PAT NEAL: Extinction for profit

It was another tough week in the news. A decision was made by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife that should go a long way toward reaching their goal of eliminating winter steelhead fishing on the Olympic Peninsula.

These are the same functionaries of our fisheries that have successfully eliminated fishing seasons throughout the Evergreen State.

From the winter blackmouth salmon season to the spring Chinook to the summer steelhead and fall Coho fisheries, our angling opportunities are being eliminated with proven, time-honored management techniques.

First, they require all fish with an intact adipose fin to be released on the theory that they are a native fish. That is, one not raised in a hatchery. Although after 120-odd years of raising hatchery fish in Washington, identifying hatchery fish and native fish is increasingly difficult.

These days, a fish with an adipose fin could be the feral offspring of hatchery fish. The expense and hassle of clipping adipose fins off the hatchery fish can make it a lot cheaper and easier to just dump the hatchery fish in the water anyway.

Then the unclipped hatchery fish are magically transformed into native fish that must be released when they are caught. That would explain why you have to catch 10 or 20 salmon with an intact adipose fin to get one that has a clipped fin.

Step two in eliminating our fishing seasons is to shut down or restrict the fish hatchery production on the theory that it is better to have no fish than a hatchery fish. Extinction has always been good for business. Historically, fortunes were made wiping out the buffalo. Currently, fortunes are being made off the managed extinction of our salmon.

Here’s how. Once these fish are declared endangered, the floodgates of Endangered Species grant money open wide. Not to restore the endangered fish using brood stock from their home streams to rebuild the runs, no. Instead, we attempt to create an environment that the fish might return to someday, theoretically.

The final phase in the elimination of our fisheries is to shut down the fishing altogether, on the grounds that there are none left and there is nothing we can do about it.

Nowhere has the elimination of our fisheries been more successful than in our own Dungeness River. Once home of the best spring steelhead fishing in Washington, it also had legendary runs of spring Chinook and Coho.

Recently a reader sent the numbers of salmon raised at the Dungeness Fish Hatchery in 1961. That was the year 1,283,000 Spring Chinook, 1,062,000 fall Chinook and 2,500,000 Silver salmon were hatched and released into the Dungeness and Elwha, providing a fishery that reached from here to Alaska.

Of course, hatchery runs of salmon and steelhead always fail once you shut down the hatchery.

These days, instead of raising fish, we have the Salmon Restoration Industry that seeks to restore our endangered salmon by buying property, planting native vegetation and building log jams. In addition, Calamity County is about to spend $5 million or so to take out a dike on the Dungeness, so the “endangered” bull trout, a fish that is not endangered nor a trout, can roam across the flood plain.

This will put the total of restoration efforts on the Dungeness at $20 million or so in the last 20 years. Imagine if that money was spent raising fish instead. Unfortunately, our rivers are worth more dead than alive. our salmon are worth more as endangered species than as a protein source for people to the extinction-for-profit industry.

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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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