Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Closure Thoughts

Great commentary over at the Osprey Blog regarding the Puget Sound River Closures

Osprey Steelhead News

This line got me thinking.
"All this is a painful reminder that without healthy wild runs there is no possibility of even catch and release angling opportunity."

Clearly we are starting to see the culmination of long term mismanagement of our fish stocks.  Promises of salmon (steelhead) without rivers and technological fixes to our fisheries has brought us to the precipice where we now stand.  Without healthy wild runs we have nothing.  We have empty rivers.  We have ecosystems starving for marine nutrients brought upstream by salmon runs for thousands of years.  We have reduced fishing seasons that likely will only be getting smaller.

Hatchery fish cannot fill the gap that losing our wild fish creates.  Looking at Puget Sound, as goes wild fish so go hatchery fish.  Marine survival affects both types of fish, so we are now facing almost zero returning hatchery fish and closed rivers when the few wild fish return.  Today's Puget Sound reality is a crystal ball showing us the future of our remaining fisheries.

Change comes slowly in fisheries management.  Too slowly for the remaining stocks of fish in Washington State and throughout the Northwest.  We are seeing rivers without dams and great habitat missing escapement goals due to continued overharvest and negative hatchery practices (which go together like peanut butter and jelly).  While Puget Sound wild steelhead fisheries are now closed, we have rivers like the Hoh, Queets, and Quillayute that have no dams, large areas of pristine habitat, and good marine survival missing escapement goals.  How much longer can we keep stretching the rubber band managing these supposedly "healthy" stocks of fish before it snaps like Puget Sound?

My last post was a humorous dig at the crowds likely heading towards the coast with the recent Puget Sound closures.  Humor hides sadness and I am sad to see closures.  Not only due to increased numbers of fishermen on rivers close to home, but also because these closures seem to end a portion of the rich history that is winter steelhead fly fishing on Puget Sound rivers.  The history of winter steelhead fly fishing would be far poorer without the storied history of fly fishing on rivers like the Skagit and Skykomish.  These fisheries form a link between today's fishermen and past generations who pioneered fly fishing for winter steelhead.  While the tackle, clothing, and spots on the river have changed when you stand in a river with the water pushing against your legs, fly under tension swinging across a broad run, and feel the grab of a wild steelhead you are experiencing something that spans generations.  We all need that connection.

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