WEST END NEIGHBOR: Fingers crossed for chinook, rain

FISHING IS NOT just child’s play out here on the West End.

It means serious business for lots of people and food for families.

The recent closures of nearly all the major West End rivers are stirring emotions and raising concerns about the management and recovery of wild fish species.

On Oct. 16, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife closed major portions of the Bogachiel, Calawah, Dickey, Hoh, Sol Duc and Quillayute rivers to fishing due to low water in the rivers.

The Hoh and Quileute tribes followed suit as did Olympic National Park.

When the rivers have low flows, salmon do not want to begin their river journeys to spawn.

In addition, those salmon that have already returned to their home rivers bunch up in the deeper holes not wanting to go up and spread out to spawn.

Obviously, spawning is important for species survival and the wild chinook runs are not spawning in numbers that fisheries managers believe are strong enough for long-term survival. Thus, fishing stopped mid-October. The Hoh reopened Oct. 21.

Since then, rains have brought up rivers and there have been a series of different reopenings and further closures from the three managing entities. However, for all current intents and purposes, just the Hoh River is open for salmon fishing.

“We have to pay attention to the conservation objective and the chinook is the species we are most concerned about now,” explained Annette Hoffmann, the state’s fish project manager for Region 6, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.

She pointed out that in Puget Sound wild chinook has threatened status under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

All the managers are trying to keep the coastal runs of wild chinook from being added to that list.

“This is not a shining moment,” Hoffman said, adding, “We understand the frustration, but unfortunately this is not the first time and it probably won’t be the last.”

“If you’re not fishing, you’re not making money,” said Mike Schmitz Jr., local fishing guide and Forks native.

With that statement, he could have been speaking for Quileute tribe fisherpeople as well.

In an emailed statement, the Quileute Tribal Council used words that could be applied to fishing guides.

It said of the closure, “It eliminates the opportunity for the tribal fisherman to make a living and provide for their families,” and added “The closure only compounds the economic challenges.”

Both Schmitz and the tribal council said this time of year fishing should be very busy.

“The reason they fish so hard during the fall fishery is because it is the one time of the year that they can normally count on to boost their incomes to help sustain them through the harder times of the year where fishing for them is not as lucrative,” the council said.

Families like mine, who “sport” fish with rod and reel, use caught fish from fall runs to augment their food supply by canning, smoking and freezing the meat.

Hotel “No vacancy” signs in Forks should be in abundance and restaurants should be filled with the smell of fishy clothing and boisterous tales of the ones that didn’t get away.

Schmitz explained that with the Hoh being the only river open now and river conditions being as great as they are, the Hoh will be jammed with all kinds of fisherpeople. He has deep concerns about what that kind of concentrated pressure will do to the ecosystem there.

He said, “Everyone is going to have to look in the mirror and know they are harming the river, but they have to put food on the table so they’re probably going to fish.”

This tangled line of financial loss causes suspicions to rise over the ability of the rivers’ co-managers to properly care for the rivers. Fingers are being pointed and heads are shaking as folks try to make sense of the situation.

Yet, when it comes right down to it, all who fish on the West End are in the same boat hoping the wild chinook will keep on fighting their way up river to spawn another generation.

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Zorina Barker lives in the Sol Duc Valley with her husband, a logger, and two children she home-schools.

Submit items and ideas for the column to her at zorinabarker 81@gmail.com, or phone her at 360-327-3702. West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday. Her next column will be Nov. 14.