PAT NEAL: The fish and game commission is irrelevant

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news as the Washington Fish and Game Commission passed more laws restricting steelhead fishing on the waters of the Olympic Peninsula.

If you don’t know what the Fish and Game Commission is, you probably don’t hunt or fish. That’s OK. Some of the nine governor-appointed members of the Fish and Game Commission, which is supposed to be the supervising authority for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife don’t hunt or fish either.

On their website, some members of the commission list their favorite outdoor activities as hiking, kayaking and birdwatching, wildlife photography and cross-country skiing, which are worthy pursuits. However, those activities do not require a fishing or hunting license.

Other members of the commission do not mention participating in any outdoor activities at all. None of which matters. These people are entrusted with making the rules for hunting and fishing in Washington anyway.

All of which would go a long way to explain the gross mismanagement of Washington’s fish and game.

In the beginning, the Fish and Game Commission was supposed to set fishing and hunting seasons through a series of public meetings where, through a consensus of fish and game advocates, they would craft recommendations to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, but no more.

These days, biologists can simply declare an emergency, imaginary or not, and cancel our fishing seasons by telling the Fish and Game Commission what to do.

The Fish and Game Commission has become irrelevant. It simply gives the rules they are given to us with a surprise Zoom meeting.

Zoom meetings are all the rage during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even if the public was able to find out about the surprise meeting, this technology is unavailable to those of us on the slow side of the digital divide.

To many of us, W.W.W. means “World Wide Wait.”

Much of the fishing we had in the past is gone now. Few survive who still remember. Fishing and the culture of fishing has been largely eradicated.

The stories of our once-abundant fisheries became legends. The legends became history, and history has been forgotten.

I caught my first steelhead in 1968. That same year, according to Department of Fisheries punch card records, 3,452 steelhead were caught in the Dungeness River. There were 3,651 steelhead caught in the Bogachiel River and 3,495 in the Sol Duc. There were 1,551 steelhead caught in the Elwha, and that was before the dams were removed.

These days, if three or four steelhead return to the Dungeness Fish Hatchery in a year, it’s normal. All Peninsula rivers have experienced a similar decline in fish populations. Extinction has become a normal part of everyday life, as certain as death and taxes.

Since I caught that first steelhead, we have witnessed the elimination of salmon and steelhead from our waters in the greatest mass extinction since the slaughter of bison on the great plains.

Extinction can be profitable. Fortunes were made slaughtering the buffalo and the fish. These days, our rivers are worth more dead than alive.

Our fish are worth more as endangered species to what I call the extinction-for-profit industry that’s spent a billion dollars in the last 20 years masquerading as salmon restoration.

It’s an engineered extinction that is aided, abetted and rubber-stamped by the Fish and Game Commission, whose decision to ban fishing from boats is somehow imagined to save the fish.

Expecting the Fish and Game Commission to solve a problem they are largely responsible for creating is unrealistic.

Those who ignore history probably don’t fish much anyway.


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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