Last year when ODFW [Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife] closed the Wilson River to fishing above tidewater early, I wrote a lengthy letter to Fish and Wildlife to ask a few questions and offer up some suggestions.

I am an avid fisherman, a passion only negligibly shared compared to that of my husband. We live on the Wilson River in the house my husband was born in, which is on the old family homestead property, lived in on by the Williams family since the late 1800s.  Family stories and personal experience over many decades have given us first-hand knowledge and a front row seat as to the plight of our salmon over the years.

There is not just one issue affecting the returns of this species! Yes, seals and sea lions take a cut. Yes, cormorants Target and thousands of smoke trying to make it out to sea. Yes, there are other countries that have a huge impact in ocean waters. Yes,we have overfished our own resource here in the Pacific Northwest. But, there are other things affecting these fish as well.

Huge pens stick out like a giant scab on the waters around Canada, the breeding grounds for farm-raised Atlantic salmon. A species that carries a virus that could easily spread to wild salmon as well as competition for food and spawning beds when escapement from pins becomes inevitable.

Add those troubles to the fact that the Native Fish Society, along with other similar groups, loaded with money for lobbyists, have reduced the ability to produce hatchery brood in support of wild returns.

Do not fool yourselves, there is no longer a native salmon left in Tillamook County. One has only to look at pictures of the original native fish harvested in the late 19th to early 20th century to see today’s Wild Runs are nothing like those that once filled the rivers and streams of our valleys from bank-to-bank.

Hatchery salmon have played a part in the sustainability of these fish since the late 1800s and yes it has changed the very fish themselves. However, without this very program these fish would have reached this crisis stage for their existence long ago. Hatcheries and fish boxes manned by local landowners, have been critical in the establishment of fish runs returning to their birthplace year after year. These fish in turn spawned with the natives and over the last century, we have had the strongest and best of that culmination.

With so many more obstacles to surpass, why wouldn’t we do everything possible to help turn the tide for the wonderful inhabitants of our ecosystem?

I haven’t even touched on the issue of dredging the bay and mouth of the rivers to allow for better flow and maybe flushing out the silt that also impedes the productivity of the salmon migration. Lower water, such as this year, is not unheard of, but with the deep holes of the past filled with silt there are less and less places for them to hold up in their migration to spawn and those areas are then targeted by everyone.

My letter, referred to at the start of this op-ed, was replied to. Not every subject had a response and many responses were not what I considered acceptable solutions.

Instead of looking at the dollars to be made from this resource let’s first look at how to save it, so that it still exists in our future, by every means possible.  Closing one river, too late in the season, only adds to the pressure in other rivers that exhibit similar symptoms.  I, for one, would sacrifice a few years to do whatever it takes to save this precious commodity for future generations.

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