(Not news. For entertainment purposes only)
You may have heard, that back on November 4th, the Quillayute system rivers were closed to all fishing due to a concern for native coho populations.
On the face of it, that seems pretty simple. If there are not enough fish, you should stop fishing for them.
Washington Fish and Wildlife make the correct decision in closing the fishery.
Notice the period on the end of that last sentence. No “but” or “except”.
Nothing in salmon management is that simple however. So here are a couple quick things you might think about.
How did we know there were not enough salmon in the Quillayute system?
WDFW had a prediction of what they expected the run size to be. And they knew how many fish the Quillayute tribe netted a day during the run for the last several seasons.
So when it became clear that the tribal fishermen were catching far less fish this year than expected, they made the fair assumption that not many were coming back.
This is the only tool WDFW has for counting fish during the run.
What is interesting is that for the last several years, the Quillayute river was so low at the beginning of salmon season, that salmon could not escape the netting zone. So record percentages of the run were caught by tribal fishermen.
This year the river was much higher, and fish were able to get by the nets almost from day one, meaning the tribe was definitely going to catch a much smaller percentage of the run.
We have no model for this however. Absolutely no data that would help us predict how many more or less coho would be caught dependent on water levels.
It would be like trying to predict next weeks weather based solely on which direction the wind was blowing today. It could give you clues, but you would be wrong more often that you were right.
So, to reiterate. You close the river. NOT based on what you know, but based on what you don’t know.
I believe thats good policy.
Its super shitty monitoring and super shitty science. But if your data is very limited , and you are trying not to wipe out a salmon run. Its the only correct move to make.
So here you go WDFW. High Five !!!!! for making the right call. (Seriously)
Now, start sounding the alarm to any one who will listen that the although the data you do have might be ok, its just not enough to manage these rivers on this MSY model.
Now, if you have made it this far I urge you to stop reading.
After this it gets boring and a bit depressing. Here is a nice photo to fishish up on.
Don’t scroll down.
What you need to know about how your elected officials have decided to manage your fish.
MSY. MAXIUMUM SUSTAINED YEILD. Looks cool in caps. It means that the driving goal of wildlife managers is to assure the harvest of the maximum number of animals each year without collapsing the population.
If the populations are collapsing, it means you are harvesting too many. It does not matter how many predators there are, or what the ocean productivity is, if you are harvesting any and the populations are dropping below sustainable, then you are harvesting too many.
So, WDFW predicted a big run of Coho, where did they all go? Watch this, its super simple.
If you think there are going to be a lot of fish, and you are operating a MSY system, you set the harvest level high.
The tricky part is you don’t know how many fish there really are until they get back to all the rivers. At that point 80% of the harvesting is over.
It is exactly like setting this years budget based on next years earnings and deciding to spend all the profit now.
By the time you figure out your wrong, its too late.
So based on a large run prediction, you set fishing limits for sport, commercial and tribal ocean fishermen pretty high.
As the salmon swim back down from up north, they get harvested in the ocean by all these user groups from, Alaska, Canada,Washington, Oregon, and California. Each region and user group has a limit based on the pre season forecast. Once the salmon get back to the river we finally have some ability to count them, and we can make a guess wether we were right or not.
If you look at salmon populations you will see that even with massive hatchery supplementation they are declining. So, we are not right often enough.
Arguments are often made that the reason there are less salmon is that the rivers are less healthy, or that there is not enough food for them in the ocean, or the blob, or Sasquatch. All of these arguments have merit.
But there are many rivers that have the capability to spawn far more salmon than they are currently spawning, and the primary reason for this is that these salmon are being killed in the ocean before they can reach the spawning grounds.
Whats more, salmon return to the rivers, swim upstream, and die. You should think of this as the beginning of the story.
Dead salmon are the chief source of nutrients in our Peninsula rivers. They start the food chain. They fertilize aquatic plant growth, and the growth of tree’s and plants all over the river valleys.
By fertilizing the rivers they increase the rivers ability to grow and feed salmon trout and steelhead. These fish will later feed fish in the ocean, sea birds, and mammals.
If you don’t have salmon dying in the upper rivers, you won’t have salmon living in the ocean.
Our MSY model has been starving the upper rivers of salmon carcasses for years. And now to add to that, hatcheries are no longer supplementing the carcass load like they used to. In days gone by, salmon hatcheries would carry extra salmon and steelhead carcasses upriver and dump them in. Now the market for salmon eggs and even marginally edible salmon carcasses has lead to a situation where our rivers are seeing a smaller and smaller nutrient load.
Even as salmon runs are being over harvested at sea and in the river, the rivers ability to regrow the run is being reduced by losing the carcasses.
So the “sustainable” level in our MSY is going down.
How many restaurants in the US are serving wild caught salmon? Each and every fork full of that salmon could have retuned to a river and restarted a reaction of abundance.
That salmon could be in the river growing algae, and plants,stoneflies, ferns , spruce tree’s, flying squirrels, cougars, elk, salmon smolt, mergansers, king fishers, black rock fish, marbled murelets, seals, Orcas.
What if we managed for Maximum Social Benefit and Ecological Diversity instead of MSY?
Closing the Quillayute system to sport and commercial harvest for a few weeks was a good idea. I bet, based on what I have seen, our wild coho this year reach the minimum escapement goal.
I am not sure that is grounds for a whole lot of high living though.
Rain Coast Guides
Maybe I’ll buy a nice camera instead of that spey rod I was looking at……
Buy both, just don’t bonk every wild salmon you catch.
Well written Jim.
Good article Jim. Hard to find in depth, pun intended, articles about sportsfishing.
As you know the pun is the highest form of humor, second only to sarcasm.
MSY=crap shoot on a razor’s edge.
Nice job, Jim.
Had some really good fishing this fall. Was thinking of you.
Yes to all Jim. Do you have non-I commercial in when the tribe is out? My zone from Hood Canal to Grays Harbor basically has nets in 4 days a week, rotating commercials. They are all the same to fly sports. WHO can attend the WDFD/North of F meetings and voice for sports–proper management? Two things to do now, assign an organization to attend NoF meeting. This is where WDFD only hears commercial and does not represent sports; organize to do an initiative to manage based on true economics (tried and failed legislature a couple years ago) …and end non-Indian commercial…but retain for the sports allocation. Love to sign at Walmart if someone like you can organize. Im tired of knowing how they managed, and we need to do something now to cut commercial.
Everybody gets a shot at them