It’s as if Mother Earth knows, fall is for putting away a cache of food, for the long winter ahead and rarely does it disappoint, at least until this year.
In my 26 years as a professional fishing guide, and 34 years paying attention to fisheries in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve never seen a lack of opportunity as I have this year. Fisheries typically fueled by extraordinarily large wild fall Chinook and abundant returns of hatchery coho have been reduced to heavily restricted seasons and bag limits. It’s been the fall of minimal opportunity, impacting coastal communities all along the Pacific Coast.
For those familiar with what is likely the north coast’s most well-known fishing spot, “The Ghost Hole,” on Tillamook Bay in Oregon, we should be seeing upwards of 50 – 60 boats in mid-October. This year, I’m dubbing the traditional hot spot the “Ghost Town Hole,” for the lack of effort and the lack of catch.
Panoramic shot of the “Ghost-Town-Hole” with just 4 boats plying the waters for salmon on Sunday, October 16th, 2022
It’s a mix of the perfect storm; Cyptobia, a naturally occurring parasite prevalent during low water periods, took the lives of an estimated 50% of the spawning population in 2019, reducing the number of eggs adult Chinook produced on the spawning grounds that year, and the lasting effects of the Warm Water Blob, responsible for limiting production of cold water species in the ocean in recent years. The bigger worry may be, if we don’t get significant rain soon, we could be setting up on another disastrous repeat performance in a year where we can’t afford to lose another 50% of the returning spawning broodstock.
There is of course, no way to proactively manage for these weather anomalies, especially for species that have relatively short life spans and expansive home ranges, such as our Pacific Salmon. The bottomfish fishery remains stable and productive however, we have a good management strategy along with fish that have small home ranges, with long life histories to thank for that.
Although the coastal communities weren’t rocked by a reduction of one fish this summer in the bottomfish limit, anglers this time of year are a bit burned out on rockfish and lingcod, we’ve been pursuing them all summer long and this is the time of year for salmon. Salmon are typically very accessible to both bank and boat anglers as they enter these rivers en route to their spawning grounds. Under these water conditions however, the few that are in the rivers are past their prime quality or too skittish to bite.
Thankfully, salmon are cyclical and they will rebound when water and ocean conditions become more favorable. We don’t have that luxury with many of our groundfish stocks.
The Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA) was a pro-active piece of legislation that has gone through several iterations of improvement before coming the landmark law it is today. For the remainder of the year, when ocean weather allows, we can bank on more groundfish opportunities for fresh fish tacos and fish and chips.
Although MSA was designed for the groundfish stocks that crashed (due to overfishing and destruction of ocean habitat) in the mid-80’s, there are important components of the law that impact our dynamic freshwater fisheries. Ensuring commercial interests don’t overfish forage stocks is just one key component as our regional governing body The Pacific Fisheries Management Council passed policy safeguarding unmanaged forage species, proactively protecting species such as Pacific saury, Pacific sandlance and a plethora of squid species, all important to our freshwater, pelagic and highly migratory species. And how about that albacore tuna harvest this year? Yes, also managed under MSA.
Maybe most encouraging, even during campaign season, seasoned congressional leaders still recognize the importance of forging ahead with proactive improvements to the law, in a bi-partisan fashion! Democratic Congressman Jared Huffman recently sent a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service detailing the need to plan for climate change in our management strategies. Given the recent devastating closure of the snow crab fishery in Alaska and cut-backs in the king crab fishery as well, scientists are pointing to changes in ocean temperatures as a key culprit in the significant declines in adult biomass. Thankfully, juvenile crab surveys so promise of a rebound.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski is seeking input from her constituents on how to build more resilient working waterfronts. Her working waterfronts framework brings forward ideas from those in the community, seeking solutions to building a more sustainable fishing fleet through electrification, surveying seaweed along Alaska’s expansive coastline (the last one was conducted by row boat), and research and monitoring of ocean acidification to name just a few of the initiatives. All important work, especially in the face of our changing ecosystems.
You’ll hear the term “Working Waterfronts” in the coming years, we’ve seen what dysfunctional waterfronts look like all too often. In the mid-1980’s for groundfish and right now in the Ghost-Town Hole. The bi-partisan and bi-cameral MSA is due for an update, let’s hope the new Congress will work together to solve the problems of the future so we all see a reduction in disaster relief checks; that’s one thing we’d all like to see go extinct.
3 thoughts on “A Fall Harvest…less?”
The sport fishing community is fortunate to have Bob as an ally and spokesperson. He’s well informed, articulate and compelling. Thank you for all you do.
Thank You bob for your words…So true. I feel that low water wars and their effects will be next…
On the west coast, we are seeing MILLIONS OF SALMON AND STEEL HEAD, HAULED AWAY FROM HATCHERIES !!!!!
They are designated as “ESCAPED FISH”, But they have only escaped to a holding area until they ARE HAULED AWAY TO THEIR DEATH AT FISH PROCESSING PLANTS…THE WHOLE WEST COAST IS WORKING WITH AMERICAN CANADIAN FISHERIES OF BELLINGHAM WA.
TO ESCAPE THE MAGNUSON ACT, SO THE FISH EGGS AND THE FISH CAN BE LEGALLY EXPORTED TO THE ASIAN MARKETS THRU CANADA BECAUSE THEY CANNOT BE LEGALLY EXPORTED DIRECTLY FROM THE USA DUE TO THE MSA.
The I am a strong supporter of allowing our return fish to be CAUGHT BY THE PEOPLE WHO PAID FOR THEM WITH OUR LICENSE FEES. THE SPORTSMAN.
IN A FEW RIVERS , THE EXCESS FISH ARE “RECYCLED” BACK DOWN RIVER OR UP RIVER TO BE FISHED ON. THE COWLITZ RIVER IS A CLASSIC EXAMPLE OF THIS. THOUSANDS OF FISH, TRUCKED FROM THE DEATH PENS (ESCAPED FISH) ARE MOVED UP OR DOWN ABOVE THE DAMS TO BE CAUGHT OR SPAWN.
ESENTUALLY, It doubles the returning run size and opportunity for anglers. As well as allows thousands of fish to spawn above the dams…
ALL DAMS MUST BE FORCED TO FOLLOW THIS PROCESS TO REPLACE THE FISH ACCESS FOR SPAWNING HABITAT IF THE DON’T HAVE FISH LADDERS.
THEY USE THE EXCUSE THAT THEY DON’T WANT THE “EVIL HATCHERY FISH”, THE SO CALLED INFERIOR FISH” TO SPAWN WITH SO CALLED “NATIVE FISH”.
MOST OF THEM ARE GENETICALLY CLOSE TO EACH OTHER AND ARE ONLY DEMEANED BY FANATICALLY OBSESSIVE FISH PURIST, BECAUSE THEY 0NLY WANT CATCH AND RELEASE FISHING.
WE MUST MANDATE THE CONTROLLERS OF THESE DAMS AND THE FISH AND GAME DEPARTMENTS SET UP SYSTEMS LIKE ON THE COWLITS RIVER TO MOVE THESE MILLIONS OF FISH TO SPOTS THAT THEY CAN BE CAUGHT OR SPAWN..
IT WILL INSTANTLY DOUBLE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR FISHERMAN AND INCREASE THE NATURAL SPAWNERS
DO NOT KILL THEM FOR PROFITS OF A FEW… WHAT A HORRIBLE THEFT…
ROD AND REAL FISHER OF WASHINGTON
I found garibaldi at sixteen because a article in the news paper about this intriguing ghost hole. Never stoped fishing here since. The ghost hole for me pretty intriguing first time but also scary. Had not a clue what to use were to go. Just out of the harbor with a old spinner salesman hadn’t got rid of for thirty years 5 min fish on. Then a wave after wave with tide chinooks averagaging around thirty and my first fifty being 15 th biggest of the day. Since then somewere around 75 fish started getting smaller late 80s and the runs got smaller pretty much every year since. I live here today and quit fishing here for awhile to depressing what size they are.. I’m over that but I really feel for people to never have that 50 lb chinook on.First one in the boat I coudnt do anything but stare at it and laugh,it looked like some over weight fake . My thoughts that day this fishing here will last forever. Weigh in and not even big deal with 62 biggest of the day. Big fish strong bait fish it’s the little guys that make up healthy oceans and fish runs as seen in Great Lakes stocks and size. Oregon trout guy Deshutes red side is a hatchery trout, they came up with.Grandpa started a flyfishing club in Maupin.The limit then was twelve fish a day no more than twelve days in a row.. Bigger fish then the river is to full of fish .
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