Wednesday, April 13, 2011

From the Fleet

‘From the Fleet’ is intended to allow individuals and organizations the opportunity to express their opinions on commercial fishing-related issues and concerns. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author, and do not reflect nor represent those of Fishermen’s News staff and/or any related constituents.

Years back, a resolution was submitted to PFMC (Pacific Fisheries Management Council), that said, “To maximize the poundage yield to the commercial troll fishery by minimizing the taking in that fishery of fish having significant remaining growth potential, however recognize that the desired yield to the sport fishery is primarily in the recreational value of the fish caught, not in pounds produced, and therefore, that optimum value does not necessarily require harvesting only mature fish.” These resolutions weren’t law – just recommendations. The passing of that resolution is a story in itself.

Early in the season a few years later some of the boats made really nice catches of king salmon on the northern Washington coast. Nice sized fish and good numbers. The next spring that area was closed and the whole fleet was bottled up on the south end, fishing salmon that at that time of year generally ran about two thirds as big as those from the north end. Smaller fish, less value per pound, therefore much less value per fish to the fisherman. For a troll fishery to make sense, boats need to be able to move away from smaller fish while looking for more mature stocks, but now the only option the fleet had to move from these smaller fish was going in and tying to the dock.

Now, that line, “Optimum value does not require harvesting only mature fish in the sport fishery” might well read, “Unlimited catch and release by a sport fishery gone crazy, promoted by a revenue-hungry governor and what we used to think of as fisheries management.”

And coho salmon, being very susceptible to dying from stress while being caught on either sport or commercial troll gear, must be released if they have an adipose fin, whether they’re wild or unclipped hatchery fish, regardless of size. This unnecessary slaughter also includes king salmon.

Many salmon stocks in the state are considered endangered, but in the Columbia system most of the salmon habitat is made out of reach by dams or buried under a bunch of lakes. So, of course they’re endangered. At one time, the Columbia was the strongest source of king salmon in the world, and still may be – sort of. They brag about record runs of king salmon, but 90 percent of these fish can’t be counted because they came out of a salmon hatchery, and hatchery fish are no good because they might wink at a wild salmon. But salmon have been winking for thousands of years before even the first hatchery salmon fell out of the sky. I keep wondering: could “endangered species” have anything to do with justifying certain management policies, or funding certain agencies?

Speaking of agencies, what is WDFW doing, comparing the value of the sport caught salmon with those taken in the commercial fisheries? 
Can there be some agenda here? Are salmon-eating consumers being acclimated before being herded down that farmed salmon tunnel? Salmon are a very nutritious, delicious natural resource. How do you factor in their value to the consumer?

For years now, salmon from some of the State’s inside waters have been held back for months at hatcheries. The shortened feeding time in the ocean results in a much smaller fish, higher feed costs over this extended hatchery time, and fewer fish raised per dollar spent. Late release, meant to stifle migration to the ocean and provide extended sport fishing on inside waters, also compromises migration patterns toward the end of their lives. Some fish return to rivers far too early and in too poor condition to live to full maturity. They’ve been deprived of full feeding time in the ocean, and there’s not much to eat in these inside waters.

So for some reason, hatchery fish have picked up a bad name. We looked the other way while salmon habitat was obliterated and water diverted, and now, “We have to protect the wild stocks.” But we didn’t, and we aren’t now. Every time a dollar loomed over the horizon, including for electricity, the corporate farms and gold mines to name a few, or just in various forms of buying silence, we didn’t protect the wild stocks. And I kind of like electricity.

I keep wondering why are hatchery fish so bad? I spent a lot of time up at the hatchery when I was a kid. I liked large numbers of good sized fish, and they tasted pretty good when they first hit the river – just like a wild salmon. Years later in Alaska, I caught several kings that dressed over 50 pounds that were hatchery fish. Why did hatcheries work so well here in the past and still do in other places, even without a lot of dollars and cement? Why do some hatchery people think they could have the state overflowing with salmon if given the chance? One Director of Fisheries years ago sure thought so, and did.

I wonder, could this natural resource be manipulated toward take-over by the sport fisheries? I think we’ve watched it happen, but wonder where and when it really started. I think of that line – “No, they weren’t forced out bit by bit, for reasons unknown, they just quit.” Salmon being a natural resource, that’s how you’d have to do it. I wonder if that’s not what we’ve been seeing over the last forty years.

One thing I’m certain of, is that strong volumes of hatchery raised salmon, going to the ocean where they can reach full size and value naturally, would be one of the biggest obstacles to farmed salmon interests taking over the salmon industry in the United States. Then, maybe, after the last salmon boat falls apart at the dock, hatcheries might be okay after all. And that ocean might be good for something after all.

I think we’ve been sold out, at both federal and state levels, and at each level, I think new faces and perhaps an old way of thinking would be in order. We need better management of this natural resource than our governors have been appointing since the days of Governors Wahlgren and Rosellini. They each appointed Milo Moore, and Milo’s prejudice only ran one way: For the fish.

Vince Cameron has been a salmon troller since he graduated from high school in 1957, starting with a 19-foot plywood boat that he fished off the Washington coast, before installing a new engine and running it up to Alaska. Vince retired from fishing after the 1991 season, and has written a book about his experiences, We All Choke the Same Herring, available at

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