PAT NEAL: The news from NOAA

It was another tough week in the news. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration threatened further restrictions on salmon fishing from California north to the Canadian border. These new proposals are the result of NOAA conducting a risk assessment under the Endangered Species Act.

They evaluated the impact of fisheries on West Coast chinook salmon abundance and its effect on the designated critical habitat of the endangered southern resident orca of Puget Sound.

Recent research has revealed where and when the orca forage and their preferred prey.

Studies have shown their summer diet in inland waters consists primarily of chinook salmon.

Despite the increasing rarity of this species, chinook compose 50 percent of the orca diet in the fall, increasing to 70-80 percent in winter and increasing still more to 100 percent of their diet in the spring. Insufficient prey has been identified as a limiting factor in orca recovery.

To ensure the orca have enough chinook salmon, NOAA has proposed limiting commercial and recreational fishing when chinook numbers fall below a certain level of abundance that would provide prey for the orca.

While removing the Snake River dams to increase chinook salmon for the orca is not entirely off the negotiating table, it might as well be.

We need look no further than the Elwha for perspective. Our local $350 million Elwha Dam removal experiment has stalled in the attempt to produce the projected 400,000 salmon this environmentalist pipe dream foretold.

The estimated $1 billion spent on salmon restoration in Washington in the last 20 years has been largely squandered on grant-sucking, make-work projects, gratuitous research and public education that attempts to spin this failure into a plea for more money.

Attempts to increase hatchery production of chinook salmon for the orca have been hamstrung by environmentalist attorneys who sue the state to shut down fish hatcheries under the misguided assumption that, after 100 years of fish hatcheries, hatchery fish and their feral progeny that make up our so-called wild fish populations are somehow different species.

Meanwhile, the western United States is experiencing the worst drought in the last 1,200 years.

For the first time in 114 years, the canal that sends Klamath River water to irrigate 150,000 acres of farms in Oregon and California will stay completely dry this summer — which has ignited protests from armed, right-wing activists who are threatening to take control of the irrigation canals.

So, it is no wonder NOAA wants to stop us from fishing for chinook salmon. It is a simple solution to a complex problem. For example, an April 18 Peninsula Daily News article revealed that the recreational fisheries chinook quota “along the entire Washington coast” was 26,360 fish last year.

Meanwhile, in the same year the Alaska trawler fleet had an eerily familiar bycatch of 26,000 chinook salmon.

These fish, which are celebrated every spring in Seattle for $75 a pound, cannot be sold.

They are donated or thrown overboard. Trawlers drag huge nets through the water indiscriminately killing everything in their path in a process known as strip mining the ocean.

The trawlers are targeting pollock used in making fake crab meat and the McDonalds Filet-O-Fish sandwich, a favorite inexpensive meal of humans.

McDonald’s is able to keep its price on the fish sandwich low by keeping the wages of their workers so low that they qualify for government-sponsored benefits, such as Medicaid and Food Stamps.

While NOAA turns a blind eye to the trawler bycatch to bolster the federal policy of subsidizing the fast-food industry, it will stop us from catching salmon to eat.

Have a nice day.


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