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Stuck in the Matrix of Proper Fisheries Management


There are so many lessons to learn, if you just pay attention.


Do you ever drive across a river, and wonder how many salmon or steelhead swam up it before European settlement? (I just drove across the Columbia River, once home to 17 million wild salmon and steelhead).


How about picturing your neighborhood about 150 years ago, when deer, elk, black bear and cougar were once abundant?


Do you ever feel like you’re always choosing the wrong grocery line, when trying to figure out which one is the fastest?


How about driving down the highway, in stop and go traffic, so you can observe the immense amount of plastic cast aside along the median where it is certainly destined for our waterways in the future.


I might be a little sensitive this week, given the news of the one trillion ton iceberg that just broke away from the Antarctica Peninsula. Then, there was another story on the sixth great extinction also underway. Match it up with my evening entertainment being the Matrix trilogy, and it’s certainly cause for thought this week.


What in the name of Sam Hill are we doing to our planet?


Sure, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are incredible numbers of volunteers (and inmates) that are picking up plastic garbage along our roads and beaches. There are incredible organizations that are doing restoration work and advocating for improved ecosystems. And there are good pieces of legislation being introduced both at the state and federal level that bring about more abundant fish and wildlife, and a better environment for them to live in, but like that grocery line, you just have to feel like you’re beating your head against the wall sometimes.


I know it all starts with making the change for ourselves, but it will have to be a monumental societal shift in order to preserve what we have left, compared to historical abundance. My wife got a hold of one of those Netflix documentaries that tells about the corporatization of our livestock market. I don’t know if I can bring myself to watch it, I like bacon and ribeye steaks too much, but when she started practicing what she preached, I had to take note. I haven’t quite got her convinced to put in for an elk tag, but thankfully I drew one this year! She said she can get behind consuming wild fish and game, whew!


The only species expanding their range on planet earth is humans. While that may be great for humanity, how is that for ecology? What do fish and wildlife managers do when certain populations of animals or fish get to be “too” abundant? Of course they open up seasons to reduce the population to manage what they feel may be a future disaster. Does anybody else think that these natural cycles are part of a natural plan? Yea, maybe too much Matrix this week…


It’s really a little bit hypocritical of me to criticize a system that has benefited me so greatly. It wasn’t that long ago and we had a four coho limit at Buoy 10. Those were the days! And it is certainly pleasantly surprising that Oregonians can still keep 12 Dungeness crab per day per person. A 25 albacore tuna per person limit? Has anybody ever actually achieved that? Four of us caught 40 one time; you’ve never seen so many avid anglers so anxious to hand off a rod to somebody else, when the next albacore hit. I put up 83 pints of canned albacore that week.


We really do live in amazing times, but really, how long can they last? Thankfully, fishery managers have learned over time that adaptive management measures are a necessary tool in our ever-changing world.


The Magnuson Stevens Act  is one of those tools that incorporates adaptive management. Given the challenges of fisheries management over such a broad body of water, it’s pretty darn amazing that we’ve experienced the successes that we have. That’s why most fisherman we’ve talked to about MSA, don’t have much to say about a law that is effectively working. Fisherman worth their salt know that populations of fish fluctuate year to year, and we have to be prepared to adapt with the populations. I knew when I first entered the business of fish guiding, there was a risk associated with becoming dependent on a natural resource. I left full-time guiding three years ago now, due to the restrictions implemented with the loss of a catch and keep sturgeon season.


For many in the industry, both on the sport and commercial side of things, fishing is our life, and other options are few, especially when the vast amount of your professional life is on the ocean, versus behind a computer.


Congress is going to be taking a finer look at MSA fisheries management next week, when the House Subcommittee on Water, Power & Oceans will be conducting on oversight hearing on the MSA titled: “Exploring the Successes and Challenges of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.”  The hearing will take place next Wednesday, July 19th at 2:00pm EST, 1324 Longworth House Office Building, Washington D.C. 20515. Let’s hope they have our future in mind, can’t say I’m all that optimistic.

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