Mike Dodd, president of Blaine Marina, expects to buy between $15,000 to $20,000 worth of sockeye salmon from the few commercial fishing boats working this year’s two-week long summer fishing season, which began on August 1. Those numbers are quite a drop from what Dodd bought in the peak years in the 1970s.
Each year, the Pacific Salmon Commission sets quotas for the commercial, recreational and treaty native fisheries. The quotas are intended to protect and improve salmon populations and are based upon the anticipated return to the spawning grounds. In turn, a quota is determined for each type of fishing boat fleet such as reef netters, purse seiners and gillnetters. Each fleet is allowed to catch 6 percent of the projected number of sockeye that come through local waters. The fleets will get only about two days to fish out of the two-week period, Dodd estimated.
Fishing in Blaine isn’t what it used to be. Dodd, who’s been involved in the industry for four decades, said the reasons for the change are complicated. Global warming, commercial fish farms, other environmental factors and natural and cyclical variations have all been cited by various parties to explain the lower than expected sockeye returns.
“Some people say it’s over-fishing,” Dodd said. “I think that is simplistic. When you put it all together, there is plenty of blame to go around.” The fishermen didn’t go fishing when they wanted; they went when a higher authority told them to, Dodd said, alluding to government agencies overseeing the industry.
Gary Dunster, a retired local fisherman, believes the numbers of sockeye returning to spawn are still what they used to be decades ago when he first started fishing Puget Sound. Back then, he fished from June through September. The sockeye run in 2010 was the biggest since 1913, he pointed out. Dunster believes politics is what accounts for the drop in catches.
While Dodd still foresees a future for local fishermen, he isn’t holding his breath waiting for a return to the good old days.