Imagine a small camp fire burning along a bend of the river beneath a grove of big trees, out where the bull trout rise. I only mention the bull trout because that is about all I’ve been catching lately. How many times have I had to endure the slings and arrows of unkind remarks which all boil down to the same thing,
“If Bull trout are so threatened and or endangered, how come that’s all we catch?” There could be many reasons for this. Having been protected for years in our Olympic Peninsula waters where they were never really endangered in the first place, the Bull trout has multiplied to the point where at any given time in can be the most prolific fish in the river. All of which serves to beg the question, at what point would a threatened and or endangered species or subspecies such as the Dolly Varden/Bull trout, (we aren’t even sure what to call it) be considered “recovered?”
Unfortunately, even what is considered “the best available science” is not able to answer this question. It has become one of the greatest mysteries of the natural world. Would the Dolly Varden/Bull Trout be declared “unthreatened and or un-endangered” if this predatory fish was threatening other endangered species like the steelhead and the chinook salmon?
To answer this question. we need look no further than our beloved Dungeness River. Once home to legendary runs of salmon and steelhead the Dungeness, a river that is home to three fish rearing facilities is closed to fishing for most of the year.
At first, we were told the closure would only be temporary. We were assured the river would reopen as soon as the fish were restored by building log jams, buying property from willing sellers and planting native vegetation. Millions of dollars were spent. Millions more are about to be spent on a new innovative experiment in the salmon restoration industry, taking out the flood control dike along the Dungeness River.
It seems that the Bull Trout is a free spirit. The best available science tells us that the Dungeness in its’ present condition is too constricted by the dike. In fact, building the dike was a bad idea in the first place. All it did was protect some farm land from flooding. Now thanks to the miracle of world trade we can purchase our produce from developing third world nations leaving our surplus farmland for its highest and best use, Bull Trout habitat.
It is hoped that removing the dikes will allow the Bull trout to roam free and swim where the meandering current will take it. There is a fervent consensus of belief that spending millions more on what has so far been a failed experiment will save the Bull Trout but this is not a perfect world. It is a cooperative effort that will need many more studies and consultants.
All of which serves to remind us the more endangered a species becomes the more it is worth in salmon restoration funds. In fact, endangered species have become one of our most valuable natural resources. Meanwhile our angling heritage, a tradition of generations of kids who grew up fishing the Dungeness in the summer, has been exchanged for the only angling opportunity left in the Sequim Dungeness Valley, the sewer water reclamation pond at Carrie Blake Park. They’ll get over it. There are millions of dollars at stake. Endangered fish are worth more than healthy runs of fish. A dead river is worth more money than a live one. Let them eat tuna.