PAT NEAL: A short history of fishing

TOURISM IS A hazardous industry, just ask our Native American friends.

When the first tourists showed up on our shores, they were polite and needy. The Native Americans gave them salmon, venison and berries that cured the scurvy-ridden crews.

At first, all the tourists wanted was a quiet place to refit their ships. That meant cutting down trees for new spars and dragging them through the woods to the sea shore in what would be a rehearsal of the massive deforestation that was to come.

The tourists liked to fish and the Natives showed them how and where to go about it, with disastrous results.

For example, in March 1859, James Swan anchored the schooner J.K Thorndike in the harbor at False Dungeness, which later became known as Port Angeles.

Swan was scouting locations for the establishment of a whaling station. Ultimately, Swan’s whaling station dream, along with his terminus of the Continental Railroad scheme, were not fulfilled — for which we are eternally grateful.

Undeterred, Swan was instrumental in introducing the first chickens to Port Angeles. The chickens and a hog named Betty represented the first historical reference to bacon and eggs on the Olympic Peninsula.

No doubt, the crew of the schooner was getting tired of fish after catching halibut and cod while anchored in the harbor. This would not be possible today, even if the harbor had not been used as an industrial dump for a devil’s brew of dioxin, PCBs and wood waste for the last hundred years. The halibut and cod have been fished out.

Our fisheries management is not unlike dividing a pie, where you watch it get cut up and distributed until all that’s left for the guy that bought the pie is a few crumbs of the crust and a pile of dirty dishes.

Once considered “inexhaustible,” like other natural resources of the Olympic Peninsula, the halibut have been slaughtered into rarity by the same people who manage our salmon.

In 1941, Elizabeth Colson, an anthropologist from Radcliffe College, described the destruction of the Neah Bay halibut fishery at the Swiftsure Bank. Where for thousands of years the Makah had been able to fill their canoes with halibut in just a few hours, the introduction of steam power to the halibut fleet in 1891 allowed the fisheries to be exploited and depleted to one-fourth its former size by 1934.

Since then, we have developed larger vessels, newer technology and higher prices for the fish.

Factory ships and trawlers drag massive nets through the nursery of the halibut in a fishery that has been described as the strip mining of the ocean.

Called, “draggers,” these massive ships are targeting pollock.

Unfortunately, while catching pollock the draggers kill massive numbers of crab, sea birds, sea mammals, salmon and halibut.

This is called bycatch. They cannot be sold, so they are thrown overboard.

This is considered an acceptable collateral damage by the draggers, fisheries managers and politicians who profit from the practice.

No one knows how many crab are killed by draggers since many die underwater after contact with this destructive gear, but in 2021 they were allowed to kill and discard 160,000 salmon, along with an average of 3.3 million pounds of halibut.

Since the draggers are operating in a known halibut nursery, many of these fish average between 4 and 6 pounds. Instead of migrating south as far as California and supporting the fisheries of the Pacific coast, these valuable fish are thrown overboard.

It’s a practice that mirrors the cod collapse in the Atlantic coast.

Those who ignore history are doomed to eat tuna.


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