PAT NEAL: Sympathy for the fish cop

IT HAS BEEN a long-held suspicion that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is managing our fish and wildlife into extinction in an effort to end fishing and hunting in the Evergreen State. There could be many reasons for this.

A lot of it has to do with the unintended consequences of the Endangered Species Act. When fish or wildlife are declared endangered, millions of dollars become available to be spent with no expectation of actually restoring the endangered species, but rather to restore the habitat they might inhabit someday.

For example, the Bull Trout, a fish that feeds on young salmon and steelhead in our rivers, has been declared threatened and/or endangered and thereby given protection under the law and millions of dollars in habitat restoration funds in streams where they have never occurred. It is a perfect example of a management strategy that endangers salmon and steelhead, while providing millions of dollars to the myriad bureaucracies, non-profits and politicians for whom extinction is a highly profitable endeavor.

That is just one example, but I could go on.

Why is it illegal to keep a green crab? It’s an invasive species that could devastate our Dungeness crab and clam populations, but we must release them.

Why are we only allowed to keep salmon with a clipped adipose fin indicating it is a hatchery fish, when our hatchery fish are intentionally not clipped?

This is a question posed by Greg Haw in his latest book, “Game Warden Gone Rogue, How the Washington State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife compel outdoor enthusiasts to cheat” (2022 Amazon).

In the book, Haw tells of catching 24 salmon on a day in Sekiu, of which only one was a clipped hatchery fish. Haw writes, “using the WDFW’s own mortality numbers, I killed at least 5 wild fish. Had I been allowed to catch ‘any coho,’ my total impact on wilds would have been two at most.”

Haw started his 39-year career enforcing fish and wildlife regulations in 1985 in Forks.

As a young officer, Haw was obsessed, in his own words, with catching salmon snaggers and poachers while working 12-hour days, seven days a week. He thought he was making a difference.

Upon retiring, Haw entered a period of bleak depression. He wondered if, after dedicating 39 years of his life working to protect the natural resources of Washington state in a hazardous profession, he had contributed nothing.

In his book, “Confessions of an Urban Fish and Wildlife Officer in Washington State” (2019, Amazon), Haw notes that, “nearly all economically valuable populations of fish, as well as much of our native flora and fauna, are in a sorry state. Recreational fishing and hunting opportunities are shrinking.”

In his second book, “Confessions of a Washington State Game Warden: An Insider Tells All” (2020, Amazon), Haw says, “WDFW’s recreational fishing regulations pamphlet is best described as an oversized catalog of largely useless and misleading information. Courts don’t take our cases because of this publication. Our ability to prosecute violators is limited. This publication is used by defendants to beat charges.”

This, from a man who dedicated his life to enforcing the fishing laws.

How could such a disastrous collection of unenforceable laws be allowed to grow larger every year?

Haw’s latest book goes a long way to answer this question. Haw explains how there are, “many victims of bad regulations, not the least of which are the natural resources that they are designed to protect and the law enforcement professionals that enforce them.”

It’s enough to give you sympathy for the fish cop.


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

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