Sunday, December 20, 2009


A sad state seems to be coursing through internet fishing bulletin boards, both fly and gear.  With potential closures of not only wild steelhead fisheries, but reduced hatchery plants it seems like everyone is having a hard time with the new page of fishing in Washington State.

One can only imagine the hope and promise that was felt over 100 years ago when hatcheries were first coming on line.  What an idea, that we can actually have it all.  We can over harvest, from the river mouths to distant saltwater feeding grounds.  We can dam up rivers, blocking access to spawning grounds and destroying important cultural meccas such as Celio and Kettle Falls.  We can log our ancient forests, withdraw water from our rivers, and let cows trample and shit in riparian zones with no repercussions.  We can pave wetlands and replace a renewable food source with "food" from the local Wal Mart.  

Take, take, take, take, take...... until there is nothing left to take.  We are at the destination of the "hatchery industrial" complex we were so smitten by.  The last bits of the foundation are crumbling.  The hatchery fish are having the same problems as the wild fish.  Their numbers decline, so much so in Puget Sound that rivers are closed to angling to make sure hatcheries get enough broodstock back.  And at the same time that hatcheries cannot make escapement, the state continues to allow harvest on wild stocks hovering at low levels barely making their escapement goals.  The take continues with the fishermen looking for numbers in an age of low numbers.  "Look at me," seems to be the name of the game. 

The raceways, cities, and suburbs have no soul. You can find it walking through ancient forests, watching shooting stars trace a path through dark skies, and releasing a native steelhead back into the green waters. Through a fish, you can feel a connection with all that has been lost. You have briefly touched a part of the past, a past of natural bounty.

Now, dams are being removed.  Serious thought is given to segregating hatchery fish from wild fish.  Weirs are being installed to block hatchery fish from accessing spawning tribs.  Slowly but surely the wild fish are having their revenge.  The main point is that no matter the technology, hatchery fish require the same things that wild fish do.... healthy rivers and oceans.

All we are left with is scraps, hopefully enough crumbs have been dropped so that we may follow them backwards and save something worthwhile of the past.

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