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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The squid problem

It was another tough week in the news. An invasion of giant Humboldt Squid in the western Strait of Juan of Juan de Fuca has fisheries experts scratching their heads. No one seems to know where the giant squid came from or where they are going. This should come as no surprise. Modern science knows more about the surface of the moon than what goes on beneath the surface of the oceans that cover two thirds of our planet. It's my own humble theory that the invasion of the giant squid is a result of their predators, the halibut, cod and salmon being removed from the ecosystem at such an obscene rate of over-harvest, it allowed the squid population to explode. It's not a new idea. The same theory has been used to explain why the crab and shrimp fisheries are doing so well. We killed the predators that fed on them. It's just a theory, all we known for sure about the giant squid invasion was that these voracious predators made salmon fishing tough.
Like fishing wasn't tough enough already with the single-barbless-hook-clip-finned-mumbo jumbo regulations, also know as the "Fish Cop Employment Security Act". No, you also had to worry about a giant squid eating your salmon as you reeled it in. Even if the squid didn't eat your catch they tangled up in the gear and made a mess out of your tackle. Squid might make a nice calamarie but nobody is taking a vacation to the Olympic Peninsula to catch one and have it mounted over their fireplace like you would with a proud angling trophy like a salmon.
I think it's time to take a stand for the future of our salmon fishing heritage and do something about this horrific invasion of the giant squid before it is too late. It might be a good idea to look at some of our past fisheries management strategies for a clue on our future squid management goals and objectives.
We need look no further than the Dungeness River for a good example of how modern science can effectively mitigate an over-abundance of marine life. For example, in the old days back in the last century I used to fish for rainbow and cutthroat trout in the Dungeness. Sometimes you'd catch a lot of Bull trout instead. Bull trout were seen as a mushy scrapfish that preyed on the other fish. Back then the Dungeness was alive with what we thought were scrapfish. The hump-backed or pink salmon were so thick, you couldn't fish for anything else. You'd try to catch a red-meated-thick-bellied steelhead but no, all you'd get was a white-meated-slack-bellied humpie, every cast. Later on in the year the Dog salmon would come up the Dungeness in waves so thick you could walk across. The Dog salmon were named because people used them for dog food which tells you how good they are to eat. No one wanted a Dog salmon when there were silvers or Coho salmon in the river. Sometimes you'd have to catch a lot of Dogs to catch a Coho.
Since then an effective co-management strategy between competing groups of sport, commercial and tribal fishing lobbyists has transformed these Cinderella scrapfish, the Dungeness River Bull trout, the Pink and the Dog salmon into threatened and/or endangered species. As the fish became endangered they increased in value. It's a supply and demand thing. With the miracle of modern science these formerly abundant, low value fish are now worth untold millions of dollars as endangered species to the salmon restoration industry. The fact that this goal was achieved without putting a dam on the Dungenesss River is even more remarkable. This miracle of management did not happen overnight. It took years of planning and millions of dollars to adjust these fish populations to acceptable norms. I think it is time to put these same scientific principles to work in dealing with the impending squid menace.
Our fisheries managers have an effective tool to recycle what were formerly seen as inexhaustable stocks of marine life into endangered species. We could use this time-honored method on the invading squid: "Study Them to Death." It worked on the Dungeness River, why not the ocean? We have very little left to lose. We'll thank ourselves later if we do the right thing now.

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