pressed Skeena stocks. The result? Lots of dead steelhead fishery, we have a low-income, high negative-impact steelhead Mecca of fish-filled streams and unimaginably
found in lethal gillnets. All this for a fishery that brings industry that kills thousands of steelhead and depressed productive fishing. The home of early steelhead fly fish-
in a mere 90 cents a pound for sockeyes and about five salmon stocks, while the sport fishing sector provides ing pioneers such as Bill Schaadt and Jim Pray, coastal
cents a pound for pink salmon. large amounts of income with very little impact. And yet, California was the place to be in the 1950’s and 60’s.
our decision makers can’t seem to do the math. Movie stars came to catch steelhead, national magazines
Will Somebody Please Do The Math? Anybody?
“Why are we subsidizing the broken part
Think that’s a Canadian problem? Think again. It isn’t devoted cover stories to this phenomenal fishery and the
of this fishery, the commercial gillnetting,
recent study shows the Skeena River sport fishing any better in the United States. On the Columbia River, annual records were dominated by fly caught California
to the detriment of the only part of this
industry brings more than $30 million a year into a tiny fleet of gillnetters is allowed to target hatchery steelhead. If you’re a true glutton for punishment, read
fishery, the recreational side, that makes
the local economy. On the other hand, the average gross spring chinook in the lower river. Unfortunately, as on the Russell Chatham’s beautiful book The Angler’s Coast and
economic sense?” income of a British Columbia North Coast gillnetter in Skeena, other fish have the great misfortune to return in see what the good old days were really like. Keep a box
BRUCE HILL, HEADWATERS INITIATIVE 2005 was $8,000—about the value of two or three sport-
the same timeframe. A recent year saw more endangered of tissues nearby.
winter steelhead taken as bycatch than the target species. In the 1960’s, the Russian River averaged 50,000 wild
Even more maddening, is the cost to taxpayers to steelhead per year. Today, a good year sees 7,000. As agri-
produce those hatchery spring Chinook. According to the culture, development, industrialization and other human
Independent Economic Analysis Board of the Northwest factors have come to dominate the California landscape,
Power and Conservation Council, a harvested adult spring the steelhead have predictably responded by disappearing.
Chinook from the Upper Columbia Basin’s Entiat hatch- The numbers are staggering. The Carmel River, a small
ery cost citizens $68,031 to produce. Yes, you read that central coast watershed, once hosted 20,000 steelhead
correctly: $68,031 dollars for a single fish. (No fuzzy math each year. The most recent count? 16. Sixteen fish!
or cooked stats here: The IEAB simply took the average In 1961, the mighty Sacramento river had 40,000 spawn-
annual operating and maintenance cost of this hatchery ing steelhead. Today, the annual fish count at the Red
and divided by the average number of harvested adult fish Bluff Diversion Dam averages 1,400.
produced there. Amazingly, this ridiculous number doesn’t California obviously has the most intense popula-
even take into account the cost of lost electrical produc- tion issues on the coast, and has seen the most cata-
tion as generation is reduced to assist downstream juvenile strophic losses of wild steelhead. But “management” of
migration or the expense of trapping, barging and truck-
ing the juveniles around the dams.) If a typical, hatchery-
produced Columbia River spring Chinook weighs 12
pounds, that fish cost you nearly $5,700 a pound, the gill-
Photo Jeff Bright
netter probably made $7 or $8 a pound at the dock, and
caught and released wild steelhead. Exactly how many then you were offered the opportunity to pay $17 a pound
steelhead perished as by-catch to earn that $8,000 we’ll for it again at the supermarket. And at the same time, large
never know for sure, but it’s a significantly high enough numbers of endangered wild winter steelhead perished in
number that on the rare occasion when the nets are out the process. Great deal, huh?
of the water, steelhead escapement skyrockets. And this
doesn’t even take into account Skeena steelhead killed in
California, We Hardly Knew Ye
the B.C. and Alaskan salmon seine fisheries—many ob-
servers believe the number is as high or even higher than B
ut I digress. To keep our eyes on the ball so to
Photo Jeff Bright
speak, let’s get back to the subject at hand. Far-
those caught in gillnets. So, let’s see…in this commercial ther south and not so very long ago, California was a
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