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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A sad salmon situation

It was daylight on the water. A pair of lines cut through the surface of the Strait of Juan de Fuca near where a Spanish explorer bought some salmon “of a hundred pounds weight” from the Indians back in 1790.
People have been coming to the North Olympic Peninsula to catch salmon ever since. While the rest of the country is sweltering through a hot summer, people fishing in the Straits these days have no problem staying cool in the fog and wind of the salt chuck.
King salmon tend to bite at daylight so these murky mornings where dawn seems delayed are ideal for fishing. It is however, an activity that is not for everyone.
The breaking waves make sitting in a boat like riding a mechanical bull while holding a fishing pole. A grease fried breakfast sits in your gut like a bucket of bubbling lead.
You breathe a heady mixture of outboard exhaust, rotting herring and seaweed while shivering in foul weather gear you might usually wear in November. After a few minutes or a few hours, time does not matter in this misery you forget what possessed you to ever want to catch a king salmon in the first place.  
Mutinous eyes search the empty horizon. You want to suggest turning back before you miss your soap opera. You remember all of the things you should be doing today like going to the job you took a day off from, while you still have one.
Then you get a bite. Do you set the hook immediately? And risk pulling the hooks out or let the fish munch awhile and let go. This is an age old question that there is no time to answer.
The fish is headed to Canada with what’s left of your line. You chase the fish and reel in as fast as you can. Before you know it the fish is at the boat. You want to net the prize but this is where things get crazy.
The law says that “wild” fish caught with hook and line have to be released. In theory you are supposed to be able to tell a “wild” fish from one of hatchery origin by the presence of an adipose fin.
Unfortunately, many hatcheries still don’t clip the fins of the fish they release. After 100 years of fish hatcheries where billions of salmon have been released in almost every body of water in Washington, the line between hatchery and wild fish has been blurred beyond recognition. Is a salmon with an adipose fin a wild fish, an unclipped hatchery fish or the offspring of naturally spawning hatchery fish? There is no way to be sure.
It’s just your luck that the king salmon you reeled in has an adipose fin. It is hooked deeply. A cloud of blood issues from the ruptured gills. The fish sinks tired and sick beneath the surface. You sit and watch in the funk of failure.
There is a splash. A sea lion rolls near the boat. She just ate your salmon.
You stop at the store on the way home thinking if you bought a fish for the going rate of $15 a pound or so, people might think you caught it.
Unfortunately the fish at the store have adipose fins. While you are required to release your so-called “wild” fish, the non-selective commercial fisheries are allowed to kill and sell the “wild” fish legally.
You get so upset over the wasteful and corrupt management of our fisheries that you forget the salmon and buy a package of hot dogs instead.

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