SACO — You can learn a lot about the life cycle of certain types of fish by spending your time on the seas. As a small-scale, sustainable hook fisherman, I’ve certainly been able to learn a lot over my years. But more recently, some of what I’ve learned has me really scared.

Take herring, a fish that we see a lot of around New England. They make their way to inland rivers in the spring in order to spawn before heading offshore. The problem is, New England has had a huge problem with pollution in our waterways – and herring, at a very young age, are particularly susceptible to pollution. And what they take in could very well end up on your dinner plate.

The same is true with Atlantic salmon, a fish that was harvested here by Native Americans and Pilgrims hundreds of years ago – and that now is on the verge of extinction. Some will say that’s because of climate change, and that’s probably partially true. What they are missing is water quality.

CLEARING UP CONFUSION

This is becoming a very serious problem, in large part because there’s confusion about what the government role can be in protecting water quality. A recent federal rule, the Clean Water Rule, aims to clarify that, and clear the way for cleaner water that can help small outfits like mine thrive. But some people are claiming instead that it will be a burden on business and the economy.

When I hear those arguments from people, I wonder what their motivations are. As a quintessential small-business owner, I can tell you that the burden comes when clean water isn’t protected, not when it is.

In the past, we’ve had to deal with several spills in nearby harbors, usually because of runoff from different industrial applications. That’s had an effect on certain ecosystems here. Without further protections, we will see increased debris and different chains of chemicals polluting our waters. We don’t know where they go, but we know they will have an impact, both on fish and the people who eat them.

Our livelihoods depend on clean water and a protected environment. So when the waterways we rely on become heavily polluted, that puts all of us at risk.

WATER RULES HAVE WIDE SUPPORT

Yes, some of what we’re seeing in our waterways is because of climate change, but some of it is also a result of what we’re doing to our waterways. One thing is for sure: The water ecosystems that fishermen like me rely on are changing, and that’s going to make it a lot harder for us to make a living.

It’s obvious for industries like fishing or agriculture, which have water as a major input in their products, but this is an economy-wide issue.

For me, polling from the American Sustainable Business Council sums it up: Eighty percent of small-business owners – Democrats, Republicans and independents – said they supported rules to protect upstream headwaters, as the Clean Water Rule would do. That’s because the same poll found that most – 71 percent – said clean water protections helped economic growth, not hurt it.

Which is why I don’t understand people who are arguing that this rule will be bad for the economy. What benefits could they possibly be looking for that are worth dumping the rest of the economy down the drain? There is a delicate balance in our state’s economy between clean water and fishermen. When this balance is disrupted, everyone suffers.

It’s time for opponents of this rule to ask themselves these questions: Why do they oppose protecting a resource that people – and the economy – can’t survive without? What would it mean if we further damage this vital resource?

Then I hope they will agree that we need to do our best to protect it. The Clean Water Rule is an important next step. Without it, our economy could enter a major dry spell.

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