October 16, 2009

Ban the Gill Net in WA State

Lets start this with a bang. I sent this letter to my state representatives to begin a process that hopefully will result in the ban of gill nets as a fishing method in WA state. This blog will hopefully organize a way to recruit people for the cause, find volunteers, and discuss policy / viewpoints. I am not really affiliated with any local organizations yet, but just signed up for the CCA as I think they do good work on behalf of conservation and recovery of fish.

If you run across this as a WA state resident and find the intent of blog post important, I ask you do one of the following:

1) You forward this to someone who cares about this issue and ask they do these things
2) You contact your state representatives about this issue – feel free to use the below as a form letter if you want.
find your legislators

contact Gov Gregoire

3) If you are interested in any ballot initiative volunteering (you get to take beach walks and talk with salty old fishermen) – it will likely come to that.

Here is my letter:

Hello WDFW Director, Senator Jacobsen, Representative White, Representative Gutierrez Kenney,

I would like to get more information about why we as a state continue to allow gill net fishing - particularly in our rivers and streams, but generally as well. There is a contradiction in this practice with the stated goals of restoring our salmon runs and our orca populations. I am looking in to having WA state ban the use of gill nets in our waters (fresh water, the Sound, and our coastal waters). I am contacting my legislators, the governor (who I will forward this letter to) and the WDFW to see if we can short-cut a ballot initiative process and just do the right thing for our salmon, steelhead, the orca whales, the sports fishing industry, the tribal interests and commercial interests who depend on this fish. Here are just a few problems with gill nets in case you think this practice does not conflict with restoration and protection of the Salmon runs.

1) Gill nets indiscriminantly kill our fish. We kill endangered fish, wild fish, hatchery fish all at the same time... The gill net cannot selectively choose what fish to kill and which to save. We however require our recreational fishermen to do this - and for good reason. Why are we allowing commercial and tribal fishermen to use gear that does not have the capability of selective fishing?

2) Gill nets reduce the genetic ability for our fish to survive. Steelhead below a certain diameter might be able to swim through the net, but certainly not some of our wild steelhead which often push 25 pounds. Bigger fish can dig better trenches for eggs, in deeper and faster parts of the river, improving the chance for survival of their young. By taking only the biggest fish - the gill nets reduce the genetic qualities that help the salmons survival (and will reduce the count of decent size fish returning to our state over time).

3) Wild fish are the only fish that die in our rivers naturally after spawning. Gill nets take the wild fish along with the hatchery fish. These dwindling populations of wild fish spawning and dying in our rivers are a major contributor in the ability for hatching young to survive. Large populations of bugs and other juvenile fish feed are dependent on dead salmon flesh. These dead and spawned out wild salmon are not numerous enough to provide good nutrition for smolt, and juvenile wild fish have to compete with hatchery smolt for the available nutrition.

4) Gill nets often get lost, cut loose, and float adrift in our oceans and in Puget Sound killing everything they run past.

5) Gill nets catch too many fish at once - we stack the deck against the fish catching the majority of a run at the same time. Line trawling culls the herd, gill nets kill the entire herd at once. When more fish are able to get past fishermen in a school, the more make it to rivers to spawn.

6) Gill nets reduce the viability of our economy. While netting salmon make the short-term fishery profitable for tribal and commercial fishermen, we lose big on recreational fishing, fish tourism, orca tourism. Commercial fishing contributes relatively little in comparison with the opportunities recreation offers the states economy. I travel to BC every year because they have been able to manage their fishery far better than we do in WA state. I spend hundreds of dollars on licenses, food, lodging, tackle in Canada - dollars I could have spent in a small-town like Darrington fishing on the Sauk - an amazing river that is nearly dead in terms of salmon returns. The six guys I go with (a couple from CA, one from OR) only add to the Canadian coffers.

7) The price of fish in WA state is far too low compared to the true value of this resource, and the declining viability of its continued availability. This hurts commercial interests, tribal interests in harvesting fish. By eliminating gill nets in WA state - we would catch fewer fish each year (until the salmon recover) and improve the price per pound of fish.

8) By allowing commercial fishermen only line trawling and trolling as fishing methods, they will be forced to add jobs to our economy to come close to catching their limits. The state could eventually extend the seasons, and this will also improve the count of fishing fleets helping subsidiary industry (boat construction, fishing equipment manufacture).

I am not advocating for something as drastic as banning commercial fishing, and I respect the tribes access to 50% of the salmon harvest. My only concern is the methods in which we achieve the harvest must be changed to give the fish a better shot at survival from egg to spawning, dying and decaying fish. Easing the pressures on this resource by banning gill nets will do more than any other single effort in the restoration of the salmon, and will be by far the cheapest solution for the state. The only cost will be for consumers looking to buy Puget Sound salmon - they will now have to pay a price worthy of this dwindling resource. $10 a pound for Salmon from our state is a crime. Commercial and tribal fishermen should simply pass on the losses from reduced harvests to the consumer (reduced supply = higher prices).

Please contact me about this matter, and how you think I need to move forward with this initiative. If I have to go about getting a ballot initiative to make this change viable, I am prepared to do this, but I think that common sense should be able to prevail in this matter and we shouldn't have to resort to forcing mass-community organizing to restore our salmon populations.


  1. I'm a commercial gill-netter and in 20yrs of gill netting in the Puget sound I've only caught two steel head and as far as taking selective fishing the only fish were able to catch is the quota the State of Washington gives the commercials in selected area's, selected times, selected gear I don't know how more selective we can get

  2. you can stop netting

  3. FYI hatchery fish are considered wild fish.