Soapbox Update: Steelhead for Breakfast, Snake River Dams for Lunch February 21st, 2020

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Whenever I lose faith in government, I default to episodes of the early 2000’s TV hit, The West Wing. I know it’s not reality, but the show has offered me some level of solace when things are going sideways at the national level, and they’re going sideways.

From the President’s barbed State of the Union to Speaker Pelosi’s subsequent tearing up of the speech papers, it’s hard to have hope that the needs of our sportfishing community will ever get met, because it’s bipartisan support we need, and it’s bipartisan support we’ve historically had. The Magnuson-Stevens Act is the perfect example of successful bi-partisan policy that continues to work today. We’ve had a hard enough time elevating our issues to get them any attention at all. It’s pleasantly surprising how many times “Oregon” and “salmon” actually get mentioned in The West Wing.

“All Politics are Local” was on full display at Senator Ron Wyden’s town hall event on President’s Day (2/17). There’s always a bevy of important issues that gets raised when the Senator comes to town; he’s committed to doing 1 town hall per county (there are 36 counties in Oregon) per year. It’s an ambitious goal, and he accomplishes it every year. Senator Wyden faces questions in regards to veteran services, clean drinking water and my fellow fisherman who pleaded with the Senator to require lights on farm equipment when navigating public roadways as his daughter had just perished in an accident just weeks ago. It really makes you question just how important are our fish issues?

What’s really impressive about this forum is that Senator Wyden is very attentive to community concerns that he feels he can have an impact on. He asks his staff to get contact info for concerned constituents and follows up with them if there is a resolution to be had. Of course we’ve been engaging all of our electeds on the peril of Snake River salmon for two decades, but it’s time we started changing the way we think about the issue. We’ve historically demanded dam breaching, not learning until 20 years later that this “demand”, automatically throws up its own barrier to recovery. It closes off other stakeholders, stakeholders that have historically said, “Not on our watch,” to even having a discussion with fishermen and conservationists. We’re now requesting a series of conversations on how we, as a collective community, can best address the needs of all stakeholders to find common ground and move towards a solution for saving Snake River salmon. In the words of Senator Wyden, we do things the “Oregon Way.” It’s changed the direction of the conversation, we get to have those conversations now.

Fortunately, we started out day out with an activity that wasn’t so heady, steelhead fishing of course. I think it may have been by divine design that the Wilson River was in perfect condition, and has been yielding steelhead, the same day Senator Wyden was holding his Tillamook County town hall. Oh, and sure, why not, the weather was fabulous.

We only had about 2 hours to fish before the town hall and we had to come into the public forum with some credibility if we were to show the Senator that we are the real deal. Well, we hit 2 steelhead in the 2nd hole we fished, one wild, one hatchery and we were off to the races. We had one more chance, but apparently, that fish didn’t want to become a celebrity. Fortunately, my customers, Rob and Cameron Boaz (Father/son) were nearly as excited to see what this town hall event was, as they were to get on the water for a day of fishing. All three bites came on plugs, when everyone else was bobber-dogging bait or soft-beads.

Cameron Boaz with a winter steelhead

Fortunately, the town hall event wasn’t all that crowded so conservationists and fishermen were fairly well represented in the crowd. Tickets are drawn randomly, and our people got to elevate fish issues more than once at the event. When a retired Idaho Fish and Game biologist broke the ice with his concern of the depleted returns of wild salmon back to his former home state, the Senator committed to convening the stakeholders in this conversation. It was a monumental win for salmon.

That’s where it’s at, we need to be able to have a conversation with other river users before we can come to a solution. Although we’re still a long ways away from a collective solution, nobody really thinks that anyone in the region wants to see salmon wink out. And no conservationist wants to see the agricultural community compromised while recovering wild salmon so common ground has already been established. And we all need a reliable and affordable power supply so once again, we have a good foundation to work with, and we get to solve this crisis together. Hopefully we get there.

There was a season, nearly 2 decades ago, where spring Chinook fishermen got to troll the Columbia River for its famed spring Chinook 7 days a week, with a 2 fish bag limit. The run exceeded 400,000 salmon that year. Out-migrating salmon spilled over the top of dams due to the flood of ’96 and hit the ocean under favorable conditions, yielding a whopper return for all to enjoy. This year, the adult return will be less than a quarter of that (81,700 spring Chinook) with a mere 2,300 of those fish coming from the wild population. Anglers will only get to fish until mid-April if we’re lucky, with a 1-fish bag limit per day. Tell me that’s not a reason to rebound the wild salmon of Idaho. Good luck this spring, you’ll need it.

Want to highlight your fishery-related concerns or any concern for that matter? GO HERE to see where Senator Wyden will go next, or GO HERE to see where Senator Merkley is headed next. Thanking our leadership is as important as it is asking them to help us out. They really are working for their constituencies.