Sports

Island Sportsman: Protect our sea life

"Puget Sound fish stocks have been dwindling for several years, leading to Endangered Species Act listings of many fish and sea bird species.State and federal leadership have failed to protect our natural resources, leaving the burden to fall upon taxpayers. ESA listings and salmon recovery efforts have already cost taxpayers millions of dollars, and yet another billion dollars has been dedicated to salmon recovery.Citizens of Washington state will be required to pay not only higher taxes, but higher power rates, food costs, and housing expenses due to salmon recovery pressure being applied to power companies, farming, logging and development interests. Additional millions will be spent on upgrading damaged habitat. While there is little doubt that habitat is a problem, the solution to habitat destruction is a long-term project. First we must guarantee that salmon and other endangered species will still be around to use the habitat we will have spent those millions of dollars to restore.All user groups agree there has been too much harvest. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency which has listed our salmon as threatened or endangered, says that harvest is killing as much as 90 percent of the salmon.Some 85 percent of the Washington fish harvest come from commercial nets. Nets kill more then fish. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service states the decline of rhinoceros auklets, tufted puffins and marbled murrelets is related primarily to gill net mortality. A report estimated that over 8,000 birds were killed in the 1996 sockeye gill net fishery. Although net fisheries are targeted at specific non-endangered fish species, a tremendous number of non targeted fish are killed as by-catch. The 1997 sockeye fishery, north of the San Juan Islands, killed an estimated 80,000 chinook salmon. Then-director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bern Shanks, called that slaughter obscene. Harbor and dall's porpoises, seals and sea lions are also routinely killed in nets as by-catch.Why are we allowing a dying industry to continue killing up to 85 percent of our fish stocks? Last year the state issued 1,477 commercial fishing licenses which will be affected by the Yes On 696 initiative, which would ban all nets. Only a handful of those permit holders make enough money to pay ANY business taxes to the state. The vast majority are only part-time fishermen, or make their real livelihood fishing in Alaska. The majority of all fish sold in your local seafood market comes from Alaska or other countries. There is not a single annual living wage job produced by Puget Sound commercial salmon fishing.Commercial fishing practices have evolved into extremely efficient killing machines. Bottom draggers systematically ravage our marine bottoms. Just as a farmer tills his fields, turning over every square foot of ground, these nets turn the seascape into something resembling moonscape, killing everything in their path, leaving no forage in their wake. This underwater strip mining must stop! Voters have a unique opportunity to stop commercial net fishing interests from over harvesting and eventually wiping out our already-depleted fish stocks in Puget Sound. Pass a net ban and you will see the total fishery resources begin to recover just as California chinook salmon, Louisiana redfish, Florida mullet and east coast striped bass did after those states banned net fishing within their waters. Eight years after California's net ban, salmon returns have increased by 280 percent. A yes vote on initiative 696 will help protect salmon, sea birds and sea mammals. "

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