'Father of fish restoration' retires

Mary Bullwinkel

Beacon Correspondent

More than 100 people from all walks of life bid a fond farewell and happy retirement to California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Scott Downie last week, at a luncheon at the Scotia Inn.

After growing up in southern Humboldt and doing a lot of fishing in Dean Creek, Downie went off to teach in Australia and then returned to the north coast in 1976, beginning a career as a commercial fisherman. At that time Downie said he realized that "fishermen were farmers who never planted anything," and thus the idea of restoration was born.

"I learned how to handle fish," he said, "but realized more was needed. There is no sustainability without habitat for the fish to return to."

For his more than three decades of dedication, Downie won multiple words of praise from a variety of elected officials, state agency representatives, and landowners, the latter who said that Downie was able to win their trust and cooperation for projects that would benefit salmon and steelhead.

While presenting a proclamation, Assemblyman Wes Chesbro called Downie "the father of restoration in Humboldt County. I am so proud to represent this community," Chesbro continued, "and the restoration work that you have been vital to all of it." Representing Congressman Jared Huffman, but on a more personal note, John Driscoll recalled when he was a reporter with the Times-Standard and used to contact Downie for stories he was writing. He called it "an impressive achievement to pull all these people together (referring to those gathered at the luncheon) for a common cause." Humboldt County 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell described Downie as a "level-headed advocate for the environment and fisheries."

Starting in the early 1980s, Downie and others co-founded a group that has a long list of achievements in making Humboldt County a better place for salmon and steelhead. The Salmonid Restoration Foundation was an umbrella group, bringing together many local groups working on fish habitat improvement and other issues.

Landowner Steve Hackett thanked Downie for his work

"We learned that there were other ways to do things, other than the contentious way," Hackett said. "Thank you for what you have done for sustainable agriculture, and for our children."

Other landowners echoed the trust element that Downie was able to establish, one man saying they came to the landowners "to work with us, instead of fine us or put us in jail."

Downie expressed his appreciation to a number of people, but especially local landowners.

"I want to thank the landowners," he said, "from the bottom of my heart ... there would be no success without you."

Photo by Mary Bullwinkel/Beacon

Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, far right, presents retiring Department of Fish and Wildlife's Scott Downie, far left, with a proclamation, while state Sen. Noreen Evan's Eureka field representative Zuey Goosby, center, looks on.