I took this picture a few years ago just outside Toyama, Japan. The guy was fishing for ayu, a small, delicious, smelt-like fish, where a concrete canal flowed into the sea. Like salmon, ayu live in salt water and run up rivers to spawn. I watched the fisherman work with great concentration and skill–he clearly knew what he was doing. After a while, I couldn’t resist, and approached him to talk fishing. Thankfully, he spoke a little English.

His bucket held three six-inch ayu–his haul for the entire day. But he was happy  with his catch. I asked him about other fishing, and he excitedly told me about salmon. My interest level ratcheted up a few notches. The rivers, he said, were heavily dammed to generate electricity and divert water into the famous Toyama rice fields. Some no longer even reach the sea. But there were still salmon there, he said, and they were his favorite fish to pursue.

As we talked about salmon, he grew even more excited, gesturing with his hands the way anglers around the world are known to do. “Last year,” he said, “very good salmon fishing!” I waited for him to find the right words. He continued, “I fish 37 days and hooked two salmon! Best year ever!”

A chill went down my spine. I don’t know that anything has ever hammered it home quite so powerfully: Conservation is not just a theoretical exercise; we need to work even harder to save what we have. Starting now.