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Friday, December 3, 2010

Moratorium mumbo jumbo

It was another tough week in the news. 
Fisheries managers announced plans for a fishing moratorium on the Elwha River and all of its tributaries starting next fall. The proposal is part of the Elwha Dam removal project that is scheduled for completion in 2014. 
The Elwha dams removal is the largest such project in U.S. history. It is a grand experiment that will attempt to restore all five species of Pacific salmon along with steelhead, bull trout and sea run cutthroat by removing the dams and allowing the fish access to 70 miles of pristine spawning and rearing habitat within Olympic National Park. 
It has been estimated that the Elwha River once supported a historic population of 400,000 fish. It is thought that the Elwha now supports only 3000 salmon. 
The proposed fishing moratorium is an attempt to rebuild runs of fish that have been blocked from the upper Elwha and its tributaries for 100 years.
Of all the tributaries of the Elwha, Indian Creek could have been the most important small stream in the watershed. In prehistoric times there was a S'Klallam village located at the mouth of Indian Creek at its confluence with the Elwha. Indian Creek was noted for its runs of steelhead, a sea-run rainbow trout and blue backs. That is a popular name for the sockeye salmon. 
The sockeye have always been valued for their beauty and the quality of their blood-red flesh. Sockeye generally run up rivers that have a lake where the adults can spawn and the juveniles can spend the first year of their lives. As the sockeye run upstream to their spawning grounds their appearance changes from the blue backs and silver bellies of an ocean fish to a spawner with a red body, a green head and a hooked nose.  
John Sutherland, a Hudson's Bay trapper who was the first European to discover the lake he named for himself, observed red salmon spawning in November. We can assume these were sockeye. 
Once the Elwha dams were built the Indian Creek sockeye, steelhead and village disappeared. 
With the removal of the dams, it is hoped that the steelhead and sockeye will return to Lake Sutherland.  That's the motive for the proposed sport fishing moratorium in the lake. 
To observe the effects of a sport-fishing moratorium on salmon restoration we have only to look at the Elwha's nearest neighbor the Dungeness River to see what we are in for. 
Like the Elwha, the Dungeness is a river that once supported hundreds of thousands of the five species of salmon. 
Unlike the Elwha, the Dungeness has no dam to blame for making the fish threatened or endangered. 
Back in the '90s the Dungeness River was closed to sport fishing for most of the year as a conservation measure. Who could argue with that? We had the assurance that once the runs were rebuilt we could fish again. 
Ten years after, instead of rebuilding the runs of fish on Dungeness, the government has invested their millions buying waterfront real estate, while allowing a commercial gillnet fishery to continue at the mouth of the river.  Meanwhile, homes along the Dungeness River have been declared bull trout habitat. 
They are routinely purchased from willing sellers, razed and replaced with native vegetation without one fish to show for it.  
The sport-fishing moratorium on the Dungeness is a failed experiment.  Normally, conducting a failed experiment while expecting different results fits Einstein’s' definition of insanity. Here on the Olympic Peninsula we call it salmon restoration. 
Those who ignore history probably don't fish.

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