It appears that the Seattle Times is about to take its rightful place next to the National Enquirer on the tabloid rack in your neighborhood grocery store.
The article below appeared on the front page of the Times on Saturday, April 10, 2010. It featured a sensational headline sparsely embroidered in fact and the whole truth of the issue is not to be found anywhere within its text.
Nowhere in this unabashed attack on Sportfishing does it mention that the chinook in question are paid for by license fee increases agreed to by the salmon fishing public and the reader is led to believe that the entire Sportfishing industry is greedily feeding at the public trough contributing nothing to the greater state economy.
In fact, the "audit" that produced this "finding" was originally called for by late Senator Bob Oake, a proponent of the blackmouth fishery who believed the funds generated by the license increase were being inappropriately used by the State for other purposes!
State on the hook for $768 for every salmon caught in Puget Sound
And audit revealed Puget Sound's popular blackmouth fishery costs $768 for every fish that's caught.
By Craig Welch
Seattle Times environment reporter
Puget Sound's popular blackmouth fishery — made possible by a complex system of hatcheries that produce and rear these plump young versions of chinook salmon — costs $768 for every fish that's caught.
That's a calculation made by the state Auditor's Office in an audit released Friday of the state's politically popular key winter fishery.
Each year the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife produces hundreds of thousands of the juvenile salmon in hatcheries, then raises them for 14 months or more in ponds until they lose the instinct to migrate. Then the fish are released for fishermen to hook for sport.
But some of the same environmental conditions that helped push wild chinook onto the Endangered Species list — such as pollution and habitat loss from development — mean few of the young blackmouth live long enough to get snagged. And the many fishing restrictions imposed in response to the 1999 listing of wild chinook also scaled back chances for anglers to try to catch the hatchery chinook.
That means catch rates for blackmouth are such a fraction of what they once were that the state may produce 900 fish for every one an angler nets. And each of those 900 fish costs about 85 cents.
"They're expensive to raise — more expensive than most fish," said Heather Bartlett, hatcheries division manager for Fish and Wildlife. "And their survival lately hasn't been very good."
The auditor's performance review suggested the program was so inefficient it must be changed, a charge Bartlett's agency doesn't dispute.
But the program's goals were dictated by legislative edict in 1993 as a means to sustain and promote sport fishing in Puget Sound. It's paid for by license fees derived from saltwater anglers, money that is dedicated to improving fishing. So as salmon listings have curtailed other angling opportunities, there's been little political will to cut back blackmouth production.
"Fishing used to be open unless we closed it," said Jo Wadsworth, Fish and Wildlife's deputy assistant director for fish. "Now it's closed unless we open it. And this is a unique fishery because it is open in winter when many other things are not."
Sport fishermen on Friday were immediately wary. The audit calls on the Legislature to change the law to let hatcheries produce far fewer and far younger fish — juvenile chinook that cost only about 11 cents each.
But that could reduce even further the number of fish available to be caught. And that frustrates longtime fishermen.
"Has this program always worked right? No," said Clint Muns, with Puget Sound Anglers. "But I think we've made great strides. The department's commitment to hatchery reform is without question." Environmentalists, meanwhile, say the recommendation would be a step in the right direction, but they believe the auditor missed the key issue. They say blackmouth production should have been halted years ago because the large hatchery-bred fish are built tough and compete with threatened chinook for food.
"The financial issues absolutely must be considered," said Kurt Beardslee, with Wild Fish Conservation Northwest. "But I always hoped they would kill this program for biological reasons — not just because we can't afford it."
Fish and Wildlife officials have said they support the auditor's recommendations.
Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the comments on this article on the Times' website says it all:
"Wow, that is one impressive piece of analysis! The Seattle Times figured out that if you divide the cost of the program by the number of caught fish, you arrive at the cost per caught fish!
I wonder how much the performance audit cost that came up with this revelation? Say it cost $500,000, and they came up with 4 other similarly stupid findings. That would be $100K per stupid finding!"
This sad piece of misguided writing was bound to attract the attention of most, if not all in the Sportfishing community.
The legendary Frank Haw, acknowledged "Father" of the blackmouth fishery penned the following response:
I was heavily involved in establishing the original program that began in the late 1960’s and continued to be successful well into the 1980’s (after I left the Department of Fisheries). During the heyday of the program upwards of 10% of the “delayed releases” of Chinook salmon from south Puget Sound were subsequently caught by Puget Sound anglers. Instead of migrating from the sound and residing off the west coast of Vancouver Island, the fish tended to remain in Puget Sound where they contributed heavily to a year-round fishery. The resulting benefit/cost ratio was very high and the “delayed release” programs (for Chinook and coho salmon) were primarily responsible for establishing record sport catches in Puget Sound.
Since then conditions in the South Sound, including the primary holding area in a section of Olympia’s Capitol Lake, have worsened to the detriment of survivals. Migration patterns have, on the other hand have apparently remained unchanged. The mandating legislation was championed by State Senator Oake (deceased) during the late 1980’s as I recall. As I understand, Senator Oake later called for the audit because he had reason to believe that the funds were being misused. Since then questions have also arisen regarding the elevated level of PCBs in “resident” Chinook salmon.
Instead of mandating the annual release of 3 million delayed release Chinook into Puget Sound (which, though never achieved is way too many) the program could better serve anglers by being more broadly goal oriented (e. g., increase the quality and opportunity for salmon angling in Puget Sound) and flexible to accommodate the changing productivity and fisheries management requirements. As recommended by the audit, the HSRG should become involved in the program to some degree. The inability to adequately monitor mark selective fisheries is a determent to harvesting fish that already exist and this could be use of funds that is highly beneficial to Puget Sound anglers.
As far as I know, the basic techniques used for producing resident fish are the same as we used 40 years ago. The program should also focus new ideas, experimentation, and evaluation for the purpose of enhancing resident salmon populations.
Rather than defending the existing program we should be calling for the changes needed to make it successful. This is obviously something of great interest to the Puget Sound Anglers and we should be working with them to establish a response.
Let this be a wake-up call to all who call Puget Sound "home" and enjoy treating family and friends to a day on the water. Get involved! Join CCA and Puget Sound Anglers!
The sad fact is that newspapers are going the way of the 8-track tape, the Drive-In theater and will evidently resort to sensationalism to survive.
With drivel like this article by Craig Welch sullying the formerly proud tradition of the Seattle Times, I will find another use for this publication.
The Seattle Times will now be found hanging next to my water closet.