Recreational fishers need commercial fishers
September 30, 2021
To The Editor
I am responding to the 9/23 letter “sport fishermen unite” regarding the planning commission hearing on the proposed siting of a fish trap on Hunting Island. The letter was an outpouring of vitriol against local people whose families have lived here for generations. Instead of coming and talking to local commercial fishermen, it seems to be easier to make wild accusations based on internet gossip, which is disappointing.
The issue that affects both sport and commercial fishers is the very real concern regarding large hatchery surpluses and harvestable surpluses of healthy wild stocks. Federal and private power company mitigation for the fish runs they are responsible for damaging is going to go away if the large hatchery returns are not caught. Recreational fishing catch rates are not high enough to catch those surpluses, and commercial fishermen are not allowed to catch significant enough amounts of the returning adults to either reduce the numbers of hatchery fish competing with natural-spawning salmon on the spawning beds, or to provide more fish for consumers, whose dollars are paying for much of the mitigation. The reason for experimenting with alternative gears is to find other ways to get at those hatchery surpluses. While at this point the pound net does not appear to be economically feasible (high capital costs and low rates of return), eliminating commercial fishing will backfire on recreational fishing in terms of loss of hatchery production. No one will spend money raising fish that no one is catching.
The central paradox here is that the best sport fishing requires large volumes of fish, and without a commercial salmon fishery, sport fishing can be incredibly wasteful in terms of hatchery surpluses that are not harvested. The value of the recreational fishery is hugely diminished when one subtracts the value of unharvested hatchery surpluses and other resources devoted to salmonids such as flow and spill, habitat restoration, predator control, etc. The path ahead, if this problem is not addressed, is that hatchery production will be greatly reduced, affecting both sport and commercial fisheries. Meanwhile, the entities that have mitigation obligations will be able to reduce their spending on hatcheries and habitat.
The Columbia River gillnet fishery anchors most of our local commercial fishing families, who, like mine, have brought large amounts of money home from local coastal fisheries and Alaska. I spent 38 seasons in Bristol Bay along with seven in southeast Alaska. I am very familiar with the money that accrues here due to these other fisheries. But as those fishermen retire, those permits are no longer staying here, but are being bought up by fishers in other areas, particularly Alaska. Our county commissioners are well aware of this and have been helpful in supporting local commercial fishing. Without it, much of the opportunity that swims by our door will either be gone or will move upriver, affecting both recreational and commercial fishing.
Negative and misleading comments about your neighbors are not of value to fisheries policy-making, and are destructive to community relations. Talk with your neighbors. You may find you have more in common than you thought.