PAT NEAL: Can you eat a fish?

A TOURIST RECENTLY asked me how and where they could catch and eat a fish.

This is a common question that can lead us down the garden path through a legal morass of Byzantine regulations that have done much to delegate the barbaric practice of catching and eating a fish into our dark and primitive past.

Just a relatively few years ago, our waters were a place where poor people could obtain a delicious high-quality protein that was there for the catching.

There was a culture of fishing and eating fish that had evolved since the last ice age, when the glaciers melted, the rivers formed and were filled with salmon.

These fish were an important food source for Native Americans and the European invaders, who transformed the salmon into fodder for the murderous industrial fisheries, which produced the fortunes made in the exploitation of what was considered an “inexhaustible” resource.

The salmon shared the fate of another “inexhaustible” resource on which the people relied to build their homes — old-growth timber.

It was the best timber in the world, cut and sold as raw logs that were exported to the far east to the point where it has become economically extinct.

These days, our forests and waters have been transformed from a public resource to be shared by us all to a career opportunity for gangs of grant-sucking bureaucrats, biologists, consultants and heavy equipment operators to pad their resumes with multi-million dollar, pie-in-the-sky “restoration” efforts that do nothing to bring the fish back.

The more endangered our fish become, the more valuable they are to the salmon restoration industry.

In many cases, our fish are much too valuable as endangered species to allow people to eat them.

Our visitors often are unaware of the legal implications of eating a fish.

First, they would have to consult the hundred-and-some-odd-page Washington State Fishing Regulations. It is a wealth of information that can make for some interesting reading if you are a legal scholar.

If you are not, it’s like we say on the river, “If you cannot afford an attorney, you probably can’t afford to go fishing.”

The fishing rules, as they are written in the fishing-law pamphlet, are so confusing that generally no two anglers can agree on just what they mean.

I once asked a fish cop about the rules on a section of river, and he said he didn’t know because he just got here.

The funny thing is, I’ve lived here my whole life, and I often can’t figure out what the rules are.

The only thing more confusing than the paper version of our fishing laws would be plunging into the depths of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Here, the legal scholar might find a reference to the dreaded “Emergency Closure.”

While emergency closures to fishing are very common in Washington, there has never to my knowledge been an emergency opening of a fishery.

For example, the printed version of the fishing regulations say the Hoh River is open to fishing.

The WDFW website says the river has been closed to fishing.

This is news to the many tourist anglers who are trying their luck on the river these days.

They would possibly be even more surprised to learn that any fish they catch is illegal to keep, even if the river was open for fishing.

That leaves only one word of advice for people who want to catch and eat a fish — don’t.

_________

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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