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Note the Signs

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 one 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 other attempts, such as genetically engineering “Fraken-salmon” for the commercial market, and let’s not forget the maybe not so tragic escapement of Pacific Salmon in South America. It’s gotten 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 however. There are no free lunches in fishing.

There’s also been some good things come from our policy-makers, indicating that they are indeed paying attention as to what’s happening on the salmon-scape in our region. Back in 2013, some members of Oregon’s Coastal Caucus (legislators that represent Oregon’s coastal community) 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 Pacific Coast waters, both federal and state. This too was precedent setting as we become more knowledgeable as to how our ecosystems function (or dysfunction) when we remove such a keystone species such as krill.

As we’ve witnessed time and time again, we don’t have much maneuverability to make mistakes with so many other factors coming down the pipeline. 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 again 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 that abruptly closed on 9/7. 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 worked hard and have invested much to witness the rebounding of the magnificent and resilient salmon, we’re not going to let our hard work and money go to waste, we want a future for this species and our opportunity.

It’s for this reason, I remain perplexed as to why some Congressmen are opting for amendments to the Magnuson Stevens Act as it remains a target for some user groups to gain more opportunity at the cost of the rebuilding timeline for the species. It’s a pretty heated topic as you may read in Charles Witek’s blog piece here. I can’t say I’m intimately familiar with the whole story, but it certainly has the community riled up, and I just don’t think this is something anyone in Oregon would tolerate, no matter what you have to win or lose.

In the batter’s box is a September 12th hearing on MSA reauthorization in Congress. Given the make-up of the “witnesses,” it seems a bit stacked to be too hopeful that sound policy will prevail. Here are the hearing details.

Maybe not so ironic is the fact that this hearing is happening in the fall, a period of time when most anglers have a bounty of species preserved for the upcoming winter months. Guides and charters have hopefully had a successful season, and those of us punch-drunk for fall hunting seasons (yours truly included) aren’t paying as much attention to fish politics as we should be when our issues can easily go sideways. Let’s hope the only gutting going on this month is upon our fish and wildlife, not proven laws and policy such as the Magnuson Stevens Act.

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 the assumed prediction, 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; it’s not us, and as much as we try, we continue to fall even harder. Let’s see if we can buck the trend on Magnuson Stevens reauthorization.