PAT NEAL: Biologists are OK after all

I THOUGHT IT would be fun to attend a meeting of some fisheries biologists with fishing folks at the Puget Sound Anglers Club in the Methodist Church in Sequim.

Fisheries biologists are some of the orneriest critters in all of creation.

They can shut down fisheries with a single stroke on the computer using the best junk science available to manage our salmon into extinction for profit.

The public was allowed to provide input on what is known as the North of Falcon negotiations.

These are secret meetings, (the public is not even allowed to observe) that set salmon seasons from Alaska to California.

Public input is the last thing a biologist wants to hear.

They’re already blamed for everything wrong with the fishery, but it’s my job to cover the rough issues where other journalists fear to go.

With all those biologists in one place, a critical mass of evil might spontaneously combust, and I wanted to be there to cover it.

The biologists were having a series of meetings all over Western Washington while attempting the impossible task of describing how our fishing laws are made.

It’s an insuperable morass of bureaucratic red tape and hidden agendas among the state Department of Commerce, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, the Pacific Salmon Commission, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington and Oregon departments of Fish and Wildlife, and the 21 treaty tribes of Western Washington.

They’re supposed to manage our fish under the terms of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Boldt decision and the federal Endangered Species Act.

I couldn’t wait to provide my input.

I greased my bull-whip and loaded up the truck with a bucket of hot tar and a garbage sack of duck feathers I had plucked last season to use in making pillows but what the heck, this was a special occasion and a knotty cedar rail.

It was too bad the biologist meeting was in a church.

It reminded me of Jesus saying, “Ye have turned it into a den of thieves.” (Mathew 21:13.)

People were angry.

At one point a fisherman point-blank accused the biologists of stealing the king salmon from Hood Canal.

I felt a kinship that was beyond words.

They say that going to church is like going home.

And here I had found a group of outraged anglers who felt as bitter, resentful and cheated as I did about losing our fishing rights.

Then I noticed the biologists.

They were scattered around the room.

I figured it was so they wouldn’t all get jumped at once.

The biologists had just come from another crowd of angry anglers in Mount Vernon earlier that day.

What went wrong with the biologists’ careers?

Did they take the boss’s parking spot, cheat at cards or punch in late?

What could they have possibly done to deserve being dangled like live bait in front of crowds of grumpy anglers who believe our fishing laws will soon be reduced from the current 146 pages of incomprehensible gibberish to the single word: No!

Then it occurred to me the biologists might be human after all.

Once upon a time they had hopes and dreams.

Instead, they got stuck taking public input.

Given the current management framework, biologists couldn’t restore our fishing if they wanted to.

The myriad abuser groups are competing over who can kill the most fish.

Why not compete to see who can restore our salmon with a proven scientific method?

Until that happens we’ll just blame the biologists.


Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealwild [email protected]

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