(Mis)Managing West Coast Salmon


By now, most fishermen have heard the most recent fish tale out of Puget Sound, the escapement of who knows how many Atlantic salmon into the “wild” waters in our own backyard. Of course this isn’t the first time such a mishap has happened, and it won’t be the last time either.

Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that as iconic and important as salmon are to the world, there hasn’t been more attempts to foul up one of the most revered fish species on the planet. Of course, there have been some attempts, such as genetically engineering “Franken-salmon” for the commercial market, and let’s not forget escapement of Pacific salmon in South America (with the maybe not-so-tragic consequence of getting avid anglers in the Pacific Northwest pretty excited to fish new waters). No doubt this invasive species will wreak consequences in some fashion in South America. There are no free lunches in fishing.

Policy-makers have been paying attention to what’s happening with our wild salmon, even before the salmon-scape in our region. Back in 2013, some members of Oregon’s Coastal Caucus (legislators that represent Oregon’s coastal communities) introduced HB 3177, requiring genetically modified fish to be labeled as such if produced or imported into the state of Oregon. Another positive initiative was to ban the harvest of krill in both federal and state Pacific Coast waters, which was also precedent-setting during a time when we were becoming more knowledgeable about how our ecosystems function (or don’t function) when we remove a key prey species such as krill.

As we’ve witnessed time and time again, we don’t have much maneuverability to make mistakes. We make enough just in the course of managing our salmon runs in-season.

And speaking of in-season management, admittedly, after conducting wild coho salmon spawning ground surveys in the early 90’s, I NEVER thought I’d see the day when we could have a consumptive opportunity to keep wild coho again. Through proper management, and a little bit of forgiveness from Mother Nature, we just completed a nearly 7,900 harvest of coho in the south of Cape Falcon ocean fishery. It abruptly closed on September 7 because the sport fleet caught almost as many coho in 6 days (September 2 – 7), as we did in 5 weeks of June/July fishing (June 24 – July 31). The early closure will be a blow to coastal ports, but it was also a boon for those that marketed it.

It’s going to be tough to turn back those incidentally caught wild coho while we pursue Chinook, but Oregon’s anglers wouldn’t have it any other way. We have worked hard and have invested much to witness the rebounding of the magnificent and resilient salmon, and we’re not going to let our hard work and money go to waste. We want a future for this species and our opportunity.

As we whack, stack and vacuum pack away our fall bounty, we need to be cognizant of our days ahead. Here in the Pacific Northwest we’ve enjoyed a mediocre return of salmon coming off of some pretty impressive years, but we’re clearly in a downturn. Summer steelhead returns are in the tank, fall Chinook numbers are way down from last year, and tuna are only found in scarce number. And as the West burns up under forest fire, and the Gulf Coast states get pummeled by wind and rain, let’s not forget who’s in charge here. Here’s a hint… it’s not us.

About Bob Rees

Bob Rees is a professional fishing guide and executive director of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association.

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