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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Salmon Season Closures


Lately a tourist asked me about the recent king salmon fishing closures around the Olympic Peninsula.  As a fishing guide who spends over five hundred days a year on the water, (a figure arrived at using the same extrapolation computer model methodology the State of Washington employs to our count fish and crabs) I take great pride in providing the tourists with accurate information to make their visit more enjoyable.

      Tourists don’t want to hear how, “they should have been here yesterday.”  They want to catch a hundred pound salmon today. I’m not going to stomp on someone’s dreams just to be a know-it-all. I sell dreams. Any day is a good day to catch a hundred pound salmon.

     The most important thing you’ll need to fish for the hundred pound salmon without fines, jail time or community service is a recent copy of this year’s fishing laws. There is a separate set of fishing laws for State and Federal waters, known collectively as “The Fish Cop Employment Security Act.”  I have spent years translating these laws into English. The most recent evidence suggests the fishing laws are a sort of code that is changed as soon as it is deciphered. 

A good example of this eternal principle occurred with the recent limit reduction and emergency closures of our king salmon seasons in several marine areas. Ironically we had enjoyed good king salmon fishing this year. This is a mystery which no one can explain.  It's easy to explain a bad salmon season. Here in the State of Washington, we try to manage our salmon without hurting anyone's feelings. For years our salmon have fallen victim to a phenomenon known as “nylon pollution”, that is a saturation of nylon fishing gear throughout the extent of their range. And when in the course of human events the salmon failed to return to their home waters we blamed the loggers.

It is very difficult to explain a good run of salmon. It is even tougher to figure why the biologists would reduce the limit or shut down the season at the peak of a good run.   

Now please don't think I've gone soft on biologists. Hopefully I can get back to flogging them like the family mule next week but they could have a point. Most regulations only allow anglers to keep salmon with a clipped adipose fin which would theoretically indicate it is a hatchery fish.

Fin-clipping salmon is a brutal form of animal abuse where a fin of the salmon is removed to identify it as a hatchery fish. After a hundred years of hatchery fish, the differences between them and wild fish are academic. The practice of fin clipping subjects our salmon to unintended consequences.

With the reductions of fish hatchery programs you might have to catch a lot of unclipped fish to retain even a one hatchery fish limit.

While catch and release fishing may be entertaining to some it is a wasteful practice in the salmon fishery.  Estimates range for a mortality rate of up to 40% for caught and released salmon from bleeding and loss of their protective slime layer. A released fish is a tired fish. It has been played out, suffocated and photographed.  Tired, disoriented salmon fall prey for seals and sea lions that make an easy living following fishing boats. For every hatchery salmon on a punch card there are any number of wild salmon in a sea lion.  The question is not why they closed the king salmon season early but given the way we manage them, why is there one salmon left. 




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