Gillnetters Care About Salmon

Gillnetters Care About Salmon
by Lanny Pilatos

The 1916 Hells Gate slide nearly wiped out the sockeye salmon in the Fraser River. This run was rebuilt from a stock of only 1,200 fish in 1916 to nearly 30 million in 1993. Our fishermen made the sacrifices which made such a recovery possible.

Today we are still working for the salmon, fighting to protect them from the hazards which accompany the ever expanding horizons of our modern society.

Salmon is a Perpetual Resource

Adult salmon will return to their native stream to spawn, and then die. Their hatchlings will live in the fragile habitat of the stream for a year or so, then move to the ocean for the following one to four years. Afterthis time the fish will return to its native stream to spawn, thereby continuing the cycle.

It is on this return journey that gillnet fishermen harvest the salmon. As long as an adequate number of fish are allowed to return and spawn, the run will continue.

In Alaska, where the runs are strong, the environment pure and clean, strong returns are demonstrated by many examples. For instance, a river which has 10 million fish returning, allows a 9 million fish harvest. The remaining 1 million fish spawn in the stream, and these hatchlings will produce another 10 million fish, which will return after completing most of their life in the sea.

The Recipe For Success

In order for the resource to be perpetual, it must be managed properly. If too many fish are allowed to spawn, it will cause a variety of problems which may result in far less that the full, production of the stream.

Another key ingredient is habitat. Streams are polluted – in a sadly, large number of ways by – people doing everyday things like their laundry, or by the sometimes devastating impact industry can have on the salmon habitat.

It is essential for the salmons’ sake that every individual, business and industry, no matter how little they think they effect the habitat, be conscious of the fact that are effecting the environment.

Walking The Walk

The gillnet fishermen in Puget Sound are an integral part of a successful recipe. They fish from small boats with manageable nets which can be retrieved quickly.

They are allowed to fish only at the proper time and place to harvest healthy runs. Their fleet and area quota is determined prior to the harvest by the state managers. Each fish they harvest is counted against the various quotas and recorded at the time of the harvest by the state managers.

This, combined with the ability to use certain types of net to catch certain types of salmon makes their nets very selective. It is this selectivity which makes gillnetting in Puget Sound such an important part of our salmon runs.

Without our fishermen keeping the healthy and abundant runs in check, the weaker runs would struggle in competition with the stronger and the end result would jeopardize the weaker one.


We have long been active in enhancement efforts, however, starting in1991, every Puget Sound gillnet license holder began paying $100 dedicated solely to enhancing Washington’s salmon stocks. In 1994 Puget Sound’s rivers and streams enjoyed a record return of Chum Salmon in numbers not seen since the 1940’s. This return was in no small part due to the enhancement efforts of our commercial gillnet fishermen.

Gillnetting Benefits You

The gillnet fleet helps provide salmon to the 97% of Washington’s population who does not have the ability or the inclination to catch their own salmon. We provide jobs to our communities by means of processing plants, gear suppliers, retail shops, restaurateurs, repair and services.

Each boat represents a store front in the state’s economy, a business which fuels the economy of its home port and ports of call, and an individual fisherman who makes the decision during a day of fishing. This individual has a heart, mind and conscience. It is these heart-felt decisions which guide his conduct as he interacts with the environment.

Decisions which may determine if he outwits the will of the sea, or is yet another fisherman lost at sea.

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