So where are they? That certainly must be the number one question on the mind of every Pacific Northwest salmon angler this season.
The annual fall return of the coastal chinook, coho and chum salmon is missing! No hordes of chum salmon filling the riffle and holes of the Miami and Kilchis river and no rotting carcasses that greet the angler's olfactory senses upon walking to the river bank. As recent as last year as I walked down the Kilchis river, scattering the hundreds of dying chum salmon that swam in my path, the runs seemed to be on track as far as a fragile recovering and endangered fish can be. Their numbers have not come close to the levels we saw in earlier years but they were still plentiful and would provide the exploring fly fisherman with a satisfied sense of well being because they had defied odds and returned once again....but not this year and that is frightening.
Chum salmon in Oregon are protected so there is no sports or commercial harvest. One has to think about some kind of change in the ocean or maybe global warming?
The harbinger of upcoming disaster was probably there for us all to see but we missed it.
Loss of habitat, climate change, a change in the ocean up swell, angling pressure and egg hunters can all share in the blame.
Let's take a look at the last of these culprits shall we? First let me state that prime salmon roe is gold! I've often mused that it could be used as currency in Tillamook county because of it's value. Enterprising bait dealers will sell their cured eggs at about $25.00 a quart and that is about normal for cured salmon roe.
The over sized eggs of a ripe female makes the egg hunters of the north coast giddy in anticipation catching a hen salmon. Doesn't matter what condition the edible flesh of these fish are, it's the five or so pounds of fresh roe that is the real prize. Often these "sportsmen" will release a big bright male salmon in favor of the eggs of a grey bellied female.
See the vicious cycle here? Gotta catch more hens to get eggs to catch more hens to get eggs and so on.
So how many eggs do salmon have?
Generally from 2,500 to 7,000 depending on species and size of fish. The chinook salmon generally produces the most and largest, most desirable by sports angler, eggs.
Those eggs will yield a return of one to five percent. Do the math because it all adds up doesn't it.
We Americans are very good at finger pointing except when it comes to pointing the finger at ourselves.
After years of egg harvesting it's bound to take a toll don't you think? Again the greed of some affects many.
So while egg hunters are not the biggest suspects in the salmon decline they surely have played a part in it especially in coastal rivers which are primarily wild fish. The commercially sold eggs are generally from hatcheries surplus and are not sports caught.
The recognition of the impact of this "egg hunting" is slow in coming but there are some that are now not keeping females and that is a good sign. Hopefully the enlightenment of some will influence others and that can indeed make a difference.