PAT NEAL’S WILDLIFE COLUMN: Ain’t that a punch in your card

APRIL CAN BE the cruelest month. It’s when we are forced to turn in our income tax and turn in our punch card.

The first punch cards were to record an anglers’ catch of salmon and steelhead.

They were free. We knew that was too good to last.

Before long, they started charging for punch cards and making us punch other stuff like crab, halibut and sturgeon.

Today’s punch card is a complex legal document that has grown so large you must roll it up like a medieval scroll to carry it around.

The law says you must record immediately, in ink, the date, catch location and, in the case of salmon and steelhead, identity of the fish as hatchery-bred or wild.

For a steelhead fisherman, this can be a real challenge.

Imagine standing over the top of your boots in a freezing river in a blizzard. It’s is your lucky day. You caught a steelhead.

Now you must waddle to shore and begin the complex legal process of recording your catch.

First, it might be handy to have an ink pen that functioned on wet paper in the snow.

But before you can write the location of your catch on the punch card, you must figure out where that is.

You can’t just write the name of the river, no. You must find the secret identification code of each river located somewhere in the fishing law book.

Inevitably, you give up trying to find the secret code. You try to write the name of the river in the space provided.

Your fingers are frozen. You scribble something that looks like an ink blob.

Punch cards are a real hassle for crabbers.

Imagine standing over the top of your boots out on the tide flats. It’s your lucky day.

You scoop up a crab. You unroll your punch card document and invariably drop it in the water.

Again, you fill out your punch card with something that looks like an ink blob.

Filling out a punch card for salmon or halibut is no picnic, either.

Imagine bobbing around in an ocean swell trying to hold down a greasy breakfast while breathing a heady mixture of salt air, rotting herring and outboard motor exhaust.

It’s your lucky day. You catch a salmon or halibut but you don’t care. You only want to be put on shore or put out of your misery.

You fill out your punch card with another ink blob.

For years, we have been told that the state bean-counters could look at these ink blobs to come up with catch numbers with a method known only to professional fortunetellers.

Nowadays, they have a brave new way to count the catch: computer models.

No one bothered to look at the punch cards before they cut this year’s halibut season to just 13 days.

How could they? The punch cards that show last year’s catch haven’t been sent in yet.

Instead of actually counting the catch, the state used a computer model to cut our halibut season — which begs the question:

Why bother with punch cards if the state is just going to dream up bogus harvest numbers for fish and crab with computer models anyway?

The answer is simple.

Money from punch card sales goes to support the advanced, state-of-the-art computer systems that are required to administer punch card sales.

Someday punch cards might also provide vital funding for more scientific research that could allow the dreamers in the Department of Fisheries to someday design a punch card that anglers can figure out.

_________

Pat Neal is a North Olympic Peninsula fishing guide and humorist whose column appears Wednesdays.

Pat can be reached at 360-683-9867 or [email protected]

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