The World’s First Carbon Neutral Fly Fishing Shop: Emerald Water Anglers

Being an active conservationist is something that fly shop owner Dave McCoy of Emerald Water Anglers takes very seriously. Emerald Water Anglers is located in Seattle, Washington, and earlier this year became the world’s first carbon-neutral fly shop. A few other shops have already followed suit. It seems like this trend is not going away with an extreme drought underway in most of the American west, warming ocean temperatures, and needless to say some abnormal spring weather across the United States. We caught up with Dave McCoy to learn more about why he wanted EWA to become carbon neutral, what it means to be carbon neutral, and how other fly shops can become carbon neutral.

Emerald Water Angler’s Brick and Mortar Retail Store

Flylords: What is Emerald Water Anglers, can you give us a little background on the fly shop and your role? 

Dave: Emerald Water Anglers emerged on the banks of the Gunnison River in Colorado in the late 90’s when myself and several other guides I was close with talked about setting up a way for our clients to know where we were, when, and how to get ahold of us in our various guiding endeavors around the US and the world. I offered to start EWA, get it off the ground, and have owned this company since its inception.

When I moved to Seattle in 2000, we began our presence here as a guide service, covering waters around the central to the western side of Washington. Some were well known to most, others not so much.  When I began guiding in the Seattle area I was amazed at the diversity of watersheds available and how few anglers in the area were paying attention to most of them.

Dave McCoy rigging up.

It was said on numerous occasions that I was foolish to think a guide service would ever work in Seattle.  Who would ever want or need to be guided in this area?  You need to move to the east side of the state, to the Yakima.  Well, I once again didn’t head that advice and soldiered on, exploring less popular watersheds within 2 hours of Seattle of which there are a ton and many of which, make for fabulous places to introduce the new and experienced to what fly fishing the PNW holds for the curious angler.

9 years ago, I had the privilege of finding a like-minded, driven person who had a similar feeling.  We needed to open our own store to give our staff a year around job and a location to bring our vision for the Seattle fly fishing community to life.

Flylords: What made you open your eyes to the problem of climate change and take action?

Dave:  I was raised in Oregon and over the years spent a lot of time guiding in Colorado and Washington and while keeping a journal on snow and water levels and coincidental timing hatches among other details, I began to notice more frequent low snowpack years, lower spring flows and either dramatically earlier or later arrival of hatches.  There is a lot more to this but there was a trend and few were speaking of it but rather relying on previous year’s marketing to bring clients back to the water only to say sorry, the hatch isn’t here yet, it already happened or worse, really not here at all.

Here in WA, we had some of our first Hootowl closures in the history of this state in 2015 with horrific drought followed by a miserable wildfire season.  Since then we have seen water temps climb more quickly in mid-summer, even in good snowpack years to where some concerned citizens self-restricted angling to mirror previous Hootowl closures.

We were throwing caddis on the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie in late February one year, we seem to be having more frequent massive full moon tides on Puget Sound and our anadromous fish populations are diminishing at alarmingly fast rates.  We are in the midst of change, there just isn’t any question to it, I mean come on…

Flylords: What does it mean to be a carbon-neutral fly shop & what are Carbon Credits?

Dave: Very good question. In fairly simple terms and at the level we chose to do it looks like this.
1.  We took note of our inventory for the year, where it was made and shipped from.
2.  All of our local guide trips, miles driven by us and clients, getting to store and back home.
3.  International travel, we counted not just staff but guest travel as well to all corners of the world.
4.  How the building we reside in as a store was built.
5.  Where do we get our energy for the store from, in this case, Seattle City Light has been Carbon Neutral as PUD since 2005, the first in the country, this is huge!
6.  Our embedded carbon in our company vehicle and building which is Green Built Certified.
7.  Tabulate with all of this, what our carbon output is in tonnes, and then go about offsetting that amount, as closely to where we do business as possible.

Once you have this measured, take this number of metric tonnes of CO2 to a reputable organization that has the ability to offer you the offsets for that amount. There are different methods of equalizing or getting to Net Zero, we chose forest credits in 2 locations. We did half of ours with King County where we do business and our entire staff lives and the other half in Alaska in conjunction with Cool Effect.

Repeat this effort each year…

Flylords: What are some of the challenges of being a carbon-neutral fly shop bring to your operation?

Dave: Many of the initial challenges hinged on how seriously we wanted to take this new business model.  If we wanted to bear the burden of completely offsetting what we put out into the atmosphere, this was a pretty simple process. However, since we have taken this step why shouldn’t we try to do better still?

For us here at EWA, we are looking more critically at who we do business with.  How do we deal with every single bit of waste we receive?  Which companies in our industry and on the fringe of it are making similar efforts.  Some are working on their supply chain, others on manufacturing, some on shipping or product design and a few are tracking it all. Well, we want to do business with those doing as much as they can because it diminishes our footprint in doing so and then collaborations begin to happen in order to truly magnify our mutual impact…or lack thereof.

It will cost a bit of our hard-earned revenue at the end of the year but it really isn’t as much as one might think. Otherwise, the other sizeable challenge when you are first at doing anything new is having the patience and understanding to do a lot of explaining.  Breaking questions down for those truly interested and defending the legitimacy of them to those who choose to keep their head in the sand and think this to be a political issue.

Flylords: What are some of the not so identifiable benefits of being a carbon-neutral fly shop?

Dave: Fly fishing is a sport of observation. I believe by taking this step, we not only are doing everything currently in our power to do better by our natural resources in order to assist in them being around for generations to come but we also force ourselves to pay even closer attention to what is going on within and around them. We take absolutely nothing for granted when it comes to time we spend in rivers, on lakes, and walking our beaches.

I look at this as an entirely new topic of conversation in the store with customers and on guide trips to discuss the issues each watershed is facing.  As professionals in our sport, we should feel obligated to be aware enough of what our impact is to have a thoughtful conversation with those who look to us for their moral compass within the sport.

Flylords: How can other fly shops become carbon neutral? What is the process? 

Dave: This is the question I wanted to be asked.

While we were the first, we are no longer alone.  This was one of the most compelling reasons we decided to become carbon neutral, to lead by example and bring others along and it is working.  Other shops, guides, outfitters, and photographers in the past few months have committed to becoming carbon-neutral businesses and I see a groundswell on the horizon.

If someone has questions, ASK me!  I will be as transparent as possible about how we got here and what it will take to get your shop, guide service, or even yourself or family here.

You can also reach out to Rick Crawford at Emerger Strategies and have a chat.  He will answer your questions and can consult with you on how to gather the necessary data to calculate your carbon output and what it will take to arrive at net-zero or carbon neutrality. I think once someone does this and sees how little it is, I can only imagine, like me, they will decide right then and there to take the step.

Flylords: What advice would you give to other anglers who are looking to become more climate-friendly themselves?

Dave: closer attention to the products you use.  Fishpond, Patagonia, Miir, Scientific Anglers, Airflo, Tacky, Recycled Waders, RepYourWater, Costa, Orvis, and Loon are all taking great strides to reduce their footprint. Support them.  Your dollars spent in their support will drive other companies to follow suit and we all win.

Don’t buy plastic water bottles, refill and reuse…
Carpool and/or self-propel to work or the water…
Support local that supports local…
Look into Ridwell for home waste…
Upcycle everything you can…
For every hour spent fishing, spend that time on conservation…
Teach, be taught, and share with others…
Be inspirational, be kind and have fun…

Thank you to Dave McCoy and Emerald Water Anglers, be sure to check them out if you are ever in the Seattle area and follow them online here @ewaflyshop_seattle. All photos provided/taken by Dave McCoy.

Costa Behind the Guides: Dave McCoy


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