Below is a plea from a Lopezian to help save another endangered way of life under threat from a governmental agency's senseless desire for control and pointless regulation. It's just one more straw on the camel's back of rural character and independence.
Subject: Re: Smelt ? The End ? (paragraphs separated)
Date: March 2, 2014 1:13:05 PM PST
To: Randy OBryant <email@example.com>
Hello Everybody, I really need your help. It is very likely that Beach seining for smelt will be eliminated. I received a letter from the Wa State Dept of Fish and Wildlife on a Tuesday the 28 of January informing me that there would be a meeting on Thursday January 30 ( 2 days latter ) at their Mill Creek Headquarters to present proposed changes to smelt fishing regulations . It meant spending a night in a motel but I made it to the meeting.
There were 5 other active license holders there as well. 6 of us total. The leader of the meeting, Craig Burley, seamed a little surprised. Here was 6 of the 7 active license holders. That's right, 7 total for the state. The other 5 license holders all seem to be related ( 2 brothers, a sister, a uncle, and the husband of a Aunt if I got it right ). They have been commercial smelt fishing for over 3 generations. They mostly Fish Hood canal, Down Sound, and around Camano Island. They Fish all over Puget Sound. I got the impression that they come from the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas. We asked about the brief time between the notification for the meeting and the meeting. They ( Fish and Game ) apologized and told us it was just a over site. Dayv Lowry and Kurt Stick were also there with the Dept of Fish and Game.
We were told that they want to reduce the smelt catch to 1970's levels. We were told that was 50 to 60,000 lbs. Craig Burley notified us of the proposed regulation changes.
- Option #1 :Status-quo ; no change to current commercial or recreational regulations.
- Option # 2: Reduce the commercial harvest and close the recreational dip net fishery 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM. Closing the dip net fishery in the middle of the night looks like they would be doing something on paper , but would have very little impact on the fishermen or the quantities of smelt caught.
- Option #3 : Close all commercial fishing for smelt in Puget Sound and close the Dip net fishery in the middle of the night as in option #2. There would still be a recreational fishery.
Needless to say we were surprised that there were any proposals to drastically scale back or eliminate Commercial smelt fishing.
I have only been commercial smelting for 20 years in Mud Bay. While the numbers of smelt vary from year to year I have not noticed anything out of the ordinary. The smelt stocks seam to be pretty stable to me. The other guys (and woman) have been smelt fishing for generations. They grew up doing this. They have been in all the crooks and crannies around Puget Sound in different seasons, times of day, and weather conditions. They are astute observers of nature. They have to be. They see a big picture. Their perspective through time gives them a Bigger picture than most people can take in. While things change from year to year, they see nothing out of the ordinary with the smelt stocks.
We asked Fish and Game why reduction or elimination of smelt seining was on the table at all. Were the smelt stocks declining? We were told that "Population estimates are not available for smelt ". They could not tell the strength of the stocks at this time. Did they have any idea about what they had been in the past ? " No ". I asked what about the surveys for smelt eggs on the beaches. Could that at least give them a idea of what is going on. They said they could not use those surveys to determine the strength of the smelt stocks, but that every year they were finding more beaches with eggs on them. They could not say weather the smelt stocks were declining, stable, or increasing. They told us this over and over.
I asked if there something anecdotal that they are seeing for them to propose eliminating a fishery and a way of life. No they had not noticed anything. They don't have the money to get out and look.
We were told at this meeting that the catch in the 1970's was 50 to 60,000 lbs a year (This was the target they were proposing to strive for with the change in regulations. Same catch as the 70's) and that it had increased to around 100,000 lbs in the 1990's. 100,000 lbs sounds like a lot. It isn't. It is 50 tons. For all of the waters from Neah Bay to Bellingham to Olympia the entire catch in a whole year was 50 tons. Those of you with fisheries experience will realize how small that is. Let me put it in perspective. Next summer off the west side of San Juan Island there will be many Purse Seiners that will catch 100,000 lbs of salmon in 1 set. They will do that Day after day, set after set. As much fish in one set as a whole years worth of smelt caught.
I recently received the smelt landings records from Fish and Game. These records go back to 1974. These are some of the same records that Craig Burley would use to come up with his catch numbers for the 70's and the 90's. The amount of distortion between the numbers that I have in front of me at this time ( landing records ), and what we were told at the meeting is truly amazing. I don't know which is worse, the possibility that we were told deliberate falsehoods, or that someone with the position of authority to propose policy and bring it a meeting like this could bungle his homework so badly. Something really smells here.
The records in front of me show that In the 70's there was around 21 active fishermen. The average yearly Washington catch for smelt was around 75 to 80,000 lbs. (compare to 79,800 lbs in 2013). The yearly catch averaged down until there were 10 fishermen that caught 17,000 lbs in 1990. I remember 1990 very well. There were lots of fish but the old men who would catch them had mostly died off and those that were left didn't put much effort into it. I started in the early 1990's.
From 1991 the average yearly catch went up until 2000. The average yearly catch was around 140,000 lbs during this time (1991 - 2001). From 2001 to 2013 the average yearly catch went down to around 91,000 lbs with about 6 active fishermen and has been relatively stable for the last 13 years. If anyone is interested I would be happy to forward the records that I have. Smelt seining has not really changed since the 1940's when out board motors became more available. The nets are the same length. The mesh size is the same. The net is still mostly pulled by hand. There has not been any big change in the technology. Plastic corks instead of wooden ones. Nylon lines instead of cotton or manilla. We are no more efficient. If 21 fishermen caught 80,000 lbs of smelt in the 1970's and 7 caught 79,800 in 2013 one could make a argument that there are more fish in 2013 than in the 70's. This whole Regulation thing is not about saving endangered smelt stocks.
Saving endangered stocks is a very emotional and colorful banner to wrap a cause in. Who could be against saving endangered species or habitat for them. I certainly am not and could not be. I am all behind saving endangered stocks. Especially smelt. No smelt, no fun down on the beach with all the kids getting their hands in the wiggling fish. This is a political issue. Craig Burley hints at the real reason for the proposal to eliminate beach seining. It is in the 3rd paragraph on the Puget Sound Rule making web page - http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/smelt/ - It is also the page you go to to give public input.
Let me give you some history that I learned at this meeting. A few years ago there was a event in Hood Canal where there was very little dissolved oxygen in the water. These events have been happening every once in a while for at least the last 150 years. These events can really stress the fish. They can't breath. Because of this event Fish and Game closed all smelt fishing in Hood Canal. They did not reopen it after the event passed. Those guys that like to fish around Hood canal (sports and commercial) had to go somewhere else. They started spending more time fishing around Camano Island.
The beach front homeowners don't like them on what they feel is their front yard. I am going to quote a paragraph from a hand out they gave us at the meeting. " Recent commercial fishing effort in Puget Sound has been concentrated at the North end of Camano Island (Marine Catch Areas 24A and 24C). Significant recreational fishing effort also occurs at public sites in the vicinity. Concentrated effort here has resulted in conflicts between homeowners and fishers, especially at night, as well as public concerns about localized over harvest. " It is not Fish and Game that is concerned about Local over harvest. It is the water front home owners on Camano Island making noise and Fish and Game is hearing it. They don't like the spot lights and the lanterns in what feels like their front yard. It would bother me also, but I would either live with it or else go down and join in the fun. The spot lights and lanterns have been down on that public beach a lot longer than they have lived in their beach house. The lights were already being used on the beach when they bought the house. They are a part of a way of life that is old and primitive.
These homeowners are in a very wealthy neighborhood. With wealth often comes power. They are squeaking. It is the squeaking wheel that gets oiled. Fish and game is doing something about oiling that squeak. It is easy for Fish and Game to throw 7 guys under the train to muffle that squeaky wheel with the loss of their way of life. It is a win win for Fish and Game. They quiet the noisy beach front homeowners and get to wrap themselves in the cloak of being active in protecting something. They really need the good P.R.. Too bad it will be just a distraction from some actions that could be effective and meaningful.
Craig Burley touches on emotional topics. Smears things together. How can anyone be against saving something that is endangered. This is about beach front property owners, lack of funding at Fish and Game, and taking the easy out. It is not about saving endangered smelt. It is easier to put 7 guys out of business. In the mean time a way of life will be gone. No more kids on the beach being exposed to the wondrous things of nature and with that exposure a greater potential of them becoming a naturalist. It is not completely back to just video games. There is still the opportunity to go to the beach, but as you all know it would not be the same. You all know kids who spend almost all of their time inside with their electronic media. For some of them smelting is their only exposure to the wonders that are swimming around us. I have seen a lot of kids smiling and having a blast with their hands in squirming fish that would have never touched a live fish in their life. It makes me Happy.
I really need all of your help. Everyone that has kids that come smelting needs your help. If they take away the beach seining it will be gone forever. This is a political issue. The more people that make their voices heard the better chance of something not bad happening. You can go to this web site and submit your views and opinions http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/smelt/ On the right hand side of the page under the picture of the smelt there is a box that says " Submit Your Comments Online ". Click on that . Please Click on the drop down box that says " select your preferred regulatory option " and select option #1 No Change.
This is really important. Please send this E - Mail along to whoever you think could be helpful. The farther you can spread this the more people can select option #1 No Change.
Randy OBryant, Lopez Island .