THE PAT NEAL WILDLIFE COLUMN: Bull trout bull

A SHARP-EYED READER recently suggested a correction to my May 26 column about the Dungeness Valley Creamery. It’s one of two remaining dairies in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.

The future operation of the dairy is being threatened by Clallam County’s plan to move the flood control dikes from along the Dungeness River to restore the habitat of the endangered bull trout.

Oops, I did it again — called the bull trout endangered.

The fact is the bull trout is not endangered. It has been federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“Threatened,” according to the government definition, the species is likely to become “endangered.”

An “endangered” species means it’s likely to become extinct.

Please excuse my confusion. I only know what I read in the fishing laws, where it says it is illegal to lift a bull trout out of the water.

Forget about eating a bull trout for dinner. You could lose your fishing license for that.

Not that anyone ever bragged about eating a bull trout in the old days. They can be soft and mushy with bland white-meat.

Who wouldn’t rather catch a fat, red-meat steelhead or a salmon than a bull trout?

They were seen as scavengers that ate the eggs and spawn of the salmon and steelhead.

Nobody really ever cared about catching a bull trout until there weren’t any salmon or steelhead, and there was nothing but bull trout left.

The idea that anyone would call the bull trout threatened or endangered is a joke to anyone who has ever fished the Dungeness, where on any given day you could catch four bull trout for every rainbow.

That was until the Dungeness, a river with two fish hatcheries on it, was closed to fishing for most of the year.

This seemed to confirm the old saying, when fishing is outlawed, only outlaws will fish.

There were so many poachers on the Dungeness last summer that they did not get an adequate return of spring chinook back to the hatchery.

The Dungeness spring chinook is a run of salmon worth saving. These are the “first salmon” of the Northwest. That means they run up the river in early spring when the salmonberry blossom.

These fish don’t spawn until August.

The spring chinook don’t feed in the river, they survive and develop into spawners on their body fat. This makes the spring chinook the richest salmon there is.

There used to be an awesome chinook fishery out in Dungeness Bay every spring when the dogwoods bloomed. Many of these fish were produced at the Dungeness fish hatchery.

Hatchery fish have been getting a bad rap for failing in recent years. Runs of hatchery fish always fail after you lay off the hatchery workers and stop feeding the fish.

The spring chinook are the key to restoring the Dungeness-Greywolf ecosystem. Their migration up into the mountains was an exchange of nutrients from the ocean to the land that endured since the last Ice Age.

Everything from the trees to the bugs fed on the carcasses of spawned-out salmon. The fact that we have interrupted this cycle is an intolerable ecological disaster.

Our salmon are overharvested throughout the extent of their range.

There is just too much nylon fishing gear in the water. We need a responsible hatchery program to mitigate this nylon pollution.

So you can take out all the dikes on the lower Dungeness and it won’t matter to the fish.

There have never been any dikes on the upper Dungeness, and the fish up there are just as endangered, oops, I mean threatened.

________

Pat Neal is an Olympic Peninsula fishing guide, humorist and author.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or e-mail at patnealwildlife @yahoo.com.

His column appears on Wednesdays.

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