By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 



March 1, 2019

The late comedian Robin Williams joked that the word politics came from the Latin word ‘poli,’ meaning many and ‘tics,’ which are bloodsucking creatures. A fresh new year brings a fresh assault on the Washington State commercial fishing industry by the politicians in the state legislature.

In his book The Meaning of Human Existence, the entomologist E. O. Wilson has characterized parasites as “predators that eat prey in units of less than one.” The entomologist further notes in his book that tolerable parasites are those that have evolved to ensure their own survival and reproduction but at the same time with minimum pain and cost to the host. The aforementioned legislative parasites have been happy to benefit (and extract their salaries) from the 23 thousand fishing jobs and $1.6 billion in sales the industry brings to the state.

One type of parasite eventually kills its host. An example of this would be certain types of wasp, or state Senator Jesse Salomon (D-32), who introduced Senate Bill 5617 in late January, which calls for the complete eradication of Washington State’s non-tribal gillnetters.

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Salomon, who had promised to promote sport priority if he was elected, recently defeated one of the state’s few commercial fishing advocates, Maralyn Chase. Salomon has no discernible experience or knowledge of commercial fishing in general or gillnetting in particular.

Before he began his political career in 2006, Senator Salomon was an attorney representing the Lummi Nation, and it’s of note that Salomon’s bill still allows for tribal gillnetters. We reached out to the Lummi Nation to ask their opinion of their former lawyer’s bill, but they had not responded at press time.

The bill claims to be a reaction to a decline in fodder for a pod of killer whales that have evolved themselves into a corner, and apparently won’t eat anything but wild Chinook salmon. The state’s commercial fishermen know better.

“The claim in this bill, that wild salmon populations have declined is erroneous, non-specific and not backed by any stated factual evidence,” says Seattle commercial fisherman, Greg Galbraith. Yes, some specific species of salmon populations have declined, he says, but others have thrived in recent years, including chums and pinks.

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“Issues of fishing gear selectivity are highly politicized in Washington State and not necessarily driven by science,” says Seattle fisherman Pete Knutson. “Gillnets are much more selective than commonly acknowledged.”

Knutson says experts have demonstrated that gillnets are selective because they can pass non-target fish in the water through variation of mesh size. He also points out that, despite statewide Orca concerns, the State permits continuous winter sport fishing on resident juvenile Chinook salmon, from January 1 to April 15. “Wild fish must be returned to the water after hooking,” he says, but points out that an Alaska Department of Fish and Game study found that a single hooking encounter on mature Chinook resulted in 36.8 percent spawning failure, and multiple hookings result in much higher failures to spawn.

Galbraith says commercial gillnetters in Puget Sound don’t target Chinook salmon. “Because of mesh size restrictions, recovery boxes, onboard WDFW observers and routine boardings and oversight by WDFW enforcement officers, the catch and mortality rate of Chinook salmon by commercial gillnet fishers and seiners is extremely low,” he says, adding that precise records of Chinook catch by gillnetters are kept and substantiate this fact.

“Orcas eat Chinook salmon,” he says. “Sports fishermen target Chinook salmon, year-round. Gillnetters do not.” Galbraith notes that sports fishermen primarily target Chinook, and depending on area and season, they can keep two a day. “To get the two they want, they can shake or bring aboard, un-hook, then throw back unwanted Chinook,” he notes. “The trauma to a Chinook that experiences that can be devastating. Even if one salmon, hooked and released survives for a while, its ultimate chances of survival, and returning to spawn, have been greatly diminished.”

We reached out to our own representative, State Senator David Frockt (D-46), who is a co-sponsor of SB 5617. His office told us he didn’t want to talk about it and directed us to the Senate Democratic Caucus, who also declined to comment. For the time being, the parasites in Olympia will continue to benefit from the salmon purse seine, reef net and troll fisheries. But for how long?

“Let’s call this what it is,” Galbraith says. “A well-funded and organized attack on commercial family fishers by the sports fishing lobby and all of its affluent sponsors to control all of a single resource.”

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email:


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