PAT NEAL: The tale of the 100-pound salmon

Who says there’s no good news? A new world-record Chinook salmon weighing over 105 pounds was recently landed by a lucky angler.

This beats the old record set on the Kenai River in Alaska in 1985 — it was a 97-pound monster.

It also beat another contender caught in 2021, in Rivers Inlet, by a lucky British Columbian who released this king salmon in front of dozens of other anglers. This giant Chinook was 55 inches long and 38 inches wide and estimated to weigh about 100 pounds.

The phrase, “hundred-pound salmon” should ring a bell on the Olympic Peninsula.

In 1790, the Spanish Capt. Manuel Quimper bought two salmon weighing 100 pounds that came from the Elwha River.

People have been coming to the Olympic Peninsula searching for these legendary fish ever since then. The 100-pound salmon was the mascot for the Elwha Dam Removal Project that began in 2011.

Billed as the largest salmon restoration project in the world, it was hoped that the removal of the Elwha dams would allow the river to run free from the mountains to the sea, and eventually restore the historic run of salmon on the river to an estimated population of 400,000 fish.

Unfortunately, this optimistic prediction overlooked the fact that no other river on the Peninsula that has not been dammed, running free from the mountains to the sea, has retained its historic runs of fish.

By any measurement of fisheries restoration, the Elwha Dam Removal Project has been a bitter disappointment.

At first, a five-year fishing moratorium was declared on the Elwha. This was increased to seven years and is now going on 12 years after dam removal. With millions being spent on standard salmon restoration strategies — building log jams, buying property and planting native vegetation — there is not even a rumor of the Elwha ever being open to fishing again.

This is a normal state of affairs in Washington, since our salmon restoration industry does not pretend it will restore our salmon, but only the conditions in which the salmon might one day theoretically return.

As to why salmon are not returning to the pristine salmon habitat within Olympic National Park, a U.N. Biosphere Reserve, it is theorized that something might be happening to the salmon once they leave this pristine habitat.

Duh.

We can only hope someone is studying the problem.

We have only to look at the Elwha’s neighbor, the Dungeness River, to see how 30 years and millions of dollars spent in salmon restoration has failed to produce anything but more threatened or endangered fish in this once legendary salmon and steelhead stream.

It should come as no surprise that this new world record 100-pound Chinook salmon did not come from any stream in Washington.

It was not even caught in North America. It 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.

Here in Washington, we have been deluded into believing that fish raised in fish hatcheries are genetically inferior.

After over 100 years of planting hatchery fish in every river in Washington, we are told to believe that it is better to have dead rivers with no fish than rivers full of hatchery fish.

This makes sense to the salmon restoration industry that has been able to monetize the extinction of our salmon and profit from this environmental disaster.

Perhaps you believe that a 100-pound hatchery Chinook is genetically deficient, but it’s better than no Chinook at all.

_________

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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