Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Wild Salmonids Catch a Break

I solicited Rob Russell to write an opinion on the current sodium sulfite based bait that are popular here in the Pacific Northwest.
Rob has been at the fore front of this issue and is a real friend of wild salmon and steelhead

Sodium Sulfite - Oregon Has Spoken
by Rob Russell

Regardless of your beliefs, it's time to prepare for a sulfite-free future if you fish cured roe in Oregon. A few recent developments: 1) The Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has informed egg cure manufacturers they have until August 2011 to remove sodium sulfite from their products or face regulation. The state agency's declaration was the result of findings in a recent OSU study showing that sulfite-cured bait is harmful to juvenile salmon and steelhead; 2) Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Commission made it clear at its August 2010 meeting that sodium sulfite is not welcome in Oregon's waterways, and that the commission will act swiftly if manufacturers fail to meet the phase-out timeline; and 3) The Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) joined ODFW in calling for the August 2011 voluntary phase-out, and also indicated that it will move toward regulation if manufacturers miss ODFW's deadline.
  In a classy move, Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Commission recognized and thanked manufacturers who have worked closely with the state through what has sometimes been a stressful process of study, analysis and decision making. The voluntary phase-out affects many Oregon-grown businesses who must now develop and market new sulfite-free products. So far, a boom in business is buffering manufacturers' concerns. Oregon is in the heat of a good salmon season, looking forward to an even better 2011 season, and manufacturers are enjoying brisk sales. One sporting goods retailer on Oregon's South Coast said he's ordering cases of cure and pure sulfite powder for a hungry public. He speculated that people are stockpiling for the ban. Ya' think?
    It was obvious this year that lots of folks responded in good faith when confronted with the results of the study. I met several salmon anglers this summer and fall who were vocal about having made the switch from sulfite eggs to something less toxic. One prominent Siuslaw River salmon guide made the switch to straight shrimp and had a great season. Of course, many serious egg fishermen stuck with their standard cures. Some were just squeaking in one last season before the switch. A large crowd of others declared the OSU study was bogus, part of a conspiracy by fly-fishers to make Oregon a fly-fishing-only state. Communists, hippies and tree-huggers were also implicated.
   In fact, the original proponent of Oregon's egg-cure study was an avid roe-fisher before the results became public. Once the study showed the deadly effects of sodium sulfite on young salmon and steelhead, he simply eliminated sulfite-cured roe from his arsenal. His public awareness campaign has helped spread the word to anglers throughout the West, but several prominent salmon guides have complained, claiming his underlying goal is to eliminate bait fishing in favor of flyfishing. Regardless of those false allegations, concerned salmon anglers throughout Oregon are working hard to increase awareness of the facts, and the looming deadline.

One important note: Oregon's state agencies have, so far, only addressed concerns related to the health of salmon and steelhead exposed to sulfites. ODEQ has been alerted to possible risks to human health from exposure to sodium sulfite. The human health issues deserve study as well, and may prove to eclipse concerns for salmon and steelhead. In the eternal words of one of Oregon's leading manufacturers, "that stuff will give you cancer." Anyone who deals with sulfites on a regular basis knows how nasty they are. I, for one, am very pleased to have them out of my life. Though they did cure my warts.

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