by Jason Brooks, August 05, 2019
Salmon angler’s in the Pacific Northwest know 2019 as a “Humpy Year” and this year’s return of the feisty small salmon has been estimated to be around 600,000 fish. A very concerning number especially since just four years ago the run was 6.8 million. Besides the concerns over dwindling numbers the Pink salmon are a special fish for the Pacific Northwest. The odd year fish brings out anglers new and old. For some a Pink year is great news while for others they aren’t so excited as anglers fight their way through schools of Pink salmon to get to their targeted Chinook or Coho. Regardless if you are one of the many who think the fish can’t get here fast enough or are in the group that just can’t wait until October when the fish will be gone and the Silvers and Kings will be ready for the egg bite in our rivers, we as sport fisherman need the Pink salmon and here is why.
A walk down the canned salmon isle in any grocery store reveal’s the importance of Pink salmon to the general public. Can’s fill the shelves for the consumer who doesn’t fish as well as makes for a quick lunch full of omega 3’s and protein. The state of Alaska also values this smallest of all Pacific rim salmon species. In 2015 the commercial catch was 651,280,000 pounds or 190,492,000 fish with an estimated revenue of $131,999,000. Southeast Alaska hatcheries raise nearly 20 million Pink salmon annually (the salmon run every year in Southeast Alaska unlike the odd year fish in Washington). Pink salmon are so important for Alaskan fisherman that when the 2016 diminished runs fell to record lows it created a panic. The Governor declared a state of emergency after catch rates plummeted in Southeast Alaska. 2016 commercial harvest in Alaska was 39,389,000 fish with a revenue of $37,773,000 nearly a $100 million-dollar deficit. Compare this to Washington’s entire run of Pink salmon in 2015 of 6.8 million fish and an estimated $200 million-dollar revenue.
Simple economics tells us that demand is dependent on supply. If the supply is low when the return is limited such as this year it can be hard on local retailers and communities that rely on angler dollars. When the supply is abundant then the economic benefits are a huge asset to local economies as well as state agencies such as WDFW. On odd years when the Pink salmon are running in years past it has been a sales “boom” of tackle, gas, boats, permits, licenses, camping spots, and such that drives the $1.1 Billion-dollar fishing industry in Washington. Pink salmon are worth a lot of money to a lot of people in Washington and with budget cutbacks and reduced spending being “trendy terms” with our state law makers 2019 is not an “odd” year but a “welcomed” year for the small business owners in our state that rely on fishing as a way of making a living.
Besides the “all mighty dollar” Pink salmon offer much more to the sports angler. Thoreau is often quoted with “Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not the fish they are after”. Experienced anglers often seek solitude and a quarry that is more challenging, offering peace and tranquility but it is a long road to get to that point in one’s fishing career. Let’s face it we started fishing and became addicted because we like to catch fish. This is the one thing all anglers have in common. Whether you like to pursue wild steelhead in pristine snow-covered mountain streams, crappie in old farm ponds or tuna in the deep blue ocean, we strive to catch fish and when catching one isn’t enough, we seek to catch more in other places. Pink salmon provide an opportunity for both the seasoned angler to just get out and catch a fish for a “quick fix” as well as introduce new anglers to the world of fishing.
Each odd year the Pink salmon return I make it a point to take out at least one person who has never fished before. This year I already have four co-workers and two neighbors wanting me to take them fishing. That is six more anglers buying license’s, tackle and gear who will in turn hopefully teach others to fish. In years past the Pink salmon’s overwhelming returns means I know I can take them out and they will catch a lot of fish. Much like planter trout during the yearly spring opener that caused my addiction, the Pink salmon can be used as a catalyst to gain newcomers to our sport. Pink salmon help bond family relationships where in today’s world kids are more apt to play a fishing game on their x-box or I-pad than to actually pick up a rod and learn to cast a line. But with this year’s low returns anglers stand to lose this catalyst and it might just make an impact that lasts a long time. Anglers faced with license fees, confusing regulations, and now a low return of Pink salmon will mean less dollars for retailers and even WDFW. That might mean even more money out of the already strapped die-hard fisher’s.
But even more concerning is the environmental impact of a low return. First, we have to look at what caused the runs to crash as hard as they did. The warm water “blob” is often blamed but raw sewage dumping into Puget Sound, clear-cut forest, suburban development and other issues raise just as many concerns. One thing the Pink salmon does is rebound when it can and it does so quickly. With a short two-year life cycle, we can only hope that this year is the lowest of lows and 2021 will show an improvement. Regardless of future runs we need to be aware of this low return and how it will affect us all. The Pink salmon is vital to the sport angler as it helps bring on new anglers as well as encourage seasoned ones. It provides economic stability to tackle shops and the fishing industry and it takes some of the pressure and burden off of other fisheries. We can only stand in one river at a time and if anglers head to local Puget Sound rivers to chase after Pinks, Coho and Chinook then there’s less anglers on coastal rivers where wild populations of Chinook and Coho run.
If only we learn one thing from this year’s Pink salmon’s low returns is how important they are to us. We need Pink salmon, whether we will admit it or not, the tiny humped back fish is important to us anglers for many reasons. Here is to another “odd” year of fishing and hoping the fish come back stronger in the future, for all our sake.
Jason Brooks hails from North-Central Washington. The son of a fishing guide, Jason is an avid hunter, angler, outdoor photographer and published writer. He resides in Puyallup with his wife and two boys.