PAT NEAL: Understanding our fishing regulations

“When does the river open?” The tourist angler asked after I told him the river was closed.

He was standing knee-deep in trouble, casting away in a river closed to fishing.

I informed him that every angler in Washington has the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, then you probably can’t afford to go fishing.

I have spent many years trying to understand the logic of Washington’s fishing regulations in an attempt to translate them into English. It’s every angler’s duty to obey our fishing regulations, but you have to know what they are to begin with.

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what the fishing laws were, I could afford to go where the fishing is as good as it was here in the olden days. That would be in Chile. Where they took our salmon, planted them in rivers that did not previously have salmon and managed them with a degree of intelligence that’s unavailable in Washington state.

Chile allows enough salmon to escape upstream to spawn and keep the runs alive.

This is a foreign concept in Washington, where we have eliminated the most important single element of our river’s ecosystems, the spawned-out carcasses of salmon that feed everything from the tiniest insect to the largest tree in an energy exchange from the mountains to the sea and back again.

Instead of rebuilding this lost biomass to bring back our salmon runs, we build log jams as an excuse for salmon restoration.

The way we manage our salmon is a cycle of abuse.

Alaska catches fish bound for British Columbia.

B.C. catches fish bound for Washington.

Meanwhile, people in Washington get fed up with the poor fishing and go up to Alaska, to catch fish trying to swim back here.

Every winter, the state of Washington and the 29 Treaty Tribes of Washington get together for the mysterious “North of Falcon Meeting.”

These top-secret meetings divide the predicted runs of paper salmon returning to Washington between competing groups of tribal, commercial and sport fishers who can only agree on one thing, banning the other person’s gear.

These secret negotiations that set the salmon seasons are based on a theory that the fish that spawn naturally in a river and fish raised in a hatchery are two different species.

It’s a theory based on a misconception.

In fact, the National Marine Fisheries service has determined that, after a 120 years of releasing hatchery fish in Washington, there is no significant difference genetically between hatchery-reared fish and the so-called wild fish which are likely to be the feral offspring of hatchery fish.

Still, the hatchery fish and wild fish are treated as two different species in our fishing laws.

This inane dichotomy contributes to the extinction of our salmon.

Hatchery salmon are routinely subjected to the brutal, inhumane clipping of their adipose fins to identify them.

Any hatchery fish that are unclipped are simply released with their fins unclipped — where they are suddenly considered “wild fish.”

Catching and releasing numerous unclipped hatchery fish to catch and keep a clipped hatchery fish endangers our salmon.

The released fish feed the hungry seals that follow fishing boats around for an easy meal.

Anglers should just keep the first fish they catch instead of inadvertently killing bunches of fish to try to get a legal one.

It would make more sense to stop fin-clipping fish. It is a cruel, failed experiment.

Einstein said repeating a failed experiment while expecting different results is insanity.

Here in Washington, we call it our fishing regulations.

_________

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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