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

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

April 6th, 1998

It's Your Fault!

A recent magazine headline read, "If Hatcheries Were The Solution, We Wouldn't Have A Problem." In another magazine, "The Myth of the Renewable Resource." Sounds like we are a talking about Catch & Release? Nope.

Here on the Pacific Coast we have problems with declining numbers of fish. You may have similar problems where you live. Declining numbers? Is that really the problem? Add into the equation there are also more people than a few years back. Not more fly anglers necessarily (those numbers go up and down by what is considered trendly) just more people.

More people make more and more demands on the environment: more houses, more roads, more water, more sewage ... a lot of "more." It all affects our watersheds and in turn the fisheries. Clear-cutting stream banks, erosion, siltation, pollution, run-off from blacktop parking lots, lack of places for water to go back into the soil and perk down to watertables all of these are problems caused by more people.

Now, going back to the "If Hatcheries". . . and "The Myth" headlines. We seem to be putting cute titles on the problems of declining fisheries, and waving banners that don't mean much.

For example, there is a group called, "Wild Fish" and another called "Wild Trout." What does that mean? In most regions of the US there are bloody few "wild trout" in any form. If stock had not been hatchery raised and planted at some time there would be no fish of the species there at all. I laugh every time I see an advertisement to fish the "Wild Browns" somewhere. Brown trout are not native, never were and if they are naturally reproducing, and the stream no longer stocked they certainly could be very well acclimated to the region but they are not "wild."

Here in the West we have raised so many hatchery salmon that there may not be one "wild" salmon left. They do breed. And I don't think they ask first if a particular fish came from a stream or a hatchery. Whatever the true wild gene pool was some 6 million years ago (yes salmon are that old a species) it is not what we now have.

Even in Michigan, which has had spectacular results in returning salmon, those first salmon came from the Columbia River Consortium. In other words, they were hatchery fish. Most of Michigan's hatcheries are closed, or geared to other fish, but Michigan's current success is due to recognizing important truths. Other regions have caught on the Great Lakes states seem to be in accord. Many still don't have a clue.

Seasons have to be regulated for the benefit of the fish, not the fishing population or meat hunters. Sizes must be established to allow creation of the strongest possible fishery. Sometimes that means taking smaller fish and allowing the big ones to go on producing bigger fish. Fish numbers have to be protected. If there is not a true surplus either close the season totally, or make it only catch and release. Punish violators. That means severe fines, and jail time not a slap on the wrist.

There are more things that need to be done even in states that get most of it right. Freshwater spawning season, regardless of time of year, should mean NO FISHING! European countries have had this law in place for years maybe centuries. Watersheds must be protected, and water quality improved. No matter how tough the various clean water acts are, there will always be violators. They must be found and prosecuted.

On the saltwater or freshwater, near-shore netting, gill-netting, any means of blocking the fish's progress to spawning waters must stop. Treaty rights must be renegotiated. Frankly speaking, I have a real problem with Ceremonial Rights when the fish catch is sold on the highway to passing motorists. What "Ceremony" is this?

Finally, the idea that the fish in any water "belong" to any state, agency, or group is flat stupid. That is like saying the air belongs to you or me. It is part of the total resource! It's time someone stood up and said, "Enough!"

Stop asking for my money to support yet another "fishy" cause. State and Federal agencies are very well paid to manage the fisheries. Unfortunately, most agencies are managed by politics. But! The politicians are managed by YOU! Make the agencies do the job they are paid to do. Vote for the FISH. ~ LadyFisher

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