The emergency closure

log jam on Salt Creek

Engineered log jam on Salt Creek

It was another tough week in the news. The dreaded emergency closure reared its ugly head and stopped us from fishing many of our beloved rivers flowing into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Emergency closures are not a new thing. The way our fisheries are managed there is always an emergency somewhere.
While emergency closures because of low numbers of fish have become a common management tactic, it’s interesting to note that there is never an emergency opening of a fishing season because of a sudden abundance of fish.
Rumors of the current emergency closure were first heard back in December when government biologists said there were low returns of native steelhead in rivers running into Puget Sound.
How the biologists knew there were low returns in December when the native steelhead don’t generally return until February is anyone’s guess.
Predicting the numbers of returning fish is an inexact science based upon a number of factors like smolt traps where the baby fish migrating downriver and out to sea are counted. This is a lot like counting your chickens before they are hatched, except an unknown number of smolts are killed in the smolt traps, but as they say you can’t make an omellette without breaking a few eggs.
With the recent budget cuts, shutting down the fishing season just seemed to make sense to people who don’t fish. After all, if no one is fishing, you don’t need fish cops or fish checkers or anyone to sell the licenses or count the punch cards.
The emergency closure worked so well on the Puget Sound Streams that it was decided to try it on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In addition there are rumors of more emergency closures on the Chehalis River system. This of course has all been decided before one fish was actually counted.
The actual numbers of fish don’t really matter. All that is required is to have the fish declared threatened and or endangered.
Then the gravy train of federal funds will flow and the fish restoration industry can work its magic.
I can think of no finer example of this phenomenon than the Dungeness River. Once called the finest spring steelhead river in the state, the Dungeness had huge runs of humpies, spring Chinook, chums and silvers.
Now, after 20 years of Dungeness salmon restoration, these same fish are rare, endangered or just plain gone. Today the Dungeness, a river with two fish hatcheries, is closed to fishing most of the year.
It all began with the simple emergency closure.
Then it was decided to cut the fish hatcheries’ budget. The money was used to buy property from “willing sellers.” The phrase is defined by the current Wild Olympics campaign not as a land-owning citizen, but as a “mechanism by which land can be acquired.”
Anyone who was not a willing seller risked having a biologist knock on their door to declare their home as bull trout habitat. Many then quickly became willing sellers.
Their homes were then bulldozed, thrown in the landfill and replaced with native vegetation. The river was then landscaped with engineered log jams tied together with steel cables, which made it impossible to fish even if the season was open.
The Dungeness is not unique. Coincidentally, all of the other streams that were just closed to fishing because of the “emergency” have been “restored” in much the same manner with the same dismal results.
The endless repetition of a failed experiment has been called a form of insanity.
I call it salmon restoration.

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