PAT NEAL: A modest fish proposal

What can be done to restore our legendary salmon runs?

THANK YOU FOR reading this.

Sometimes it seems if you didn’t read this, no one would. But you do. You ask questions like, what can be done to restore the Olympic Peninsula’s legendary salmon runs?

As previously mentioned, in the last 20 years we have spent over a billion dollars on salmon restoration in Washington state.

Restoration efforts typically include but are not limited to buying property from willing sellers, spraying herbicides on invasive weeds and building log jams, with no corresponding increase in fish populations.

Meanwhile, the orca are starving for a lack of salmon and our watersheds are starving for the most important element in the temperate rainforest ecosystem, the carcasses of spawned-out salmon. Our salmon have been managed like a garden that is continually harvested but seldom planted.

Maybe if we look back in history, we could learn a thing or two about how the old-timers helped the salmon.

It was known that Native Americans planted salmon eggs in the gravel of streams with no salmon.

This method is currently being used in Maine by the Penobscot Indian Nation to restore Atlantic Salmon.

Sounds pretty simple.

Why can’t we plant salmon eggs in dead creeks here on the Olympic Peninsula? Someone already did.

Missy Barlow, grand-daughter of John Huelsdonk, the Iron Man of the Hoh, was a natural historian with a lifetime of knowledge gained from homesteading at Oil City, at the mouth of the Hoh River.

She was an artist whose work reflected her love of children, cats and the Hoh River country.

Missy had her own method of salmon restoration that might sound familiar to some.

While raising her children on the banks of the Hoh River, she started a 4-H project with some local students.

They hatched salmon and steelhead eggs in Fossil Creek, a small tributary of the lower Hoh River.

“We wanted good fisheries science,” Barlow said in an interview before she passed.

Science is something Missy Barlow would know something about, having a degree in botany from the University of Washington. But she had more than science to guide her restoration efforts.

It was a something that would be considered a rare commodity in our modern world, common sense.

It was this home-grown instinct of responsible stewardship of the land that told her that if there weren’t any salmon in the creek, you put salmon in the creek.

It was as simple as that.

Barlow bought salmon from the Hoh Tribal fishermen.

The 4-H’ers mixed the eggs and milt from the fish in a bucket, let it stand for an hour, then set the eggs into baskets with a slow stream of water running through them.

In a couple of months, the eggs were “eyed out,” that is, almost starting to look like fish.

When their egg sacks were absorbed, the 4-H’ers took the baby fish out to local streams and released them.

The baby 4-H fish acted just like the wild fish. They were wild fish, spawned from fish that swam up the Hoh River.

The baby fish were imprinted to survive a life in the wild.

Shoals of salmon and steelhead returned to the creeks where they had been hatched.

I told Missy that would never work these days.

With no helicopters, excavators or consultants to hire or herbicides to spray, planting fish eggs in creeks wouldn’t cost enough money for the government to even bother with.

Remote-site incubators are a low-budget, low-tech solution that could bring our salmon back — but the fish are worth more as an endangered species, so we won’t even try it.


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

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

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