Slide Show

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Managing steelhead to extinction

Ray and Wendy have a good fishing day.

Lately the government shut down all of the rivers draining into the Strait of Juan de Fuca to steelhead fishing. Inquiring minds want to know. Why we are denied our civil rights to a public resource that has sustained mankind as a food source since the melting of the continental ice sheet? 
Native American legends speak of a time “before the coming of the salmon” when people subsisted on a starvation diet of among other things, the skunk cabbage root. It can be boiled down into a viscous pulp that is edible, using the term loosely.
While generations of government biologists have routinely maintained that salmon and steelhead return to the streams where they were born, the streams entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca were populated after the glacier melted by fish who strayed here from rivers to the south that had remained ice free.
Pat's 18-pounder from the hatchery.
Once the fish established themselves here, populations of salmon and steelhead exploded creating a migration cycle where the nutrients from the ocean were transported far into the mountains by the migration of the salmon.
As the salmon spawned and died their bodies were spread throughout the forest by the bears, which in turn nourished myriad life forms. The dead salmon fed trees, insects and baby fish that returned to the sea to complete the cycle.
Unlike salmon, steelhead are a sea-run rainbow trout that does not die after it spawns. Steelhead are an extremely prolific fish that can make several trips up the river to spawn. 
The fact that an organism as tough and adaptable as a steelhead can be managed into extinction is a testament to our ability to destroy life on this Earth. 
So it should come as no surprise when the government decides to shut down steelhead fishing along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. They have already shut down the rivers of the Puget Sound.
All we have left of our salmon fishing in the Strait is an abbreviated fishery where you can only keep a fish with a clipped fin.
Our halibut fishing was restricted to a couple of weeks when we had the worst tides of the year and crabbing rules have gotten so complicated it's almost impossible to not be in violation. Somehow, we have lost our right to harvest food from the sea.  
We need look no further than our beloved Dungeness River to see how this happened.
It was once considered the best spring steelhead river in the state where up to 2,500 fish a year were harvested. Many of these fish were raised at the Dungeness Fish Hatchery.
Runs of hatchery fish routinely fail after you fire the workers and stop feeding the fish. Lately, the Dungeness Fish Hatchery has an average return of four or five fish a year.
Fishing in the Dungeness has been eliminated with the same three-step process used to shut down fishing in other areas: 1. Make it illegal to keep anything but a hatchery fish with a clipped fin. 2. Stop raising hatchery fish with clipped fins. 3. Emergency closure for all fishing.
Meanwhile, the government has spent millions buying waterfront real estate and building log jams as an excuse for restoration. The more fish are endangered, the more money they get to spend. There's still good money to be made in the extinction game.  
Ironically, steelhead are still being fished commercially. They are available fresh in markets and featured in restaurants for those without a conscience. The rest of us are out of luck.
Has anyone got a good recipe for skunk cabbage root?

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