Affirmative Action For Gillnetters

Tony Floor
Pass the wire and downrigger ball, please
May 17, 2019
Bill Herzog
Wild vs. Hatchery? Nope. Hatchery And Wild!
May 17, 2019
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Affirmative Action For Gillnetters

by Patrick McGann

Well, well, well. We are certainly not in Kansas anymore, are we?

            We are facing bad heaped upon bad in the forecasts for chinook almost everywhere they swim. We’ve been here before. We got through it. Sure, we saw a lot of upheaval, didn’t we? 

            Boat maker and dealer consolidation. Sell offs of Northwest tackle companies. Closure of mom and pop bait and tackle shops. Indifference in the old sportsman clubs. Sport fishing publications and their hundreds of employees. Poof. People moving to Florida. Guides saying, “screw it” and buying backhoes to deal with the roaring demand for holes. Yet, we’re still here. Buncha Don Quixote’s, and not rich ones, in their old and new boats — yes, they’re still buying them — chasing an opportunity to catch a few, just a few, fish that live under our skins and in our veins as much as in the waters that define us. We’ll get through this again. Not without some drama, though.

            We have orcas starving to death on national television. City foodies coast to coast who bought the line hook line and sinker insisting solemnly that salmon must be “wild caught” now in abject horror and switching to ground “meat” that is almost nearly close to perfectly imitating beef. “But these salmon are Alaskan! They’re Canadian!” No. They’re not. They’re our salmon, caught in Canada, caught in Alaska, you ding dongs. They don’t know what to do. Farmed salmon? Chilean farmed salmon, just not Northwest farmed salmon. Norwegian? Tilapia from Chinese sewer systems? Oi. 

            One of the biggest problems isn’t even on KINGKIROEIEIO-TV’s radar is disappearing eel grass. Why? Well, we don’t know exactly, probably shoreline armoring but with it, herring. What the hell are these salmon supposed to eat when they get back here? And what are the resident orcas supposed to eat when the salmon aren’t here yet? Blackmouth? Duh. Migratory chinook aren’t anywhere near the southern resident Orcas for eight months of the year. Watching the Seattle news stations makes me want to pull out my hair, providing I had some. (Psssst — the answer to the previous question is pollock, wiped out three decades ago and just now making a feeble comeback.)

            We know what the problems are. Dams. Cars. Housing development. Parking lots. Cookie cutter hatchery practices, by design. Harvest, not necessarily in total amount of harvest but in how it occurs, by whom and where. We’re changing the climate with our carbon farts — and it’s obvious — and we just can’t bring ourselves to do anything about it but complain. Tax? Hell no! Just too damn many people. Just too much stupid. We know all of that. 

            Yes, it’s a pickle, ain’t it? 

            But wait, it gets better. We have a whackadoo president, basically an Internet troll — so much fun to make those liberals mad! — whose administration clearly wants to dismantle every jot and tittle of salmon restoration efforts. 

            The pressure for the states of Washington and Oregon themselves to do something, anything, that helps is almost unbearable. 

            Enter the Washington State Senate. Bunch of new guys in there. Somehow they’ve managed to not get the memo that we’re supposed to ride the salmon bomb all the way to the ground. 

            Senate Bill 5617, sponsored by Sen. Jesse Saloman, D-Shoreline — God bless you, sir — as introduced would have eliminated gillnets under the jurisdiction of Washington state. Boom. Finally . . . somebody understands what the hell is wrong.

            Co-sponsoring the bill were a majority of state senators, assuring passage.

            And then . . . 

            You’re not going to believe this. Ron Garner, president of Puget Sound Anglers pitched a fit. His opposition made some senators believe that sportsmen were not united in support of this bill. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. It was amended, watered down, and does not include the Columbia River. I know, I know, but hold on, we’ll get there.

            Why would Garner oppose this? Well, he argued that without “commercial” gillnetters it would be impossible to catch enough hatchery fish to prevent them from entering spawning streams, mating with wild fish and then as an unintended consequence, provoke a court ruling that would prevent sportsmen from fishing at all.

            Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. Nothing about his opposition to this proposal makes sense. Nothing. Nada. Zip. It is a betrayal of Northwest sport fishers hiding in a four bank combo masse shot.

            What Garner is saying is simply this. We need to have whitecommercial fishermen to catch enough hatchery salmon because the Indian commercial fishermen are incapable of doing so. Does he not realize that the tribes represent the largest portion of the commercial harvest in Washington waters? Look, if for some crazy emergency conservation-related reason we need them to catch more fish, they certainly can.

            Now enter the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. In probably the worst ruling I have ever seen in my 40 years of covering that body, the Washington commissioners led by Commissioners Don McIsaac of Hockinson and Bob Kehoe of Seattle, ruled 5-1-2 to restore commercial gillnetting in the lower Columbia River, now of all times. And why? 

             Because of a bullshit, yes, bullshit, phrase outlining goals in the Columbia River Policy Review, thus: Maintain or enhance the economic well-being and stability of both the sport AND COMMERCIAL fishing industries.” Which they realized would have to be further rationalized thusly: “As referenced in original WA Policy language, use ex-vessel values and angler trips, in comparison to the period prior to 2013.”  

            By commercial, of course, they mean, whitecommercial. By ex-vessel values, they mean only whiteex-vessel values. They omit tribal commercial ex-vessel values. By “well being and stability of commercial fishing industries,” they mean only whitecommercial well-being. But they don’t have to make that racial distinction, do they . . . They just want to.

            For the record, voting with McIsaac and Kehoe were Barbara Baker of Olympia, Kim Thorburn of Spokane and Jay Holzmiller of Anatone. Chickening out were the guys from my neighborhood, Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon and Brad Smith of Bellingham. The only person with his head screwed on straight on this was Dave Graybill of Leavenworth. And God bless you, too, sir.

            The Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission is engaging in a rogue, racial affirmative action program for white gillnetters apparently with the aiding and abetting of at least one prominent member of the sportfishing community whose participation has already confused some Washington state legislators about where sportsmen stand on nets and our criminal three-way allocation process. But there is no other way to say it. Believe me, if there were, I would.

            Salmon restoration does not require white (or to be precise, non-tribal) netters when the courts have divided the salmon harvest half and half already. There is no conservation justification for the non-tribal commercial fishery, not in the Columbia, not off the coast, not in Puget Sound and the Strait. So why does the Commission and at least one prominent sportfishing leader think it is necessary to preserve? the non-tribal commercial net fisheries? On what grounds, I mean. Not on harvest. Not on allocation fairness. Not economically: tribal commercial harvest has exactly the same economic impact as non-tribal commercial harvest. Maybe the commission is favoring one town’s squawking over another — Raymond and Ilwaco over Toppenish and Lapwai, but that’s still gossamer thin. Something you might hear over Alabama gerrymandering, no? Commissioners, your priority should be fish, not social engineering. This stinks to high heaven. Period.

            There are three straws in the soda, people. Everybody and everything would be better off if there were only two. The tribal commercial harvest IScommercial harvest. Period. Full stop. There is no rational argument for extending that harvest based solely on the netters’ race. None.

            What to do? First, go to your respective Oregon and Washington chapters of the Coastal Conservation Association (ccawashington.org and ccaoregon.org) and the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association (nsiafishing.org). Follow their suggestions. And God bless you for doing so.

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