With fishing gear in hand, legislators, state officials and community members lined the bank of the Winooski River in Colchester last Thursday morning for Lake Champlain International’s 10th Governor’s Cup.
Sixteen teams, including last year’s victors, Team Myers, gathered at the Vt. Fish & Wildlife access point to help raise awareness – and funds – to combat water quality challenges and promote conservation in Lake Champlain and its tributaries.
“Part of the reason that we use fishing as the vehicle is because it is about slowing down,” said LCI program director Juliana Dixon. “We live in a very fast-paced world. Fishing reminds us to slow down and connect and engage with this beautiful resource.”
Each non-governmental team was asked to donate $500 to be split between the Next Generation Fund and Champlain Fisheries Recovery Initiative – a lake-wide effort to restore Lake Champlain’s watershed, according to an LCI press release.
Teams of no more than four members were given an hour and a half to catch as many fish as possible, bring them to the weighing station and then release them safely back into the water.
Before anglers let their lines fly, Gov. Phil Scott opened the derby by signing S.127, an act relating to miscellaneous changes to laws related to vehicles and vessels. Twenty minutes later, his team was the first to get on the board, with Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Alyson Eastman landing a .08-pound golden shiner.
“That could be the winner,” Scott chuckled.
Although the fishing was slow, the governor’s team managed to reel in two more catches, bringing their total weight to .17 pounds – enough to put them in the lead with around 25 minutes left to fish.
With only 10 minutes remaining, Team Lanzetta member Shawn Gokey hauled in a white perch, making the last catch for his team and of the tournament and cementing his team’s third overall victory in the Governor’s Cup.
“This is the sweet spot, if there is one today,” Gokey said, pointing to a section of swirling water in the crook of the river. “Sometimes in this tournament you only need one fish. We had a good day today so far, and it’s good to recognize water quality, so I think it’s pretty cool.”
Despite the tough fishing conditions – just seven fish were caught during the tournament – LCI executive director James Ehlers stressed the importance of legislators and advocates building rapport on conservation in a more relaxed environment.
“It’s always good to get people together with divergent points of view to work on common solutions. I think anytime you’re dealing with complex social issues, it’s good to have the people working on that have personal relationships,” he said. “People feel involved while their point is being respected and come together to solve what is a communal issue.”
During the derby, Ehlers said he got to meet the mayor of Vergennes for the first time – a town he said has serious wastewater pollution issues that are causing a health threat.
“Having the opportunity to meet him and speak to him in person is helpful,” Ehlers said. “These are complex issues given the number of people that are involved, but the solutions are quite simple if everyone prioritizes water.”
For Dixon, bringing conservation and water restoration efforts to the riverside helped take politics out of the equation and the solution.
“In the State House, it can be a little bit more of stressful conversation, perhaps – a partisan conversation,” she said. “So the idea behind this is for us to meet on the water, not in the boardroom.”
The Cup came to a close with the award ceremony at 11:30 a.m. with Team Lanzetta receiving the first-place trophy from Gov. Scott. Holding onto second place, the Scott’s own team came up to get their prize – small, pink, Barbie-themed fishing poles.
“I can honestly say although we didn’t measure the fish, we know they were at least a little under 18 inches each, right?” Scott joked. “We got on the podium, which is always exciting.”
After a few brief addresses by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ and Sen. Patrick Leahy’s staffers, Ehlers left everyone with a parting thought.
“I ask you to remember we are, in fact, water – 60 to 70 percent of our bodies are water – so when we have to ask those tough questions about whether we can afford it or not, I ask you to reflect on that,” he said.