Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna L. Birkholm

October 26th, 1998

Dam! Salmon?

I've about given up reading the local newspaper, The Sun, Bremerton WA., which is according to it's banner, "Serving West Sound". The truth is, it doesn't. We only get this paper on Sunday, and only because it does have most of the television listing. Most? Well, it doesn't bother to carry Fox News.

Since the The Sun seems to be aggressively liberal, I suppose I should not have been surprised at the two front page features today. "Gorton's dam fight escalates" and "Salmon meeting shows county where it needs to bone up."

Those of you on the east coast are probably aware of the ordered removal, (and photos of Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt there,) of the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River in Augusta Maine. A move cheered by the locals, and supporters of increasing fish populations by removing barriers to the upstream spawning migration.

Believe it or not, the order to remove the Edwards Dam, about the furthest one can physically get from the Northwest corner of Washington state and still be in the lower 48, has now impacted the removal of a dam in Washington.

One of the senators from Washington, Slade Gorton, (who just happens to be chairman of the interior subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee,) tried to hold up the Interior Dept for a 'guarantee' that the Federal Government would not step in and force the removal of other "private" (meaning not federal) dams. His tactics didn't work, so he stopped the funding of a dam removal already approved by the whole congress. One wanted by the locals and state. Nice job Slade! That is not win-lose....that's lose - lose.

What the hae. Story two. Seems a meeting was held last week, with "a dozen scientists, volunteers and government officials" to find ways for local residents to live here without ruining the streams and shorelines.

Gee, anyone hear of the Clean Water Act? Or the Shoreline Protection Act? Or the ton of city, county, state and fed regulations already in place? One of the so-called bad examples mentioned was a cut-and-trimmed lawn that abutted a stream. Current regulations do require set-backs, and rightly so. Properties existing prior to those regulations were exempt. Why not enforce laws already in place?

Big deal. Yes, streams do need woody debris and vegetation. They need shade and proper gravel conditions for spawning. But . . .

It does not matter what wonderful conditions are present, how fine the water flow and clarity if the fish are destroyed by over fishing. And the local paper can posture and moan all they want - it's their ink after all, but the truth will be heard.

The truth is Salmon, all Salmon in the Northwest are nearly extinct.

And what is being done? Bloody little.

One of the groups mentioned in the article was Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement. A group of private citizens with remote site incubators (RSI) on many small streams feeding Hood Canal, trying to increase the salmon population.

It looks like even the lowly chum salmon is like to be listed as an "threatened species" next year. That doesn't surprise me at all.

Here's why. For five years, JC and I, with the help of some local residents stocked and maintained one of those RSI's. It was hard work. Through high water, floods, silt, snowfalls, broken water lines....we prevailed and each year, some 100,000 or more chum salmon swam to sea. Over half a million fish.

Last year the first batch of chum salmon should have returned to our little creek. JC and I were thrilled one morning mid-fall to receive a phone call from the beach caretaker. We had returning fish! We dressed to hike the stream, and sure enough there were fish. But we couldn't identify them. Part of the reason we couldn't identify them was their size. A mature chum salmon is 10 to 30 pounds. And have very identifiable side markings. These fish very obviously were not chum. They looked like salmon but were maybe 14 inches long, and maybe weighed two pounds. We had never seen any mature spawning salmon of that size.

It took catching one carefully with a hand trout net, getting several photos of it, sending the photos to the state Fisheries Dept. to find out what they were. Turns out they were coho, or silvers as they are called here. We counted a total of eight. The fisheries guys figured they got lost, should have been homing in several miles across the Canal.

Why the small size? They were the only fish that could get through the mesh maze of gill nets directly off the mouth of the creek.

And the chum we planted? Out of the 100,000 nurtured and released not one returned.

After that experience last year, the RSI was shut down. No salmon were released in our creek this year. But off the mouth of the creek this week, there were 6 gill net boats with their nets out. This in exactly the place that "probably will be listed by the federal government as a threatened species."

So what's the answer? It has to stop. Maybe the only way to get the job done is for ALL fishing of salmon to STOP! Commercial netting, of course, and all other fishing as well. That includes the sports and fly fishing. And all tribal fishing. It has to stop.

Only then will there be an opportunity to see what else must be done. But as long as the salmon are still fished, we don't stand a chance.

~ Deanna Birkholm

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