Frank Haw Reflects on a Storied Career, and How to Approach Today’s Salmon Issues
By Pat Hoglund
When you take the time to look at Frank Haw’s career with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, it’s no wonder he was considered a pioneer in fisheries management.
Haw, who retired as WDFW’s Deputy Director of Fisheries in 1984, lived and worked in an era when salmon fishing— revered by fishery managers, anglers and politicians—was in its heyday. Today Haw is retired from his second career with the Northwest Marine Technology.
During his tenure with the WDFW, the number of salmon returning annually to Washington state was over 25 million. There were more licensed salmon fishermen than Seattle Mariner, Seahawks and SuperSonic fans—Washington’s three professional sports teams—combined. During Haw’s tenure, winter blackmouth and coho fishing in the Puget Sound was at a fever pitch thanks to a forward thinking hatchery program that produced absurd numbers of salmon. The number of salmon caught in Washington alone exceeded the combined sport catch of Alaska, Oregon, California and British Columbia. It was the good old days of modern times and many credit Haw’s forward thinking approach to salmon management.
Today, the salmon politics scene in the Evergreen state is considerably different than it was during the 1960s and 1970s. The state doesn’t see nearly the number of salmon returning to its rivers, nor is the pro salmon culture as evident as it was when he was at the helm. Haw, who is a spry 82 years old, recently wrote “Washington’s Sport of Kings, Views of a Fisheries Insider” (Frank Amato Publications, 2015). It is an interesting and captivating book that covers a variety of topics, including the history of salmon fishing in Washington, the Endangered Species Act, the Boldt Decision, the personalities that played a roll in shaping the fisheries during Haw’s tenure, and the demise of the good old days. Among other topics. As the subtitle suggests, it truly is a view from a fisheries insider.
When Haw cleaned out his office in Olympia and went to work for Northwest Marine Technology in Tumwater, Wash., little did he know that salmon fishing would never again enjoy the successes that he worked so hard to create. It’s his hope that people will read his book, learn from it, and with any luck use his perspective to influence a more progressive ethos toward fisheries.
“One of the things I tried to bring out in the book is the role of fisheries. Up until now it’s been primarily monitoring of our fisheries, accumulating catch statistics,” he explains. “That’s important, knowing the trends and populations, but it seems that making fishing better is not very common.”
Ironically, prior to Haw’s arrival the atmosphere within the department back in the early ‘60s mirrored today’s culture within the department. It was primarily managed for commercial fishing, but Haw saw the value of recreational sport fishing and he made it his mission to see it prosper.
“Throughout his career in the Department of Fisheries he worked tirelessly to represent the economics of sport fishing in all forms of political areas,” recalls Tony Floor, who worked with Haw at the WDFW. “His reign of influence is widespread from Washington’s legislature, the Governor’s Office and U.S. Senators along with Congressional representatives.”
Haw’s relationships with politicians is legendary, and quite frankly responsible for the boom of salmon fishing in the Puget Sound. It was no coincidence that Haw used the successes of the programs he built to further create more opportunities for the recreational angler. He was sure to make it known to anyone who would listen. Policy makers like former Senator Slade Gordon and Governor Dan Evans, were among his closest political allies. But none were more influential than Congressman Norm Dicks.
“Norm did a lot of good for salmon fishing in Washington,” says Haw.
The successes Haw championed to policy makers included the state’s catch record system, which was followed by the introduction of the coded wire tags placed into hatchery fish. Introduced in 1963 by Pete Bergman, the coded wire tags changed how the department managed salmon. “We used the technology that he developed to evaluate the different options of dealing with hatchery fish to see how they behaved, what they contributed and where they went. That was the breakthrough.”
Using information from the catch statistics, and from the coded wire tags, Haw devised one of the first net-rearing programs for salmon, which ultimately led to the state’s hatchery blackmouth program. He reasoned that if a salmon was held in a pen beyond the normal 90 day rearing period it would not leave the Puget Sound. In effect it would act as winter blackmouth, which are resident salmon that don’t travel north to British Columbia and Alaska.
“Frank became an up-and-comer in the old Department of Fisheries, back in the ‘60s when he conceived the formula that created the Puget Sound ‘blackmouth’ program,” explains Floor. “Through experiments at state salmon hatcheries, as a young biologist, it was Haw who discovered that by holding a juvenile Chinook salmon in cool, fresh water, one year beyond its normal outbound migratory time, the instinct to migrate to northern waters was suppressed and the fish remained in Puget Sound throughout its life, thereby creating a year-round sport salmon fishery.”
During the height of the program there was a nine-year period that the catch rates surpassed 1 million salmon annually. And because of that, Floor calls him the “Godfather of the blackmouth program”.
In a cruel twist of fate for Washingtonians, Haw’s success led to his promotion of Deputy Director of Fisheries, in effect leaving a large void at the ground level. It was the signal of the slow death of the avant-garde thinking within the department. To be fair it also coincided with two major events that would forever change the face of fisheries in the Pacific Northwest. Enter the Endangered Species Act and the Boldt Decision. Among other things the ESA brought about sweeping changes to the hatchery programs, while the Boldt Decision required the state to allocate half of the salmon catch to the Native Americans.
“We’ve had to cut back because of the Boldt Decision and the treaty rights and ESA listing,” says Haw.
Having had the luxury of working in fisheries when noticeable change was made on a regular basis, Haw is convinced there’s still a lot to be accomplished. One project, in particular, is to create what he calls a ‘Money Fish’.
“There’s a helluva lot of data on various hatcheries and stocks and the information is not being used that I think we can get more bang out of our buck by simply looking more carefully at the data and focusing our funds and our programs in those particular areas,” says Haw. “There are things that could be improved on by utilizing the existing data.”
Haw would also like to see hatcheries used to produce more Chinook salmon for the Puget Sound fisheries.
“I think hatcheries play an important role in maintaining viable recreational fisheries, at the same time we have an obligation to do everything we can to restore the ESA listed stocks, and I think that can be done through hatchery reform.”
He’s also keen to the discrepancy between commercial harvest and sport fishing harvest. Haw points out that half of the non-Indian catch is divided between sport and commercial fishermen.
“I don’t think that makes sense. If you look at it how it’s compiled it makes even less sense,” he says. “Because of the higher hooking mortality, and the fact that the commercials have a higher minimum length limit, in order for the troll fishery to catch its half of the non-Indian Chinook catch, they kill way more than half of the allowable harvest. So even if it did make sense to divide the Chinook 50-50 on the coast, the division should be in terms of fishing mortality, not landed catch. That’s a crazy situation. And the economic yield would be much greater to the state if that was the case.”
Eliminating the commercial, non-Indian troll fishery is high on many people’s priority list.
“You don’t need a commercial troll fishery,” he says matter of fact. “You have a commercial tribal troll fishery. You have salmon coming from British Columbia and southeastern Alaska, the Chinook catch should be recreational off the Washington coast.”
The benefits of eliminating a commercial troll fishery are far reaching. Not only would sport fishermen have a longer season, but also the increased escapement levels of wild salmon returning to the Columbia River, and north coast rivers in Oregon, would increase exponentially. In order for that to take place, a major overhaul to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s representatives is in order.
“That would be a tough nut because it has to go through the PFMC which is largely dominated by commercial interests, so that needs to change. We need fewer foxes involved in managing the hen house. We need a stronger recreational representative there.”
And while fisheries issues appear bleak at times, Haw says changing the culture within the department would signal a step in the right direction toward creating more opportunity for the recreational angler.
“Biologists and fishery managers are often afraid to try things because they’re afraid of the criticism if it doesn’t work,” says Haw. “In our experience the criticism wasn’t there. The people, the anglers, were seeing that we were trying to do things. And they were excited about it. It was an exciting time for us. I would like to see that attitude restored because there are things that we can do to make things better and more efficient.”