMeFishing.org.
The Boy Scouts of America had a fishing merit badge nearly 100 years before Louv’s book was published. In Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell offered this advice: “Every Scout ought to be able to fish in order to get food for himself. A tenderfoot [beginner] who starved on the bank of a river full of fish would look very silly, yet it might happen to one who had never learned to catch fish.” These are chilling words but were sufficient to encourage millions of boys to earn the fishing badge. These boys usually went on camping trips to the mountains or forests to earn their badges. Fishing in or near urban areas was unheard of. Now, that is no longer true. Nearly all states and many metropolitan areas have rivers and ponds suitable for fishing.
The Kids All-American Fishing Derby is the only one fishing/outdoors program in the nation that reaches boys and girls in all 50 states. “No program has ever had the far-reaching effects like this,” says Gordon Holland, co-founder of Hooked On Fishing International and its Kids All-American Fishing Derby program. “We’ve had over six million kids and their parents at our derbies since the program began 14 years ago. Kids and fishing are our business, our only business.” The philosophy of the Kids All-American Fishing Derby is to introduce all youngsters and their families to an appreciation and respect for the environment, through conservation methods encouraged by means of hands-on participation in the outdoors and the sport of fishing.
“Hooked On Fishing International provides the promotional materials in kit form to these host groups,” noted Holland. They send everything needed to conduct a half-day event for community youngsters. All that’s required locally is a host group and volunteers to provide the instruction to the kids. This has never been a problem. Fishing clubs are a great source of manpower and quickly step forward to help on the local level, providing instruction in knot tying, tackle use, and casting. Many communities also get state agency support in extra stocking of fish, from catfish to trout, to insure that the kids get a quality fishing experience. “There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a little boy or girl catch their first fish, knowing that just that one moment can direct their life into great respect and enjoyment of the outdoors,” said Holland.
Another program, Take Me Fishing, is a national campaign started by the nonprofit organization Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) to actively encourage participation in recreational boating and fishing and thereby increase public awareness and appreciation of the need to protect, conserve and restore the natural aquatic resources of American waters.
Core to the campaign is the TakeMeFishing.org website which serves as an online resource for all things boating and fishing. It includes information on the various species of fish, types of boats, how to fish, fishing gear, and how to tie knots. It includes information on state fishing regulations, boat safety, boat registration, where to purchase fishing licenses, and even maps on the best places to boat and fish (by state). It serves as a resource “that offers hints and tips on how to get kids out onto lakes and rivers and bays, but no web site can duplicate the thrilling immediacy of the tug of a little fish at the end of your line, which is addictive in its own way.
How Can You Help?
There are many ways in which you, your family, your club, your company, or your city can get involved. Some of these are:
- Take a child fishing! Better yet, take a whole bunch of children fishing! aquatic education programs can provide fishing tackle, a list of volunteer fishing instructors, and educational materials for organized fishing events. They may even stock some extra catfish or trout in a public lake prior to your event, if given sufficient advance notice.
- Become a volunteer fishing instructor. If you’re an angler, share your knowledge and skills with others. Instructors can get a wide range of teaching aids to use. Instructors also get hats, patches, and other items recognizing their efforts. Contact the aquatic education program in your state or city for more information.
- Allow a few people to fish on your property. If you have a pond or a creek on your property, allow your neighbors or friends to go fishing there. Water bodies that are open to the public are often eligible for a whole range of programs, assistance, and funding to improve fishing, hunting, wildlife habitat, water quality, boating access, and more.
- Support the program and fishing events in your community by donating bait, fishing tackle, food and drinks, or your time and skills. Financial contributions will assist with efforts in your community and/or statewide according to your preference.
- Ask your local newspaper to advertise and cover fishing events and program activities.
- Tell others about these programs and how much fun fishing is.
- Let your mayor, city council, and community leaders know that fishing is important to you, your family, and your community. Encourage them to restore and revitalize city parks and ponds.