PAT NEAL: Spill some salmon here

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news. The bad news was the loss of 25,525 salmon smolts that did not survive the March 29 wreck of an Oregon tanker truck that failed to navigate a sharp corner. It rolled on its passenger side, went down a rocky slope and flipped on its roof.

The good news was that the driver suffered only minor injuries and 77,000 of these baby salmon survived and poured out of the wrecked truck and into a creek, where they could continue on their spring migration to the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles downstream.

The salmon smolts were to be released in the Imnaha River as part of a federal and state strategy to restore runs of salmon that have been negatively affected by dams.

Sound familiar? It should.

Here in Washington, we’re spending about a million dollars a day removing culverts that theoretically block salmon on top of the $350 million spent on the failed Elwha Dam removal experiment.

To restore the Elwha, the co-managers are planting log jams instead of fish, with predictable results.

The five-year fishing moratorium on the Elwha, first established in 2011, has been extended through 2024.

To illustrate the failures of salmon restoration, let’s compare bag limits for salmon and steelhead on Washington’s coast rivers to fishing opportunities on the inland rivers. It’s not easy.

Here in Washington, we are often left in the dark about what the regulations are. We must buy our license on April Fool’s Day and wait sometimes until July for the fishing regulations, known collectively as “The Fish Cop Employment Security Act,” to be released.

These are often so confusing no two anglers can agree on what the fishing regulations actually are. Some of them defy logic.

For example, for years now, it has been illegal to retain a hatchery Chinook salmon as indicated by a clipped adipose fin, in the Hoh River from opening day, (we’re not sure when that is) until Sept. 1. Usually, the regulations require us to release salmon with an intact adipose fin. Now we must release them all? Last year, and maybe this year too, we could not keep a hatchery summer Coho salmon on the Sol Duc and Quileute Rivers.

The Hoh River runs directly into the Pacific Ocean. The Sol Duc runs into the Quileute river, which flows directly into the ocean. The Imnaha River is hundreds of miles from the Pacific, but you are allowed two hatchery Chinook salmon a day.

You can keep salmon in many streams far from the ocean, from the Klickitat in Eastern Washington clear up to the Salmon River in Idaho.

On the Pacific coast of Washington, we are not so lucky.

Here, it seems that the hatcheries don’t bother to clip the adipose fins on many of the fish they release or just forbid us to catch them so the salmon returning to the hatchery can be sold for pet food.

In addition, on the coast there is a false dichotomy between hatchery origin and the so-called wild fish, which, after 120 years of planting hatchery fish, are the feral offspring of hatchery fish.

Hatchery-origin fish are derided as being genetically inferior. But how can they be when they make the same migration as the so-called wild fish?

How can foreign countries like Chile and New Zealand take salmon eggs from our Washington hatcheries and use them to create runs of world-record-size salmon?

All of which makes me wish the fish hatcheries in land-locked Eastern Oregon would spill some salmon here on the Olympic Peninsula.


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