Requiem for a River.

Spring is a time of hope on the river.

The salmon eggs that survived the winter floods are getting ready to hatch when the weather gets warmer. The steelhead eggs are freshly laid in their beds, secure in the knowledge the floods of winter are over.

The river has settled down for the summer, when another run of steelhead will emerge from the gravel.

This is the time for the return of the spring chinook. These were known as “the first salmon.”

The first salmon ceremony was a celebration of the salmon practiced by Native people throughout the range of the salmon. Until the salmon were gone.

A few years back, we held a First Salmon Ceremony on the Hoh River. Or tried to.

There were no salmon.

The state would not allow us to catch even a hatchery salmon. The celebration was renamed the No Salmon Ceremony.

It was more like a requiem — a requiem for a river — where friends came to remember a dead friend.

Someone had sense enough to record the testimony of some first-hand eyewitnesses to the death of the Hoh River, the last best river in America.

Daryle “Jake” Jacobsen started fishing the Hoh when he was a young man up until the time of his passing on Easter Sunday of 2019.

He began guiding on the Hoh in 1973, catching 50-pound chinook and 20-pound steelhead for generations of anglers.

Then, Jake watched the river die.

He said the fish were like a pie. The more people you have, the smaller the piece everyone gets. The fishing pressure increased incrementally as the state shut down fishing elsewhere in Washington and directed everyone to fish for steelhead on the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula.

Jake said everyone is going to have to give up something to save the river.

Something such as the late season that fishes the steelhead all the way into April.

He said you can’t just plant the river like a garden and expect it to grow back in a year. He did not want a hatchery on the Hoh. Because it would draw too many crowds. Jake could see the effects that 50 years of planting hatchery fish on the Hoh River had on the natives.

Jake could look at the so-called natives we caught lately and point out their narrow backs and skinny tails that marked the dilution of the fishery into feral mongrels of hatchery and wild stocks.

Jake proposed hatch boxes full of fertilized native salmon and steelhead eggs placed in creeks running into the Hoh River.

It’s been done before.

In the 1960s, Missy Barlow of Oil City on the Lower Hoh had a 4-H group plant hatch boxes in creeks running into the river. They raised shoals of fish.

In 1981 and 1990, Jake proposed a one-week-per-month closure of the Hoh River to Tribal and sport fishing to allow fish to get upstream.

This was historically practiced in the Native American fisheries.

These measures were ignored.

For reasons known only to the co-managers of the Hoh River, placing remote hatch boxes in creeks is not allowed. Periodic, in-season fishing closures are not even being considered. Instead, we are building log jams to bring the fish back. A practice that has not worked anywhere.

Jake said that he didn’t expect to see the salmon restored on the Hoh River in his lifetime.

Will the Hoh River be restored in anyone’s life time? Doubtful.

We have to change the way we manage fish populations.

Like Jake said, the way we are currently co-managing the Hoh River, there is no management at all.

The Orca Task Force.

Last week we examined the tragic results of capturing the orca for captivity in theme parks and aquariums, where an estimated 164 captive orca died from pneumonia and septicemia.

This number represents more than twice the number of Southern Resident Orca currently surviving in the wild.

In 2018, Gov. Jay Inslee said, “Protecting and restoring the complex ecosystem these beautiful animals rely on will take a lot of work. There are no do-overs with the orcas.”

That year, the Orca Task Force was formed to save them from being starved, poisoned and rammed by ships. Four recommendations included increasing the abundance of Chinook salmon, decreasing disturbance and other risks posed by vessel traffic and noise, reducing exposure to toxic pollutants for orca and their prey, and ensuring adequate funding and accountability measures are in place to support effective recovery efforts.

Let’s see how many of the Orca Task Force recommendations have been implemented so far.

Coincidentally, the biggest salmon restoration experiment in the world, the Elwha Dam removal, received another set-back just last week.

The myriad co-managers announced that the fishing moratorium on the Elwha would be extended for another year due to the failure of salmon to reach the upper river.

That was the whole point in removing the dams in the first place — to get the fish up into the miles of pristine habitat the dams blocked since 1913. That was the year the first fish hatchery was built on the Elwha.

The famed 100-pound salmon of the Elwha are extinct.

The river has been planted with hatchery fish for over 100 years.

The so-called wild fish in the Elwha are either hatchery fish that haven’t had their adipose fin clipped or the feral progeny of hatchery fish that spawned in the river.

The co-managers of the Elwha decided to plant log jams instead of fish and let the upper Elwha restore itself. Ditto the Dungeness River, where a hatchery has been in operation since 1905, rearing up to 12 million salmon per year.

Until the co-managers decided we would rather have the extinct native salmon on paper than hatchery fish in the river. We’ll take restoring chinook off the Orca Task Force table.

Forget about decreasing noise and other risks to orca due to shipping.

Every year about 11,000 deep draft vessels transit the Strait of Juan de Fuca, burning bunker oil, making noise and ramming any whale unlucky enough to be sleeping on the surface.

The number of ships will only increase with faster, larger vessels, according to the Port of Seattle’s expansion plans on Elliott Bay for dredging and building new facilities for more and bigger ships.

So, we’ll take decreasing vessel and traffic noise off the Orca Task Force table.

Reducing marine toxins that affect the orca and their prey is another non-starter.

We annually pump an estimated 97,000 pounds of drugs, hormones and personal care product residues in the sewage that flows through the 106 publicly-owned wastewater treatment plants in Puget Sound.

In addition, cleaning the remains of our extinct industries has been a fuse that’s worse than the bomb, spewing acidic plumes of precipitate metals, destroying entire ecosystems in the process.

As for funding and accountability for the orca, money is not a problem.

Measuring the accountability from the millions of dollars we’ve spent on failed salmon restoration efforts is.

We’ll take accountability off the Orca Task Force Table.

Only one goal of the Orca Task Force has been achieved: adequate funding.

Before the orca spiral further down the drain of extinction, maybe we should appoint another task force.

Killing the Killer Whales.

Last week, we reviewed the industrial slaughter that pushed our large whales to the brink of extinction.

As whales became harder to find, their renderings were replaced by petroleum distillates. We shifted gears from industrial whaling to whaling for family entertainment.

The orca became the target species. The orca, also known as Killer Whales, are actually a member of the dolphin family. Orca were revered by the Native Americans as the reincarnated spirits of their loved ones and chiefs who had passed on.

Initially, only a few orca were killed by scientists, who harpooned them and cut them open to learn what they ate. Later, these intelligent, friendly, family-oriented creatures became the raw material to feed an insatiable appetite of the public for the ancient spectacle of captured wild animals in cages performing tricks for our enjoyment.

In 1965, two orca were entangled in a fishing net on Vancouver Island. One survived. A male named Namu was moved to a pen on the Seattle waterfront. Namu swam in the raw sewage of Elliott Bay for a year before dying from a bacterial infection.

Namu was so popular that, in 1970, a super pod of between 90 and 100 orca — representing what could have been the entire Southern Resident orca population — were rounded up with the aid of explosives, speedboats and airplanes, and trapped in a 3-acre net pen at Penn Cove on Whidbey Island. Orca families were separated. Seven orca calves were forced into slings and loaded onto trucks to begin their lives in captivity in sea parks.

Some of the seven orca that were eventually sold to various sea parks only lived a few months.

All of these captured orca are now dead, except one.

Lolita was sold for about $20,000 to the Miami Seaquarium, where she’s lived in an 80- by 60-foot concrete pool that’s bisected by a work island ever since 1970.

Her partner, Hugo, another captured orca, died in 1980 after repeatedly ramming his head against the side of the tank.

As a result of these captures, people realized the orca were worth money.

The state of Washington began selling $1,000 permits to capture them. Eventually, between 275 and 307 orca were caught in British Columbia and Washington — 55 were sold to aquariums. While there are no firm estimates on how many orca died in the capture operations, four humans have been killed by captive orcas. These creatures have never attacked humans in the wild.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 banned capturing orca.

Still, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) granted SeaWorld permission to capture orca under an economic hardship exemption.

In 1976, Washington state sued SeaWorld for violating its permits due to the violence of hunting, herding, capture and transportation of the orca.

At some point, even the scientists admitted that capturing the orca was a likely factor in depressing their population and altering their familial structures in a manner that would severely affect their reproduction and survival. The scientists continued their research.

Biologists have long been known to subject animals to horrific cruelty in their search for knowledge.

They used a different kind of harpoon, this time to stick the orcas with satellite-linked transmitters to track them, which caused fungal infections that led to the deaths of two orca in 2016.

One of the orca was found dead in the water with chunks of a tracking dart still in its fin. Another tagging victim was found washed up on a beach.

All of which added biologists to the long list of environmental threats to the survival of the orca.

Next week: We review efforts of the Orca Task Force to save the orca.

A Short history of Whaling

It’s fun to look back at this day in history to measure the changes brought to the Olympic Peninsula.

These changes can be discovered in newspaper articles written by James Swan in the latter half of the 1800s.

It was on this day in 1859 Swan was invited to go on a cruise on a schooner with two old sea captains who were trading with the Native Americans along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Swan would go on to become an ethnologist, documenting the fast-disappearing cultures of the indigenous people of the Olympic Peninsula and the Queen Charlotte Islands, now Haida Gwaii.

Swan traveled safely and made friends among these warlike nations with three basic rules that hold true today. He ate the foods his hosts provided. He never carried a gun, and he never told a lie, even as a joke.

Initially, Swan was obsessed with the idea of turning kelp into parchment paper.

It was an industry for which he could obtain no financing. For which we can thank our lucky stars, since the kelp forests are the nursery of our fisheries. We should really let them be.

Swan switched to real estate promotion, guessing the terminus for the Northern Pacific Railroad would be in Port Townsend. He guessed wrong. Tacoma got that prize.

Swan was from Boston, the headquarters for much of the American whaling fleet that sailed the world, rendering whales for oil, spermaceti and baleen. Swan had been a chandler, provisioning and outfitting ships engaged in trading and whaling.

Naturally, Swan thought the Strait of Juan de Fuca would be a good location for a whaling station.

At the time, the Strait of Juan de Fuca was lousy with whales of the largest kind.

The abundance of whales was seen as evidence by Spanish and English explorers that the Strait was connected with a larger body of water such as Hudson Bay or the Atlantic Ocean.

This fueled the search for the Northwest Passage, an imaginary shortcut across North America.

Swan was never able to establish a whaling station in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Canadians did.

In 1905, they built four whaling stations on Vancouver Island. While there were few right and grey whales left after being slaughtered by the American fleet, the humpback whales were ripe for the picking — for a while.

The whaling station in Nanaimo had to shut down after killing the entire local population of 95 humpback whales.

The last right whale was killed in an accidental collision with a whaling vessel in 1951.

The ship towed the whale to the station for rendering anyway.

Whaling continued in British Columbia until 1967 after killing an estimated 25,000 whales.

Not to be outdone, the Americans built a whaling station in Grays Harbor in 1910, rendering an average of 300 sperm, humpback and fin whales per year.

It was said you could smell the operation 20 miles out to sea.

A hundred years later, we are trying to save the whales.

We are all familiar with the plight of the remaining Southern Resident Puget Sound Orca.

The visceral image of a female orca swimming along the surface of the Salish Sea, keeping her dead offspring afloat back in 2018 created an overwhelming groundswell of support among environmentalists, politicians and the general public to save this iconic species.

An Orca Task Force was set up to identify threats to the orca and what can be done to save them.

In next week’s column, we will form another task force to examine the accomplishments of the Orca Task Force.

A Fouled Future.

Thank you for reading this.

After reading about my ill-fated clam dig at Discovery Bay, where the clams and oysters were all dead, people sent stories about mysterious die-offs of sea life in Discovery Bay with documents and pictures of sick or dying crab, fish, birds and sea mammals that paint a picture of an environmental disaster paved with good intentions.

Finding dead oysters and clams on a beach covered with a mysterious algae, where even the barnacles died, we wandered to a sign that proudly proclaimed, “From a Poisonous Past to a Flourishing Future.”

The sign depicts the complex web of life of the Snow Creek estuary. Everything from clams to eagles to salmon restored courtesy of the salmon restoration industry. Underneath the big sign, a smaller sign warns of toxic shellfish. How could that be in an area they just spent somewhere north of $10 million restoring? We walked out to the estuary to find out. Bad idea.

The water was a strange color. The air smelled like chemicals.

The estuary was covered with anaerobic black muck, with a white scum of sulphur-loving bacteria covering a garish orange iron precipitate just beneath the surface. All part of a chemical reaction of toxic wood waste with fresh and salt water leaching sulphuric acid and metals into the water.

With the air, land and water polluted, it was not a healthy place to be. A sign warned the estuary was dangerous, but it didn’t say why. I was afraid my boots would melt.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that, in 2016, a year after the restoration effort, an oyster farm 2 miles away that had been operating for 25 years suffered a catastrophic failure. Strange plumes of metallic-colored water were seen drifting through the bay. Independent analysis determined the plumes were full of aluminum, barium, copper, zinc and iron. The oysters were deformed, brittle and stained yellow, orange and black.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that, in 2016, an estimated 3.5 million fish, mostly herring, perch and young Coho salmon, suddenly died in Discovery Bay. The survivors swam slowly near the surface where they were picked up by birds. Hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, was blamed for the die-off, but such an event had never previously been heard of in Discovery Bay. The fish were never tested for toxicity.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that same July between 500 and 600 dead rhinoceros auklets were found on or around Protection Island off the mouth of Discovery Bay. The auklets are a small stocky sea bird similar to a puffin. They feed on fish. Their breeding colony on the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge suffered a 50 percent loss of fledglings. Individual birds were observed sitting on the beach, vomiting.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that the Coho run up Snow Creek, at the head of the bay, crashed from a high of 4,500 fish in 2014 to less than 500 fish in 2018.

Maybe it’s another coincidence that red rock crab crawl out of the water to die, while shoals of dead juvenile Dungeness crab wash up on the beach.

And all I wanted was some clams and oysters, but I was 100 years too late.

These days, if you fail to fill in your clam hole or take an oyster in the shell off the beach, you’ll get a $100 fine. If you kill every oyster and clam on the beach, you get a million-dollar grant.

Despite or because of this restoration effort, we’ve gone from a poisonous past to a fouled future. I hope someone is studying the problem.