Slide Show

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nylon Pollution

Habitat degradation alone cannot explain the loss of our fisheries since there are threatened and endangered fish inside Olympic National Park, the most pristine habitat in the lower ’48.

I blamed nylon pollution for the loss of our fisheries.

What is nylon? The fishing line I use is made out of nylon. Gill nets, bottom trawl nets, drift nets, sports fishermen’s landing nets are all made out of nylon. I think there’s just too darned much nylon in our water for the poor fish to survive much longer at this rate.

It starts before the poor fish is born. Male and female salmon and steelhead pair up to dig a nest in the gravel in which to bury the fertilized eggs. The nest is called a redd. The government loves to count redds as a way of predicting future imaginary runs. It is an excuse for management. Once identified as a shallow depression of freshly turned gravel, redd surveyors will drop or pound a metal spike covered with plastic ribbons into the nest.

How would you like someone dumping a load of garbage in your wedding bed? Well the fish don’t like it any better. Spawning fish abandon redds with ribbons fluttering in the middle of them. Redd surveyors love flagging the streamside bushes with plastic ribbons. This not only provides an unsightly reminder of fisheries mismanagement, it tells any passing angler where the spawning fish are. It provides a free streamside guide to any lowlife that wants to snag the spawners off their beds. Just look for the ribbons to find the fish.

Once the baby fish hatch, they face many dangers in their life’s journey starting with, the smolt trap.

A smolt is a baby fish that’s migrating downstream to the ocean. We don’t count the adult fish swimming up the river or even keep track of the harvest quotas imposed by the Boldt Decision. No, we count the baby fish going out to sea.

A smolt trap can block the entire width of a small stream. This stops the upstream spring migration of adult steelhead and sea-run cutthroat. It allows any fish migrating downstream to get into the smolt trap and eat the smolts. Otters can get into the smolt traps to eat the fish. Floods can wash the smolt traps up in the woods.

Smolts caught in the trap can get anesthetized, handled, measured, ID’d and sometimes tagged and clipped in a process that removes the scales and slime that protect them from infection. This, occurs at a critical time in their lives when they are about to miraculously transform themselves from a fresh to a saltwater fish.

Once they survive the smolt trap, the fish can make their way to the open ocean where the real danger lies. It has recently been estimated that the Alaska bottom trawl fleet accidentally catches between 170 and 200 thousand Chinook every year while targeting other species. Then there are miles of drift nets, the so-called “curtains of death”. Any survivors find more nets, purse seine nets, ocean gill nets and landing nets of the sportsman.

The fish return to their home gravels to swim upstream through a maze of tribal gill nets at the mouth of every river. Upstream more gill nets are drifted through the spawning beds of terrorized fish with the aid of power boats that dig up the gravel and flush baby fish up on shore. The survivors are targeted by sport anglers who will fish them back to their redds. Given the effects of nylon pollution, the question isn’t, what happened to the fish? Why is there one left?

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