The founders of Native Fish for Tomorrow have all been working to advance the conservation of native fishes for years. We each have our favorites, but as anglers we have appreciation for all fish species. Individually and as a group we have all advocated for underappreciated native fishes across the continent, and specifically in the Midwest, where we all happen to live. Working as individuals we have had some successes, and it has been heartening to see a growing interest in native fish species and the new conservation opportunities it has created, but this momentum has been piecemeal: a new research initiative in one state, new recognition of the value of a particular species in another, and so on, each driven by the efforts of a few dedicated people.
Fish are not concerned with borders, regulations, or the latest trends, however, so a more organized, regional approach was called for. Additionally, while there are groups focused on conserving and promoting particular species or groups of fish, as well as conservation organizations specifically dedicated to native species, the fishes in this region have never had a “rod and gun” conservation organization advocating on their behalf.
With this in mind, in 2022 we formed Native Fish for Tomorrow to address the conservation of native fish species from an angling perspective, with the goal of improving the health of our aquatic ecosystems, broadening fishing opportunities for all people, supporting research on under-studied species, and encouraging the use of solid science in natural resources departments’ management of this valuable resource. We believe that conservation is not just compatible with fishing (including the responsible harvest of fish), it is an integral part of fishing. As users of the resource, we must work to understand it, protect it, and, when necessary, restore it.
Native fishes are the species that have been present in a region or watershed since before colonization. We recognize that we do not know exactly what fish populations and distributions were before people started keeping systematic records in the 1800s, and that several centuries of fish stocking, accidental and intentional extirpations, land use changes, and many other factors have greatly altered these. In the strictest sense, the definitive list of fishes truly—historically—native to any watershed is lost to time. Native Fish for Tomorrow is not interested in arguing the minutia of sub-species and sub-watersheds. We know that we cannot magically rewind to some perfect moment in the past.
What we—Native Fish for Tomorrow and every other stakeholder with an interest in fishing, conservation, ecology, etc.—can do is look honestly at the assemblage of native species we have and seek to treat them right.
This is a diverse group of species from a wide range of evolutionary lineages. We refer to them as “native” because being present naturally sometimes seems like the only thing they have in common. Despite their variety, however, they evolved together (and with all the other plants and animals in their ecosystems) over thousands or millions of years.
Longnose Sucker (catostomus catostomus)
Though they have always existed alongside the relatively few species that are usually considered “sport” or “game” fish as mutually beneficial members of complex ecosystems, many (maybe most) of our native species have been ignored, undervalued, misunderstood, and sometimes even persecuted by conservation and sporting organizations, government agencies, fisheries managers, and the general public for generations. NF4T is here to advocate for a broader perspective that benefits all our native fish species, the people who enjoy them, and the wider environment we are all part of. It is time to recognize that we can do better than we have in the past.
Prejudice is something else that many of these fishes have in common. Over the last century and a half, fisheries managers have arbitrarily divided fish communities into three categories: “sport” fish, “rough” fish and bait. There is nothing scientific about these categories and some species have moved between them over the years.
For much of this time, managers actively sought to minimize populations of “rough” fish in the mistaken belief that doing so would free up resources for “sport” fish, and in many cases they went a step further and stocked non-native but popular species in those waters. They often recruited anglers and conservation organizations to help them eradicate certain species. To this day, some conservation organizations fund rotenone applications intended to extirpate native fish species, so they can be replaced with non-natives. This paradigm has pushed many native fish to threatened, or even endangered, status. Furthermore, it has disrupted and impaired every freshwater ecosystem in the continental United States. Every state in the country, except Hawaii, still manages fish according to the “rough fish paradigm”.
We are not particularly concerned with these misplaced non-native fish in most cases—again, there is no magic rewind button—but they must be managed to coexist with native species.
The fish conservation movement was started by anglers who realized that clean water and scientific management were needed to protect gamefish. Native Fish for Tomorrow intends to bring the lessons of the last 100 years to all native fish, regardless of their mouth shapes, what they eat, or how popular they are.
River Redhorse (moxostoma carinatum)
We support sportfishing, including the ethical harvest of native fish for food and the use of live bait. We believe that all people who fish, regardless of method, should behave ethically by being able to identify the species they encounter, by following all regulations, and by harvesting only what they can use.
We believe that our natural resources, including fish, belong to all of us. Fishing should be available to everyone—regardless of age, gender, race or economic circumstances—and that our diverse native fishes make that possible.
We believe that natural resources management must be based on facts and data. Where this is lacking, research must be done.
We believe that our native fishes have been undervalued and that everyone—whether anglers or not—should know more about them and their ecological and cultural importance.
We support riparian zone protection, removing migration obstacles for native fish, and high water quality standards. Our amazing variety of native fish depend on the health of our aquatic ecosystems.
We support the enforcement of existing wanton waste regulations to protect this valuable natural resource.
Your support and contributions will enable us to continue to advocate for our under-appreciated Native Fish. Your generous donation will fund our mission.