PAT NEAL: New Year’s resolutions

By now, I’m pretty sure we’ve all had it up to here with know-it-all newspaper columnists wasting valuable print space spouting off phony New Year’s resolutions they have no intention of keeping themselves.

Responsible New Year’s resolutions should offer opportunities for helping others. For example, last year my New Year’s resolution was to translate Washington’s fishing laws into English.

What was I thinking? Talk about your unrealistic expectations.

It must have been the cabin fever talking. Cabin fever is a common chronic mind-altering seasonal disorder that rears its ugly head about the time the last Christmas cookie disappears.

It’s an excuse for going down the rabbit hole of interpreting our fishing regulations. Just when you think you have them figured out, they change. While the Washington state fishing laws may be printed in English, it’s all Greek to me.

The Hoh, a river only 50 miles long, is divided into seven separate zones, each with its own regulations where you may fish out of a boat one day but not the next. Good luck with that!

Figuring out the razor clam regulations is easier than dealing with the insane rules that govern our fisheries. Unlike catch-and-release fishing, a practice referred to as torture-and-release fishing, there is no catch-and-release razor clamming.

When razor clamming, you are required to keep every clam you dig until you reach your limit. Salmon fishing laws are much more complicated. They generally have you release any fish with an intact adipose fin which would indicate it’s a wild fish as opposed to a hatchery fish with a clipped adipose fin.

It sounds simple enough until you realize that many fish with intact adipose fins are actually hatchery fish that weren’t clipped. Upon catching one of these unclipped fish, you may or may not be legally required to release them, depending on the area where they were caught. Sound complicated? Read on.

Sometimes you might have to catch more than one unclipped salmon to catch a clipped one. In fact, anglers in the Strait of Juan de Fuca last summer complained they might have to catch a dozen unclipped so-called wild fish in order to finally keep a clipped hatchery fish. The casualties of this senseless harvest method are estimated to be around 10 percent. In other words, in a typical day of salmon fishing you will kill a number of wild fish that are released for every hatchery fish you can keep.

A number of these so-called wild fish will actually be unclipped hatchery fish that, with any luck at all, will return to the hatchery of their origin. This fall, 6,139 excess Coho returned to the Humptulips River hatchery. These excess Coho exceeded the number of fish needed to keep the hatchery running. Some 3,542 excess Coho returned to the Wishkah River hatchery and 29,113 excess Coho returned to the Satsop River hatcheries.

Keep in mind that many of these hatchery fish would have been mistakenly released as wild fish since they were unclipped and these rivers were subjected to an emergency closure. People were not allowed to harvest these fish.

While these numbers add up to 39,794 fish we were not allowed to harvest or fish for, they represent only a fraction of the excess hatchery fish that occur all over Washington.

We are not allowed to catch them. The state can sell them. Suddenly, it all makes sense.

That’s why it was necessary to adapt this year’s resolution.

Last year, it was translating the fishing laws. This year it’s digging more clams.

See you at the beach!

_________

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 patnealproductions@gmail.com.

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