True Confessions Of An Armchair Fisheries Biologist

I earned my nickname The Butcher of Astoria, of Yaquina Bay, of Toliva Shoals and a thousand other haulouts while ridding them and the rest of the West Coast of sea lions and harbor seals, and then I cleared out all those loser wannabe sharks, the orcas, to Seaworld.

But none of it did a damn bit of good to recover the salmon run.

A CALIFORNIA SEA LION CAPTURES A SPRING CHINOOK. (BRYAN WRIGHT, ODFW, VIA NMFS FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

So I got in my submarine, the U-206, and torpedoed the entire North Pacific commercial salmon fleet (and shelled Ballard and rammed the F/V Northwestern for good measure), came back on shore and stole all of the tribes’ gillnets — take that, Judge Boldt, you old fart! — then confiscated every last stinking hoochie, Kingfisher spoon, and downrigger from the sporties (rubbed all that gear down in day-old banana peels, I did, to ensure they never caught another fish).

But none of it did a damn bit of good to recover the salmon run.

WILD CHINOOK. (CYRIL MICHEL, NMFS, VIA NMFS FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

You can imagine my rage: Here I’d eliminated predation on and harvest of Chinook headed back to my beloved “Mulgy,” and yet the Simulguamish River’s salmon did not respond for me whatsoever.

The numbers were flatlined, year after decade after century after millennium after glacial epoch.

Not a single sign of recovery from my admittedly heavy-handed management tactics.

“Well, at least you tried,” a friend texted me as I rode the bus to work this morning.

Yes, indeed, I had.

A MODEL SHOWS THAT DESPITE REPRESSIVE MANAGEMENT TACTICS — ENDING ALL SALMON FISHING AND ELIMINATING MARINE PREDATION — THE BLOGGER WAS UNABLE TO RECOVER THE SIMULGUAMISH RIVER’S CHINOOK AFTER 400 GENERATIONS. (TIDALEXCHANGE.COM)

I was messing around with an intriguing interactive game posted yesterday on Tidal Exchange, a sportfishing advocacy blog, and the only other option I had left was to try and increase the river’s carrying capacity — that is, how many young Chinook could actually rear in it.

A YOUNG CHINOOK NEAR WOODY DEBRIS. (NMFS, VIA FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

So I grated my teeth — damn you all to hell, “Habitat is the key” bumper sticker! — and went to work.

I ripped out dikes, flooded unused and economically unviable fields, reconnected old oxbows, put in culverts big enough for a big ol’ bull killer whale to squeeze through, parachuted in beavers, put in rain gardens and special parking lot asphalt to collect vehicle drippings in and around the burgs of Arlingwood, Stanton and Ono, dropped trees into the river — and made sure fewer of ’em were tipped over on the hillsides too — and otherwise let the Mulgy be the Mulgy.

And you know what happened?

Well, I began to see more Chinook in the Simulguamish. And more and more and more!

Pretty soon I’d exceeded the river’s recovery target, and as its carrying capacity increased even more over time, I decided we might be able to fish on the salmon a little and, yes, take my foot off the throats of marine mammals — just a hair anyway.

There were some stomach-turning year-to-year lurches in fish numbers, but I managed to keep Chinook above the Mulgy’s recovery goal.

AN ADULT MALE FALL CHINOOK PREPARES TO SPAWN. (JOHN R. MCMILLAN, NMFS, VIA FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

Looking back on it, I admit I caused some rather astonishing collateral damage in recovering the river’s Chinook.

I destroyed entire fishing industries and tribal cultures, as well as bankrupted the Department of Fish and Wildlife. I also face a prison term of approximately 100,000 years and fines in the billions of dollars for various infractions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, federal treaties — you name it.

And needless to say our magazine lost a few advertisers, plus Lorraine Loomis doesn’t send me Christmas cards anymore.

So I hit reset on Tidal Exchange’s simulation, left the fishing rate at the default 25 percent, the marine predation rate at the default 24 percent, and just focused on working on the Simulguamish’s habitat instead.

Worked a helluva lot better the whole way around.

AN INTERACTIVE GAME ON TIDALEXCHANGE.COM ALLOWS ANYONE TO VARY FISHING PRESSURE, MARINE PREDATION AND HABITAT CAPACITY RATES TO TRY AND RECOVER SIMULGUAMISH RIVER CHINOOK, A METAPHOR FOR REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS WITH THE SALMON STOCK ON THE HABITAT-CONSTRAINED STILLAGUAMISH RIVER. (TIDALEXCHANGE.COM)

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