PAT NEAL: The de-extinction of the 100-pound salmon

Who says there’s no good news? Recently scientists claimed they are on the verge of bringing the woolly mammoth back from extinction! These large, hairy, elephant-like creatures were said to have gone extinct, along with mastodons, ground sloths, dire wolves and a host of other prehistoric monsters called “Pleistocene megafauna,” somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago.

Theories vary on perpetrators of this mass extinction, but the usual suspects, humans and climate change, have been repeat offenders. Evidence of humans hunting these massive Pleistocene creatures can be found in Washington’s own Manis Mastodon Site located near Sequim, where the remains of bison and caribou were discovered along with a spear point made from Mastodon bone 13,800 years ago. It was found embedded in a Mastodon rib, making the site one of the earliest barbecues in North America.

Whether humans were responsible for the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna is a debatable point of circumstantial evidence. Maybe it’s only a coincidence these large creatures went extinct shortly after the migration of humans from Siberia and Asia across the Bering Land Bridge to North America. Then again, it could fit a pattern of human behavior that has been displayed throughout their history around the world.

When a land bridge was formed between Australia and Tasmania by lower sea levels in the last Ice Age, Aboriginal people wasted no time hunting the megafauna into extinction.

Currently, humans are trying to make up for these extinctions with a process called de-extinction.

Colossal Biosciences, a Dallas-based company, is working on a plan to bring back the woolly mammoth by 2027. They hope to do this by genetically engineering cells from an Asian elephant into a creature with a furry coat and a fat layer that can survive in the Arctic. Their initial herd of 100 woolly mammoths would be turned loose in the Arctic, where Colossal Biosciences imagines they would combat climate change.

If this plan is successful, Colossal Bioscience hopes to de-extinct other creatures such as the Tasmanian tiger and the dodo bird. All of which begs the question, what will it do for fishing?

Washington state was once famous for its 100-pound Chinook salmon. These occurred in the Columbia and Elwha rivers. These giant Chinook were wiped out in the early 1900s by a combination of dams, irrigation and over-harvest. Efforts to restore the 100-pound salmon along with a host of other threatened or endangered species of fish in Washington have been a colossal, billion-dollar failure.

A March 10 Seattle Times story reported that Washington state is spending a million dollars a day replacing culverts, many in streams that salmon cannot reach.

It’s not unlike the $351.4 million Elwha Dam Removal project. A colossal failure where Chinook are unable to reach their historic pristine spawning grounds in the upper Elwha due to rock slides and the unwillingness of the fisheries co-managers to use helicopters to fly fertilized eggs, juvenile and adult spawning Chinook into the upper watershed.

It would be nice to think that our 100-pound salmon could be returned to our waters with Colossal Bioscience’s de-extinction protocol, but there is a simpler solution.

Recently, a world-record 105-pound Chinook was caught in Chile! It’s ironic that the world-class Chinook salmon fishing in Chile was created by planting eggs from Washington state fish hatcheries in their rivers back in the 1980s.

Maybe we could ask Chile if we could borrow some of their 100-pound salmon eggs and re-create their incredible salmon fisheries here in Washington. We’ll thank ourselves later if we do the right thing now.

_________

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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